Out of this nettle, danger

Voice and instrumental ensemble

For mezzo-soprano, flute, clarinet, cello, keyboard and percussion

Text by Fleur Adcock, based on Katherine Mansfield’s writings from the last 3 years of her life

The first performance was given by Anthea Moller (mezzo) with the Australian Chamber Players conducted by Graham Hair.

About this work

The text  of Out of this nettle, danger was commissioned by the Literature Board of the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs and the music received a First Use fee from the Music Board of the Australia Council.

It is based on the letters, diaries and other writings of Katherine Mansfield. All the excerpts come from the winter of 1919–20, 3 years before her death in 1923. She was at the time 23 years old, living by the northern Mediterranean coast, as it was essential for her health that she avoided the English winters. This separated her from her husband, John Middleton Murry, who had to work in London to earn enough to keep them both.

The writings express the exaggerations of emotion engendered by tuberculosis, and trace various events of the winter – the visit by her wealthy father, bringing cigarettes and daisies but no money at a time of financial crisis; the dark days of her sojourn at Ospedaletti with her companion who, like her husband, was frequently the recipient of hatred and bitterness; happier times at Menton; and a dream that she had.

The title comes from one of her favourite quotations. ‘Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety’, spoken by Shakespeare’s Hotspur in Henry IV Part 1 and chosen by her for her epitaph.

Score and recording

Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ.

Out of this nettle, danger — SOUNZ

RNZ Concert recorded this work in 1987.

Out of this nettle, danger — audio


Out of this Nettle, Danger is intimate, acute, fleet, with a fascinating sensitivity to the deep implications of the text. There is a big range of percussion instruments, used with the greatest economy and power of suggestion so that no sound or thematic fragment is perfunctory, each has a voluptuous, expressive, original shape. The piece moves forward in small episodes, held together partly by text, partly by the sheer consistent quality of the imagination.’

— Meredith Oakes, The Independent