Iseult Speaks (2016) – View in online store
Commissioned by the Hartford Independent Chamber Orchestra
Text by Elizabeth Hamilton
Instrumentation: Mezzo-Soprano and Piano (also available for chamber orchestra)
Premiere: Feb. 5, 2016 | Charity Clark and the Hartford Independent Chamber Orchestra
is an extended song cycle for mezzo-soprano based on a retelling of the Tristan/Iseult myth. For those of you who might not be familiar with the story, the basic outline—and there are many variations on this skeleton—is that Tristan is supposed to bring Iseult to marry his uncle, but on the way they fall in love, usually because of a potion they accidentally ingest. Portrayals of Iseult range from passive cypher to tragic heroine to wanton seductress, but she is almost always cast as a one-dimensional accessory to Tristan.
Elizabeth Hamilton’s evocative and provocative poems reexamine the legend from Iseult’s point of view, here somewhat omniscient and shaded with a modern sensibility that links the tale to contemporary experiences. The text touches on questions of gender roles, societal pressure, and personal power as the narrator contemplates her life, rages against the unfairness of fate, wallows in memories of physical affection, condemns Tristan for his inaction, and vacillates between confidence, insecurity, hope, and despair.
It has been a pleasure setting these gorgeous poems, and I want to thank Elizabeth for trusting me with her words!
Thought (2015) – View in online store
Commissioned by the Riot Ensemble
Text by Walt Whitman
Instrumentation: Soprano, Alto Flute, Harpsichord, and Two Percussionists
Premiere: Nov. 17, 2015 | The Riot Ensemble
Thought is based on a short eponymous text by Walt Whitman from his collection Leaves of Grass. He authored many epigrammatic writings of that name, each dealing with a different moral or philosophical issue that was important to him. He wrote on topics including nature, ownership, spirituality, justice, and more. This work, commissioned by the Riot Ensemble, is a meditation on one of those texts.
To Think on You (2012) – Available for purchase at MusicSpoke
Recipient of Boston Metro Opera’s Advocacy Award
Written for the 2012 Seasons Fall Music Festival
Text by: Walt Whitman
Instrumentation: Tenor and Piano (alt.: baritone and piano)
Premiere: Oct. 19, 2013 | Robert Frankenberry and Anne Schilperoort
To Think on You is a setting of three poems by Walt Whitman. Each represents a snapshot of love, ordered to reveal a progression from the search for love to the exhilarating obsessiveness of infatuation and finally the deep warmth of a satisfying union.
Pictures of the Floating World (2011) – View in online store
Commissioned by Chad Walther
Text by: Amy Lowell
Instrumentation: Soprano and Tuba
Premiere: May 17, 2012 | Sara Dougherty and Chad Walther
Amy Lowell’s collection of poems entitled Pictures of the Floating World
(1919) is a set of poignant haiku-like works. The title of the book is a literal translation of the Japanese word “Ukiyo-e”, which is a genre of paintings and woodcut prints dating back to the seventeenth century. The subject matter of such art works often include landscapes, historical tales, and images taken from theater. In a sense, they are vignettes frozen in time, and Lowell’s poems capture that property magically.
In this eponymous set of songs for soprano and tuba, I have set seven of Lowell’s poems (with an interlude for solo tuba). Like the texts, the songs are brief, and the sparse textures reflect the simple power of the words.
The Sharp Edges of the Night (2011) – View in online store
Text by: Amy Lowell
Instrumentation: Soprano and Piano Four-hands
Premiere: May 3, 2011 | Danya Katok, Bill McNally, and Oliver Markson
The Sharp Edges of the Night is a song cycle on four poems from Amy Lowell’s Swordblades and Poppy Seed (1914). Each text deals with love, though none of them (except possibly the third) are pure expressions of the positive aspects of that emotion. A number of shared images link the four poems, creating a unified exploration of the light and dark sides of narrator’s, or in this case the singer’s, need for her beloved.
The Man Who Wants You (2010)
Written for the 2010 Seasons Fall Festival
Text by: Sharon Cumberland
Instrumentation: Soprano and Piano
Premiere: Oct. 15, 2010 | Gilda Lyons and Robert Frankenberry
Sharon Cumberland’s poem “The Man Who Wants You” immediately struck me when I read her collection Peculiar Honors. In her wryly humorous words, I see a struggle between realism and fantasy, between practicality and romance that underlies the lists of “reasons” why the narrator cannot make a lasting connection with the object of her affections. The most heart-breaking aspect of the poem is that many of the obstacles keeping the narrator apart from her potential lover are superficial, almost feeling like excuses for a deeper inability to connect that is never acknowledged. The real tragedy is not any of the situations described in the poem, but the underlying sense that if the narrator could come to terms with whatever truly prevents her from forming a deep relationship, she would no longer be blind to the love that is as close to her as her own nightstand.
The Lamp (2008)
Text by: Sara Teasdale
Instrumentation: SATB Choir
Public Reading: Mar. 27, 2010 | Women Composers Festival of Hartford Chorus
Sara Teasdale’s poignant “The Lamp” (from her 1917 collection Love Songs) immediately caught my imagination from the moment I first encountered the poem. The work is brief and has the simple sort of eloquence found in hymn texts, yet speaks of earthly love rather than divine. Though this fact is not clearly stated in the first stanza, the second explains how the human love the author has experienced is profound enough to make life worthwhile even if there is no higher power.
There Will Come Soft Rains (2008) – View in online store
Text by: Sara Teasdale
Premiere: May 29, 2009 | Nancy Andersen
There Will Come Soft Rain is a setting of the Sarah Teasdale poem of the same name. The poem presents an eerily tranquil vision of a post-apocalyptic world where nature regains control. The free rhythms of the piece are designed to evoke a slightly unbalanced speech-like feel, while the slippery chromaticism underscores the unsettling mood of the text.
Teasdale Songbook (2008)
Text by: Sara Teasdale
Instrumentation: Soprano and Cello
Premiere: May 29, 2009 | Claudia Rosenthal and Carlynn Savot
is based on poems by Sarah Teasdale, an early twentieth century American writer who lived a dramatic life: she was connected romantically to poet Vachel Lindsay as a young woman, but eventually chose to marry another man. That marriage failed, and though she and Lindsay remained close, both poets eventually committed suicide.
The texts used in Teasdale Songbook were carefully chosen from the writer’s many works relating to that situation and create a disjointed story of a woman faced with the temptation to commit adultery. Most concretely, Teasdale’s “Guenevere” explores the emotions of the King Arthur’s legendary wife in a way that reflects the writer’s own experiences. Excerpts from this poem provide the structural framework for the composition and are juxtaposed against more subtle writings to suggest a surreal reading of Teasdale’s own life. The work cycles quickly through a number of different moods that often suggest contradictory thoughts or events, so that the division between true emotion, myth, and the fictional constructs created to mediate between the two becomes blurred and ultimately irrelevant.
All That Doth Flow (2007)
Commissioned by Russ Podgorsek
Text by: Lady Margaret Cavendish
Instrumentation: Voice and Viola
Premiere: Nov. 17, 2007 | Russ Podgorsek
At the beginning of November, a friend of mine brought up the idea of writing a companion piece to a previous work for saxophone and voice entitled Epilogue. He sent me the text for What is Liquid?, a poem by Lady Margaret Cavendish (1623?-1673). Earlier this week, I spent an hour writing All That Doth Flow, putting great effort into giving the poem a setting adequate to its literary mastery. The piece can be performed by one person or as a duet.
Text by: Ovid
Instrumentation: Spoken Voice and Alto Saxophone (alt.: Viola)
Premiere: Apr. 21, 2007 | Kate Dunphy and Joe D’Aleo
In 2007, two colleagues of mine at Hartt, Craig Biondi and Tom Izzo, organized a concert entitled “Momentum”. The idea was that composers would be randomly assigned performers and would need to write a piece for those performers within an hour. The players would then have an hour to learn the new works before presenting them on the concert.
For the project, I was assigned spoken voice and alto saxophone. Since a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses was on my desk at the time, I used an excerpt as the text of the resulting piece, Epilogue.
Two Poems (2005) – Available for purchase at MusicSpoke
Texts by: Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats
Instrumentation: SSA Choir
Premiere: Mar. 29, 2008 | Women Composers Festival of Hartford Chorus
The texts for Two Poems, by Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats respectively, both use celestial imagery to convey two very different views on love. For me, the juxtaposition of the two poems adds to their expressiveness and brings out undercurrents that might otherwise go unnoticed.
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