Emily Dickinson Songs (1993), for soprano, oboe and bassoon
Published by Classical-Vocal Reprints; Dur: 10:12
I. “Hope” is the thing with feathers
II. “I Never Saw a Moor”
III. “There is no frigate like a book”
IV. “My life closed twice before its close-”
Emily Dickinson Songs, for soprano, oboe and bassoon was written in 1993. These songs, written during a three week period in the winter of 1993, attempt to provide musical enhancement and illumination of the simple, elegant and direct style of the celebrated words of this American poet.
Just as the language of this poetry is forthright and clear in purpose, so the music “paints” the thoughts of each small event. For example, in the first song, “Hope” is the thing with feathers”, when the soprano sings “that perches in the soul”, the music becomes static and does not move forward. The oboe and bassoon are in a sort of “organum-like” parallelism. Of course, the poetry of Emily Dickinson is not without long-range meaning and the most sensitive thematic essence. The music attempts to shine a soft light on these elements as well, such as in the lonely cries of the final song of the group, ”My life closed twice before its close.” The high, plaintive voice of the bassoon expresses this pain and longing.
The listener should be attentive to subtle, constantly shifting tone painting as well. An example of this can be heard in the third song, “There is no frigate like a book”, when the poetry says “how frugal is the chariot that bears the human soul,” the music is frugal as well, in strict canon between all three parts. In the same movement, the text says “without oppress of toil.” The music becomes oppressively complex at this point, very thick, with overlaid, asymmetrical rhythmic groupings.
Perhaps no one has ever said so much with so few words as this esteemed poet. They are a composer’s dream because of their brevity combined with the incredibly high saturation of meaning and message. One can only hope to humbly do such words justice.
The four songs on poetry of Emily Dickinson have enjoyed many performances over the years and across the nation.
This work is available through Classical Vocal Reprints. CVR 4190, $17.50.