Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Making the Cut

Putting this program together has sometimes been a little difficult (as I outlined an earlier post, my original idea for a layout failed).  My next task was to put the poems and songs I had chosen into an order where they told a story or where there was some semblance of one poem leading to the next.  The sets where the composer had already made that choice for me was easy, although I'm still wondering if the Rorem is a good place to start.  My decision there is more musical than textual, but I haven't quite decided for sure.  What has happened in the first half is that I've tried to take a journey though the different scenes of the war beginning Whitman's prose and mostly first hand accounts, followed by his poetry that is mostly a re-telling of experiences had by the soldiers.  After that, I move to the assassination of Lincoln with a song that incorporates two poems Whitman wrote for that historical moment and one of the "Drum Taps" poems that the composer uses for a different purpose, a poetic funeral march for the dead President.  I'll talk more about that when it comes up in the series on musical discussions.

With the assassination covered, I move to close this dark part of the program.  Here is where my first bit of trouble happens.  I chose the poem, "Joy, Shipmate, Joy," to make one more comment on Lincoln's death.  I also loved Vaughan Williams's setting of it with the voice and piano constantly fighting against each other in a two against three setting that very much suggested movement at sea.  However, after looking at the poem more closely, I'm seeing that it doesn't really fit with the narrative that I'm trying to put across to the audience.  So, I've decided to cut the song from the program.  This has two benefits, one it makes the program a little shorter--a good thing since it is running at about an hour and a half, and two it takes the program into a more American direction with Paul Hindemith and Charles Naginski pushing that envelope depending on one's definition of an American composer.  (Both were born outside of the U.S., but spent considerable time here with Hindemith becoming a citizen in 1946, long after he wrote the song I'm featuring.  Naginski was born in Egypt, but came to the U.S. around 1917 to study and remained here until his death in 1940.)

The second half of the program is a loose story of a relationship, from that first glance of someone that interests you, to a declaration of spending a life together.  I'll give you brief outline here and will discuss the poems more in depth individually in their own posts.

"Ages and Ages Returning at Intervals" is the declaration of sexual being.  It is a very provocative text that lays out the speaker's feelings that he is at home in these feelings.  "As Adam Early in the Morning" echos that in a more subdued way and is more direct in its language.  "Sometimes with One I Love" is that glimmer of doubt that sometimes surfaces when one is about to enter into a relationship.  Old hurts come back to haunt the new love, sometimes sabotaging it.  With "To a Stranger" we have that first glance, seeing that person across the proverbial crowded room and playing a scene out in our head of what could be.  "Among the Multitude" takes that glance a little further by acknowledging the other person's return of the gesture.  "O You Whom I Often and Silently Come" has our two lovers together for the first time; we see that spark of new love.  In "We Two Boys Together Clinging" it's the fun side of a relationship, a doppelganger is found.  "Behold This Swarthy Face" takes a picture of a more intimate side of the relationship, perhaps one that is coming into focus after some time together.  Finally, with "We Two," a sort of marriage with a declaration of sticktoitiveness.  The song "Walt Whitman" is a postlude that I thought made a good button on the program.

And there it is.  So, is this a themed recital, and am I fooling myself into thinking it isn't?  I like to think that it is just loose framework to tie some of the pieces together rather than a theme with repertoire chosen to fit (and it isn't that since the repertoire was chosen first).  Wishful thinking on my part?

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