Fragments: Three Songs of Hope (Song 3 audio)

Peace

The third and final song of the three song set is a setting of a troped Agnus Dei from the European Middle Ages:

Agnus Dei- Lamb of God

Virga tulit florem – the branch bears a flower

Stella maris solem – the star of the sea, a sun.

Agnus Dei, dona nobis pacem- Lamb of God, give us peace.

This final song of the set of three “Fragments” begins with an anguished wail- perhaps the echo of the one in the first song sung as the husband leaves for war. In this wail though, I imagine the woman calling the heavens on the carpet, demanding explanation for the cruelty of the world. Gradually her wail turns to prayer as “Ahh” becomes “Agnus Dei” and she seems to find some sort of temporary solace.

 

Fragments: Three Songs of Hope (Song 2 audio)

Love

The second song in the set of three, Love, is an excerpt from one of the many anonymous Majnun and Leila love poems of the Arab Caliphate era of the Middle East, perhaps in the 8th century.

How can pain be softened?  Too much loss- I tremble.

Love is a small bird, tied by a child, sipping the lake of death.

The child goes on with his game mindless of the bird’s pain

And the wings that cannot fly.

In this world there are a thousand roads.

But without a heart, where can one go?

I am particularly proud of the last line! This piece seemed to call for almost stasis- paralysis of emotion- near the beginning. The piano holds notes too long for a piano- they decay helplessly. A bit of “arabesque” in the melody is, I hope, not too broad here- it seemed appropriate to allude to the cultural music of the area using the ubiquitous “surna” oboe which is prominent across Central Asia. Each phrase seems to run out of words as though there are none for this circumstance.

See the next post for the final song of the set.

Fragments: Three Songs of Hope (Song 1 Audio)

Trouble

In 2002 I was asked to write some classical songs for soprano and piano for a CD project with a theme of “Peace” by Seattle area soprano Janeanne Houston. Seems I was the only one to complete my contributions on time however, so the CD never happened. Alas… However, we kept the ideas alive until a few years later when Janeanne asked me to re-write them to include an oboist with whom she was about to do some touring concerts. I complied and the three songs are those recorded here.

I found the texts in 2003 just as American bombs were beginning to fall on Bagdad, and so they have an air of hopelessness searching for hope about them. The first one, “Trouble” is a setting of my paraphrase of an excerpt of an 18th century Vietnamese woman poet’s epic about her husband going off to war.

When the dust of the world blows wild, the lovely ones suffer.

Oh, Lord of the far blue land, for what purpose has this trouble come?

Moonlight trembles to the beat of the drum.

The watch fires reach to the high clouds.

At midnight the Emperor draws his jeweled sword;

A proclamation, and the war is on.

Young hero, you put down your pen and ink

And, appareled in arrows, seize your bright shield.

Your heart has wars to win. You fling your wine cup down

And point your spear at the cave of the tiger.

 I watch your footsteps vanish.  My heart follows like the moon.

You go forth, I return home.  Each of us looks around and is alone.

Lost, amid blue clouds and green mountain.

I enjoy the way the two main motives in this song evoke swirling clouds of dust and military preparations respectively. I also like the way I was able to recapitulate the swirls motive at the end but still retain the sense of utter change brought about by the departure of the young man; there is no way we can really “return” to the opening mood after he departs. In other words, this is an example of a piece that does not return to to its starting place, but rather moves beyond it into a new space. This is tricky to pull off effectively and I like the way this song succeeds.

See the nexts posts for the next two songs of the set.