Personal or Impersonal?

A Dutch newspaper reviewed a song cycle of mine that took place in Amsterdam. The critic added that “…the music neither added nor subtracted from the poems.” When I first read this I was taken aback, thinking it was a negative remark. Now I see that his comment is a positive remark. My aim in the work was to realize the texts, not to set them or enrich them or glorify them or heighten them but to find a sound world that would let the texts be themselves. To be “in tune” with the qualities that make the poems…resonate. A contrary approach to mine would be to heighten the meaning or question the meaning or fool with the meaning or interfere with the rhythm of the words or to parody the text. I have always approached text by not interfering with it. If I succeeded or failed at finding the right state for the text, it was a risk worth taking.

In my Fisherman Songs I am taking an even greater risk. One song uses John Donne’s poem “The Baite.” Perhaps as a kindred spirit I take Donne’s quoting of Marlowe’s “Passionate Shepherd to His Love” as the opening of his poem a step further. Donne begins his poem by quoting the first couple of lines from Marlowe’s poem but then leaves it to explore his own perception of love that is neither bucolic nor romantic but realistic, that all is not fair in relations of the heart.  I begin the song with an allusion to Gershwin’s aria from Porgy and Bess, “A Woman is a Sometime Thing.” The aria begins with a warning from Porgy about not trusting woman. Before the end of the first stanza the music leaves behind any hint of Gershwin, similar to Donne abandoning Marlow, and into a oneness with the text.

A Woman is a Sometime Thing by George Gershwin:

The first 15 measures of my song (cello sound substitutes the singer) The Baite:

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About Mark

American composer of music.
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