Songs Of Age (2009) for High Voice and Piano [8:30]
I. Youth, Day, Old Age, and Night (Whitman)
II. When I was one-and-twenty (Housman)
III. Past, Present, Future (E. Brontë)
Program Notes: Songs Of Age is a short three-song cycle for High Voice and Piano that was completed in June of 2009. The three songs are unified by the thematic subject of age and also by tonal center (A).
I. Youth, Day, Old Age, and Night
by Walt Whitman
Youth, large, lusty, loving – youth full of grace, force, fascination,
Do you know that Old Age may come after you with equal grace,
force, and fascination?
Day, full-blown and splendid – day of the immense sun, action, ambition, laughter,
The Night follows close with millions of suns, and sleep and
This song opens with a vigorous, syncopated 6-8 passage for the piano, which is immediately repeated as the vocalist enters, singing an equally sprightly tune over it. The mood drastically changes at the second line of the poem as the meter switches to a calmer and more subdued 2-2 and the accompaniment becomes more static. The melody of “grace, force, fascination,” though now in the slower tempo, retains its shape. The second stanza of the poem is set to the same music as the first, emphasizing Whitman’s parallels between Youth and Day, and Old Age and Night. The piece closes with the initial piano motive an octave higher, but this time in 6-4 meter, twice as slow as the opening, to signify the irreversible progression of age.
II. When I was one-and-twenty
by A. E. Housman
When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
“Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.”
But I was one-and-twenty
No use to talk to me.
When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
“The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
‘Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.”
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, ‘tis true, ‘tis true.
This humorous poem (albeit with a ring of truth) is set to a 9-8 waltz pattern in A Major. The key changes and the accompaniment begins to wander when the wise man speaks, signifying the youth’s ignorance of his advice. (The piano plays material derived from the vocal line on the words “No use to talk to me.”) More abstractly, the words “one,” “two,” and “twenty” are illustrated in pitch integer notation: “one” is set to the pitch C# (pitch integer 1), “two” is set to D (pitch integer 2), and “twenty” is set to the two pitches A and B (pitch integers 9 and 11, respectively, which add up to 20).
III. Past, Present, Future
by Emily Brontë
Tell me, tell me, smiling child,
What the past is like to thee?
“An Autumn evening soft and mild
With a wind that sighs mournfully.”
Tell me, what is the present hour?
“A green and flowery spray
Where a young bird sits gathering its power
To mount and fly away.”
And what is the future, happy one?
“A sea beneath a cloudless sun;
A mighty, glorious, dazzling sea
Stretching into infinity.”
The three stanzas of this beautiful poem are surrounded by an octatonic motive in the piano, but the key is clearly revealed as A Major at the entrance of the vocalist. The narrator sings in a steady 4-4 meter, but the child’s speech is set to a more sprightly and whimsical 3-4 meter, signifying the child’s carefreeness. The first stanza alternates between A Major and its relative minor key, F#, the latter of which ultimately takes over as a piano interlude illustrates the mournfully sighing wind. The child’s words in the second stanza are set to a modulatory sequence that makes more sense in retrospect than upon first hearing, representing the instability of the present moment and its cohesiveness only after one looks upon it in remembrance. The third stanza begins unexpectedly in C# Major after a short interlude, and in it the distinction between the speech of the narrator and the child is blurred. The end of the narrator’s speech is set in 3-4 meter, representing the adult’s acquiescence to the child’s point of view, while the child’s last word, “infinity,” switches to 4-4 meter as the child peers into the future.