keyboard chamber symphonic vocal choral
…and fall

Instrumentation: tenor, cello, and piano

Performers: brian thorsett, tenor; emil miland, cello; richard masters, piano

i. sleep (text by Todd Davis)
ii. neighbors in october (text by David Baker)
iii. all hallows (text by Louise Gluck)
iv. theme in yellow (text by Carl Sandburg)
v. november night (text by Adelaide Crapsey)

Notes: My favorite season is autumn. Having lived a considerable part of my life in rural, small towns in the Midwest, I grew up experiencing the drastic change of seasons and all of the associated rituals- parades, apple picking, pumpkin carving, Halloween festivities, elaborate Thanksgivings, etc. This particular change in season is poignant to me. ...And Fall consists of five poems about autumn by 20th and 21st-century American poets. Each poem draws upon different aspects of the season: the summer drawing to a close; the busy preparations for a cold winter to come; the transparency between the worlds of the living and the dead on All Hallows; children celebrating Halloween by dancing around jack-o'-lanterns; and finally, the falling of leaves. All of the poems are held together by a common element of the swiftness of time and passage from summer to winter, and from life to death. ...And Fall was commissioned by Virginia Tech and is dedicated to my friend, Brian Thorsett.

.pdf score
those winter sundays

Instrumentation: tenor and piano

Performers: brian thorsett, tenor; john churchwell, piano

.pdf score

Instrumentation: soprano and piano

Performer: ellen leslie, soprano

i. Les Grenades
ii. Les Pas
iii. Le Vin Perdu
iv. La Ceinture

I discovered the poetry of Paul Valery while studying composition in Paris. I immersed myself in the poetry of the great French Symbolists: Mallarme, Baudelaire, Verlaine, and Valery. When I discovered Valery's collection Charmes, I knew immediately that I wanted to set some of it to music.

Each poem in this collection uses objects and experiences to describe a poet waiting for his inspiration. Very often in French Symbolism the poet will choose words and sounds that have many different meanings, which inform one's interpretation of the poetry. For example, "Les Grenades," the title of the first of this cycle, means both "the pomegranates" and "the grenades." While these are completely different objects, the poem reveals Valery's implication of both meanings. The poet is awaiting inspiration, which comes in the form of a grenade exploding with ideas, or a pomegranate bursting with creative juices. Similarly, on the surface level, "Les Pas" suggests "footsteps;" however, "pas" is also a word used for negation. This expresses an existential question: was it the footsteps of a lover approaching a vigilant bed, or was it a nonexistence contained only in the mind of the poet? Again this poem is a metaphor for inspiration, now coming to the poet seductively in the night. "Le Vin Perdu" describes a scene in which the poet tosses wine into the sea (for reasons of which he is unsure) and in a trance, watches as the translucent red becomes enveloped in the salty water. "La Ceinture" describes a sash fluttering gracefully in the dim evening's light, which disappears as the night darkens. The double meaning here is "the belt," referring not only to the sash, but the band of light at a sunset.

To underline the double meanings that happen so frequently in these texts, my settings of these texts employ many musical "double meanings." Cross relations (chromatic contradictions between two simultaneously sounding tones) play an important role in the entire work by suggesting not either major or minor sonorities, but both. Likewise, the dialectical argument between key areas, as well as the way I chose to settle in tonalities that synthesize these arguments, suggests multiple intentions and musical meanings. All of these compositional devices exist within a sound world of gestures, harmonic patterns, and styles that allude to music of the great Fin de Siècle French composers, contemporaries of Mr. Valery, and my own poetic muses: Debussy, Ravel, and Lili Boulanger.

.pdf score
roethke songs

Instrumentation: coloratura soprano and piano

Performers: chelsea hollow, soprano; eric choate, piano

i. epidermal macabre
ii. the moment
iii. my papa's waltz

I. Epidermal Macabre

Indelicate is he who loathes
The aspect of his fleshy clothes, --
The flying fabric stitched on bone,
The vesture of the skeleton,
The garment neither fur nor hair,
The cloak of evil and despair,
The veil long violated by
Caresses of the hand and eye.
Yet such is my unseemliness:
I hate my epidermal dress,
The savage blood's obscenity,
The rags of my anatomy,
And willingly would I dispense
With false accouterments of sense,
To sleep immodestly, a most
Incarnadine and carnal ghost.

II. The Moment

We passed the ice of pain
And came to a dark ravine,
And there we sang with the sea:
The wide, the bleak abyss
Shifted with our slow kiss.
Space struggled with time;
The gong of midnight struck
The naked absolute.
Sound, silence sang as one.
All flowed: without, within;
Body met body, we
Created what's to be.
What else to say?
We end in joy.

III. My Papa's Waltz

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

-Theodore Roethke

.pdf score