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I Who am Dead – I was a Poet, I was Young

For centuries, poetry from all around the world has encapsulated what it is to be human. Things like emotions, desires, scenes in nature, and philosophy have been topics of poetic verse. Poetry can be interpreted many different ways, and looking at a way a composer sets a certain poem is a good indication to how he/she feels towards it. Additionally, when a piece is performed, the performer is making interpretive choices about both the poets intentions and the composers music. The start of it all is still the original verse. This program explores incredible poetry set by masterful composers. In Heinrich Heine’s time, German poetry was expected to be pure according to Christian ideals. Anything that deviated from that purity was deemed unsuitable for verse. Up until writing this poem, Heine was often criticized for being too profane. He would write about topics like prostitutes and instances of sensual rendezvous. This time around, he chose to take a more subtle approach. He compares a beautiful young woman to a flower. A flower bud is virginal. A flower is pure. But who exactly is wishing to keep this blossoming flower bud’s purity intact, and for what purpose? Can we take the poetry at face value and consider it a compliment, or is lust lurking beneath the surface? Robert Schumann (1810-1856) with his simple and beautiful piano accompaniment seems to take the poetry at face value. Charles Ives (1874-1954) however, is more playful. This possibly suggests a prelude to some other display of affection between two lovers. Franz Liszt’s (1811-1886) setting is the darkest of the three. There isn’t a sense of physical longing, but more of a pure sadness towards the future when this girl has matured. Du bist wie eine Blume Du bist wie eine Blume, So hold und schön und rein; Ich schau’ dich an, und Wehmuth Schleicht mir in’s Herz hinein. Mir ist, als ob ich die Hände Auf’s Haupt dir legen sollt’, Betend, daß Gott dich erhalte So rein und schön und hold.
Poet: Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)

You are like a flower You are like a flower, So charming and lovely and pure; I look upon you, and sadness Creeps into my heart. To me it is as if my hands Should lay upon your head, Praying that God keep you So pure and lovely and charming.
Translation: R.W. Fullerton

Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374) was the father of the Italian sonnet, or Petrarchan sonnet. These sonnets are 14 lines in length and are split into two parts, with the first part consisting of 8 lines and the second part consisting of 6 lines. The set starts with a sonnet blessing all of the things in the poet’s world, even the painful things, all in the name of love. The second piece, also having to do with love, highlights a man who seems to be living a life of contradiction due to the turbulence love is creating for him. Liszt’s beautiful piano introduction, perhaps painting the picture of a beautiful young flower, suggests that maybe this is a love that hasn’t been realized quite yet. Finally, the set ends with a sonnet in which the poet comes into contact with some sort of divine truth that, in comparison, makes our world dark and unclear.

Benedetto sia’l giorno Benedetto sia’l giorno, e’l mese, e l’anno, E la stagione, e’l tempo, e l’ora, e’l punto, E’l bel paese e’l loco ov’io fui guinto Da’ duo begli occhi che legato m’anno; E Benedetto il primo dolce affanno Ch’I’ ebbi ad esser con Amor congiunto, E l’arco e le saette ond’I’ fui punto, E le piaghe, ch’infino al cor mi vanno. Benedette le voci tante, ch’io Chiamando il nome di mia donna ho sparte, E I sospiri, e le lagrime, e’l desio; E benedette sian tutte le carte Ov’io fama le acquisto, e il pensier mio, Ch’e sol di lei, Si ch’altra non v’ha parte.

Blessed be the day Blessed be the day, and the month, and the year, And the season, and the time, and the hour, and the moment, And the beautiful country, and the place where I was joined To the two beautiful eyes that have bound me; And blessed be the first sweet suffering That I had in being joined with love, And the bow and arrows with which I was pierced, And the wounds that go as deep as my heart. Blessed be all the verses which I Calling the name of my woman have scattered, And the sighs, and the tears, and the desire; And blessed be all the sheets of paper Which are the source of my fame and my thoughts, Which are only of her, and of which no other has a part. I find no peace I find no peace, and I am not given to making war, And I fear, and I hope, and I burn, and I am a block of ice: I fly above the heavens, and I lie on the ground; I hold nothing, and embrace the whole world. Cupid has me in a prison that he neither opens, nor shuts to me He neither holds me for his own nor loosens my bonds, Cupid neither kills me or unshackles me; He does not want me to live, nor will he help me out of this impasse. I see without eyes, and without a tongue, I cry out; I desire to perish, and I beg for help; I hate myself, and I love another: I feed on sorrow; weeping, I laugh; Death and life equally displease me. I am in this state, Lady, because of you. I behold on earth I beheld on earth angelic grace, and heavenly beauty unmatched in this world, such as to rejoice and pain my memory; which is so clouded with dreams, shadows, mists, And I beheld tears spring from those two bright eyes, which many a time have put the sun to shame; and heard words unered with such sighs

Pace non trovo Pace non trovo, e non ho da far guerra, E temo, e spero, ed ardo, e son un ghiaccio: E volo sopra’l cielo, e giaccio in terra; E nulla stringo, e tutto’l mondo abbraccio. Tal m’ha in prigeon, che non m’apre, ne serra, Ne per suo me ritien, ne scioglie il laccio, E non m’uccide Amor, e non mi sferra; Ne me vuol vivo, ne mi trahe d’impaccio. Veggio senz’occhi; e non ho lingua e grido; E bramo di perir, e cheggio aita; Ed ho in odio me stesso, ed amo altrui: Pascomi di dolor; piangendo rido; Egualmente me spiace morte e vita. In questo stato son, Donna, per voi. I’ vidi in terra I’ vidi in terra angelici costume, E celesti bellezze, al mondo sole, Tal che di rimembrar mi giova e dole; Che quant’io miro, par sogni, ombre e fumi, E vidi lagrimar quei duo bei lumi, Ch’han fatto mille volte invidia al sole; Ed udi sospirando dir parole

Che farian gir i monti e star’ i fiumi. Amor’, senno, valor, pietate, e doglia Facean piangendo un piu dolce concento D’ongi altro, che ne mondo udir si soglia. Ed era’l cielo all’armonia s’intento Che non si vedea’n ramo mover foglia, Tanta dolcezza avea pien l’aere e’l vento.
Poet: Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374)

as to move the mountains and stay the rivers. Love, wisdom, excellence, pity and grief made in that plaint a sweeter concert than any other to be heard on earth. And heaven on that harmony was so intent that not a leaf upon the bough was seen to stir, such sweetness had filled the air and winds.
Translation: Peter Cornelius

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) always had an affinity towards the works of avant-garde poet Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918). Poulenc’s music was so fitting of Apollinaire’s verse that cubist painter Marie Laurencin commented that the composer’s work was a musical reflection of the poet’s voice. Poulenc’s first step into synthesis with the poet’s work began, oddly enough, in the year of Apollinaire’s death with the set of melodies entitled Le Bestiaire. Bestiaires, or Book of Beasts, were popular in the Middle Ages. They used animals to teach lessons to people. Apollinaire took this idea and, along with his poetry, commissioned Raoul Dufy to create woodcuts for each animal he included. Poulenc settings are colorful and vibrant. From the one-humped melody lines of Le dromadaire to the awkward walking of the crayfish, it is hard to resist the fantastic images the music suggests. Le dromadaire Avec ses quatre dromadaires Don Pedro d’Alfaroubiera Courut le monde et l’admira. Il fit ce que je voudrais faire Si j’avais quatre dromadaires. La chèvre du thibet Les poils de cette chèvre et même Ceux d'or pour qui prit tant de peine Jason, ne valent rien au prix Des cheveux dont je suis épris. La sauterelle Voice la fine sauterelle, La nourriture de Saint Jean Puissent mes vers être comme elle, Le regal des meilleures gens. Le dauphin Dauphins, vous jouez dans la mer, Mais le flot est tourjours a mer. Parfois ma joie éclate t’elle. La vie est encore cruelle. The Dromedary With his four dromedaries Don Pedro de Alfarrobeira Roamed the world and liked it. He did what I'd do If I had four dromedaries. The Tibetan Goat The fleece of this goat and even The golden one that Jason labored for Are worth nothing when compared To the hair that I'm in love with. The Grasshopper Here's the fine grasshopper, John the Baptist's food. May my poetry be like it, A treat for the best people. The Dolphin Dolphins, you romp in the sea, But the waves are always bitter. Yes, my joy breaks through at times. But life is as hard as ever.

L’écrevisse Incertitude, O! mes delices, Vous et moi nous nous en allons Comme s’en vont les écrevisses, A reculons, a reculons. La carpe Dans vos viviers dans vos étangs, Carpes que vous vivez long temps! Est-ce que la mort vous oublie, Poissons de la mélancolie?
Poet: Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918)

The Crayfish Uncertaintly, o my delight, You and I we get away As crayfish do, Backwards, backwards. The Carp In your pools, in your ponds, Carp, you live such a long time! Does death pass over you, Fish of despondency?
Translation: Lauren Shakeley

This final set by Lee Hoiby (1926-2011) is a musical setting of selected poems from Walt Whitman’s (1819-1892) collection of poetry entitled Leaves of Grass. Walt Whitman was an ardent admirer of President Abraham Lincoln. Many of his poems like O Captain! My Captain! and I Was There refer to a father-like captain that is meant to suggest Lincoln. This song set takes us from feelings of euphoria to feelings of suffering. It makes us reflect on death through the eyes of a young man who will perhaps one day take on the role of his falling captain; thus, continuing the string of adventures he and his shipmates will encounter on the high seas. Hoiby’s musical synthesis between the voice and the piano accompaniment masterfully paints all of the moods necessary to understand the intent of both composer and poet. Beginning My Studies Beginning my studies the first step pleas’d me so much The mere fact consciousness, these forms, the power of motion, The least insect or animal, the senses, eyesight, love, The first step I say awed me and pleas’d me so much, I have hardly gone and hardly wish’d to go any farther, But stop and loiter all the time to sing it in ecstatic songs. I Was There I understand the large hearts of heroes, The courage of present times and all times, How the skipper saw the crowded and rudderless wreck of the steam-ship, and Death chasing it up and down the storm, How he knuckled tight and gave not back one inch, and was faithful of days and faithful of nights, And chalk’d in large letters on a board, Be of good cheer, we will not desert you; How he follow’d with them and tacked with them three days and would not give it up, How he saved the drifting company at last, How the lank loose-gown’d women look’d when boated from the side of their prepared graves, How the silent old-faced infants, and the lifted sick, and the sharp-lipp’d unshaven men; All this I swallow, it tastes good, I like it well, it becomes mine, I am the man, I suffer’d, I was there.

A Clear Midnight This is thy hour, O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless, Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done, Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best, Night, sleep, death and the stars

O Captain! My Captain! O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done, The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won, The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting, While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring: But O heart! Heart! Heart! O the bleeding drops of red, Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead. O Captain! My Captain! Rise up and hear the bells; Rise up – for you the flag is flung – for you the bugle trills, For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths – for you the shores a – crowding, For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning; Here Captain! Dear father! This arm beneath your head! It is some dream that on the deck, You’ve fallen cold and dead. My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still, My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will, The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done, From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won; Exult O shores, and ring O bells! But I with mournful tread, Walk the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead. Joy, Shipmate, Joy! Joy, Shipmate, Joy! (Pleas’d to my soul at death I cry,) Our life is closed, our life begins, The long, long anchorage we leave, The ship is clear at last, she leaps! She swiftly courses from the shore, Joy, shipmate, joy.
Poet: Walt Whitman (1819-1892)