mixed chorus (1997) 8′, four movements
lyrics by Edward Carpenter
published by G. Schirmer Inc.
- commissioned by the Dale Warland Singers
- New Music Delaware Composition Prize, 1999
- Americas Vocal Ensemble competition, honorable mention, 1999
There are many similarities between the poetry of Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) and Walt Whitman, even though Carpenter’s work more directly reflects the social ideals of his native England than Whitman’s America. Three important themes run through Carpenter’s work, all of which he viewed as related: the quest for personal and political freedom through the ideals of socialism; freedom of sexual expression; and a personal mysticism that transcends conventional religious practice. Carpenter’s poetry often aggrandizes the manual working classes as being the soul of the new social order. He likewise revels in the sensuality of both sexes, and he was closely associated with other turn-of-the-century writers on sexual politics, such as Magnus Hirschfeld, Havelock Ellis, and E. M. Forster.
Carpenter’s major poetic work, Towards Democracy, was first published in 1883, but it was continually edited and expanded over the next few years (as was Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, which Carpenter treasured). Carpenter’s poetry runs the gamut of scope and imagery, from intensely intimate revelations, to rhapsodic glorification of agricultural and industrial workers, to grandiose expressions of mysticism and rapturous erotic ecstasy. I find much of his poetry a strange mixture of overblown sentiment offset by mundane imagery and language; these traits also make much of his poetry seem to me problematic for effective musical setting.
For these Madrigals, however, I collected together a few very short poems as well as fragments of longer poems, most of which reflect the rarer intimate side of Carpenter. Yet, even in these intimate miniatures there runs an undercurrent of ardor and rapture. I have tried to capture these qualities in my musical settings, which are for the most part lyrical and restrained.
The Madrigals were commissioned by the Dale Warland Singers with major funding provided by the Jerome Foundation, and additional support from the Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University.