Siskind

tenor, flute, guitar  (2002) 9′

published by Sweet Child Music

  • commissioned by Sweet, Fair, and Wise

“…expansive in style, taking on a romantic fragrance, a spiky wit, and a sinuous sensuality.”  Mike Greenberg, San Antonio Express-News, 2/26/05

Although I have written musical settings of poetry by a wide variety of modern poets, this was my first setting of poetry by E.E. Cummings.  Attempting to set Cummings’ work to music always seemed like a daunting challenge to me; like many people, I was only familiar with the famous quirky poems, the ones with fragmented grammar and twisted syntax.  These had always struck me as not working well as texts for musical setting; the visual grammatical quirks would lose all of their meaning and charm when sung, rendering the poems merely unintelligible.

However, as I looked for poems for this commission, I discovered a side of Cummings’ work that I did not know: a highly lyrical style.  I was very surprised to find that the famous quirky poems are really only a small (but infamous) example of his work, and that most of his work is immensely lyrical and romantic, including many rather traditional sonnets.  And in these lyrical contexts, the grammatical quirks now seemed to heighten, rather than undermine, the musical potential of the poems.

Thus, the two outer songs in my set are lyrical in style, befitting the text as well as the nature of the instrumentation of the trio.  In fact, the climactic moment of the third song brings back material from the first song, further unifying the style of the set.  In contrast, the middle song highlights the more familiar, quirky style of Cummings’ poetry.  This also allowed me to explore some of the coloristic effects also available in the trio.

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