Songs From the Page of Swords

for Bass-Baritone, Oboe and Chamber Ensemble

Daniel Asia

Performing Ensemble: Voice and Instrument
Publisher: Merion Music, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

"Songs From The Page of Swords", in the piano version, was written in 1986-7 for John Shirley-Quirk and Sara Watkins. The chamber orchestra version, written for the same soloists and Musical Elements, and commissioned by the Fromm Music Foundation, was completed in January 1987. It is a song cycle of six poems written by Paul Pines. I have been setting his texts now for over seven years, having met him at that time at the MacDowell Arts Colony. The poetry is concise and compact, its character traveling the distance between Ecclesiastics and the Blues, riotous euphoria to pitiless pessimism, and from the intensely personal to the universal. There is also, no less, an often wry sense of humor. The poems in this set are no different.

"Glyph/The Messenger" and "Glyph/The Message", the two pillars which frame the work, are both rhapsodic in nature, and are the longest movements in the work. They are also related harmonically and texturally, in the constant referencing to the key of E(B), and the usually busy figuration. "My Egyptian Sister" and "Mein Bruder", movements II and III, together form the second section. The music of the former is quick, light, and dazzling, like a dry and hot summer?s day; it is somewhat at odds with the text, and thereby intensifies the texts sense of disorientation. The latter, formed of an introduction, two verses separated by a short episode, and a short coda, is descriptive of the self-absorbed pitying nature of the text.

"Reincarnation" and "New Year's 1979", together form the third section of the work. They are both imbued with a light and playful quality. "Reincarnation"'s playfulness is that of the feline species. The oboe often intones a figure, as at the opening, that is my musical equivalent of ?meow,? a notion borrowed unashamedly from Britten?s ?Nocturnes?. The accompanying music is rather skitterish, somewhat as if a cat were racing up and down the keys in a most determined, but mischievous, manner. Add a vocal line that combines mock seriousness with a scat rhythmic sense, and the sum is somewhere near high vaudeville. "New Year's 1979", a tripartite movement, continues the spirit of good humor from "Reincarnation". The second section hovers in a Kaddish-like recitation of the dead; while the third section recovers the joyful animation of the first, only to sink into a final pathos reminiscent of "Mein Bruder".

"Glyph/The Message" confronts the eternal question of the nature of the universe. The music generally alternates verse and chorus. Verses are characterized by continuous sixteenth-note motion, and a re-occurring vocal line. The choruses are marked by a slower harmonic movement, overlaid with high, abrupt gestures. Also prominent is a figure that is like that of a music box. There is a momentary reference to the opening of the first movement, two-thirds of the way into the movement, in the repeated low B's (like a bell tolling), which is however, absorbed and transformed by the harmonic framework. A final chorus is presented, one of decreasing intensity, and then a coda, which fades to nothing with echoes of the universal rip.

Available on Rental

Additional Information

Commission I Glyph/The Messenger , II My Egyptian Sister , III Mein Br
Composition Date 1986
Duration 25:00
Orchestration 1 0 2 1; 1 0 0 0; Perc. Pno. Str.(2 1 1 1)
Premiere March 31st, 1987. John Shirley-Quirk, Bass-Baritone, Sara Watkins, Oboe, Musical Elements; 92nd Street Y.