An Echo from the Shore
Text adapted from the Late Works of Walt Whitman
for soprano, oboe,
violin, violoncello and harpsichord
Commissioned by Ursula Krummel for Pacific Serenades
i. Prairie Sunset
[ 8 pages, circa 6' 00" ]
Shot gold, maroon and violet, dazzling silver, emerald, fawn,
the earth's whole amplitude and Nature's multiform power
consign'd for once to colors;
The light, the general air possess'd by
colors till now unknown,
no limit, confine - not the Western sky alone -
the high meridian - North, South, all,
pure luminous color fighting the silent shadows to the last.
free ev'ning of my day," he said, "I give you talk, thoughts,
reminiscences, as idly drifting down the ebb,
such ripples, half-caught voices, echo from the shore."
How sweet the
silent backward tracings!
The wand'rings as in dreams - the meditation of old times
resumed - their loves, joys, persons, voyages.
ii. Fancy Dance
(instrumental only) [ 2 pages, circa 40" ]
iii. Grown Old - "Querilities"
[ 8 pages, circa 5' 15" ]
"As I sit writing here," he said, "grown old,
not the least of my burden is that dulness of the years, querilities,
ungracious gloom, aches, may filter in my daily songs."
nearing, curious," he wrote,
"Thou dim, uncertain spectre - bringest thou life or death?
Strength or weakness, blindness or placid skies and sun?
Wilt stir the waters yet?
Or haply cut me short for good?
Bringest thou life or death?"
The two old, simple problems ever
close home, elusive, present,
by each successive age insoluble, pass'd on,
to ours to-day - and we pass on the same.
Have we learn'd lessons only of
those who admired us, and
were tender with us, and stood aside for us?
Have we not learn'd the
great lessons from those
who reject us, or who treat us with contempt?
Ever the undiscouraged,
resolute, struggling soul of man;
Ever the eager eyes, hurrahs, the
curious, unconvinced at last;
struggling to-day the same.
iv. Valse Triste
(instrumental only) [ 1 pages, circa 55" ]
v. Halcyon Days and Oblivion
[ 9 pages, circa 7' 20" ]
"As life wanes," he taught, "and all the turbulent passions calm,
as gorgeous vapory, silent hues cover the evening sky,
as softness, fulness, rest, suffuse the frame, like fresher, balmier air,
as the days take on a mellower light, and the apple at last hangs
on the tree, finish'd and indolent-ripe.
Then for the teeming quietest,
happiest days of all!
The brooding and blissful halcyon days!"
After the dazzle of day is gone,
only the dark, dark night shows to my eyes the stars;
silent, athwart my soul, moves the symphony true.
The soft voluptuous
the sun just gone, the eager light dispell'd -
(I too will soon be gone, dispell'd,)
a haze - nirwana - rest and night - oblivion,
as life wanes, idly drifting down the ebb,
such ripples, half-caught voices, echo from the shore.
Total score [ 31 pages with cover, contents and libretto, circa 20' 05" ]
The libretto is compiled by the composer from the late works of Walt
Whitman, with the poet's particular spelling choices unaltered in deference
to his art, craft and time.
The work was commissioned for
Pacific Serenades by Ursula Krummel
[ 1 ] through the recommendation of Mark Carlson, and debuted in three
performances during April of 2003 by Juliana Gondek, soprano, Allan Vogel,
oboe, Clayton Halsop, violin, David Speltz, violoncello and Patricia Mabee,
The harpsichord required for the work is a full keyboard, with a minimum of
both 8 and 4 foot stops. The full score doubles as both the vocal and
keyboard scores (a page turner is recommended), and three additional parts
for oboe, violin and violoncello come together in the publication of the
work. The vocal part ranges from low A to high B-flat, much the same
tessitura as Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos, which was the suggestion of
Juliana in our conversations before composing the work.
The first gestures in the harpsichord are meant to suggest a somewhat
desolate moment, as the author -- Whitman -- indulges in self-reflection on
the end of his life, at the end of his life. The voice enters quietly as
part of the chamber ensemble texture, without text until the first entrance
of the Whitman text itself after a meditative introduction. A broad melodic
line for the soprano rises to successive climaxes with the many colors by
which Whitman paints the "Prairie Sunset," and the movements ends quietly.
The full score shows the oboe, violin and violoncello parts in smaller
print, so as to make the vocal line and harpsichord more easily used as a
Demo excerpt - MP3 file [ 2.38 MB, 2' 33" ]
A vey short and raucous instrumental interlude dotted with some musical
reminiscences of an Americana flavor follows, reflecting another side to
life, that earlier and more vibrant suggestion of youth.
As answer to this moment of musical ribaldry, the second block of text
begins with soprano and harpsichord alone. A set of sparse, time shifted,
falling octaves underpins a set speech-pattern melodic phrases for the
soprano, after which the violin and violoncello enter quietly to join
in an A-B-A-B form.
Another instrumental interlude intervenes, this a sad waltz which is
subtitled "Querilities." This is a reflection on Whitman's concern that
"dulness of the years, querilities,
ungracious gloom, aches, may filter
in my daily songs." Such is this minute long, awkward-lined meditation for
oboe and the accompaniment of the remaining ensemble.
The final movement begins with a quote from an old American gospel song,
Blessed Assurance" mingled with snippets predicting what will be the
gestures of the lyrical vocal line. Thereafter the text begins over an
utterly simple and repetitive two-measure phrase rocking child-like between
tonic and subdominant.
The soprano line rises to its lyric height at measure 37 with the notion
that the "apple" as metaphor for life is "finished." The singer is
encouraged to take time to make poignant this gesture as it captures the
sense of the text.
At the close of this moment and the work as a whole, the text which gives
the piece its title appears, as if a summation. The simple, central theme of
this extended 3/4 movement yields to a final appassionato as for a
second time in the movement the oboe and strings sing out large arching
phrases as the soprano sings Whitman's notion of "drifting" at life's end.
The score for An Echo from the Shore as well as parts and some
remarks for program notes are available as a free PDF download, though any
major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without
prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this
chamber music score and parts.
Soprano and Harpsichord
Another text of Whitman's,
To the States, is set for soprano or tenor and piano. For the founder of
Pacific Serenades, Mark Carlson, I penned a short
Sonatina for Flute and Harp in F major, the score to which is
available as a free download.
[ 1 ] From an article entitled "Board
Member Spotlight," by Laura Kaufman, in an untitled Pacific
Serenades publication, April 2003.
"When Ursula Krummel attended her first Pacific
Serenades concert she felt transported back to her childhood in
post-World War II Germany.
Family and friends would come over, she recalled, and serenade
themselves on Sunday afternoons. The music was classical, mostly,
except when an uncle would improvise a Souza march on the door of
the family's flat.
"Pacific Serenades Saturday night
concerts share an intimate connection with the
Hausmusik (house music) performances Ursula remembers with
fondness. "The closeness of the performers, it's like a family
atmosphere," said Ursula, a Board member for the past seven years
and a retired aerospace lab supervisor at Bendix.
"Ursula attended her first Pacific
Serenades concert a decade back and was immediately hooked. She
joined the Board not long after and has since enjoyed baking goodies
and planning food for the Saturday night events, as well as manning
the CD table at the Sunday Neighborhood Church venue. Making others
feel comfortable comes naturally to Ursula, who now works as a New
Zealand Airlines VIP Lounge hostess at LAX, where she have served
opera star Kiri te Kanawa and the pop legend Elton John.
"Ursula -- a runner who recently
finished the L.A. Marathon despite an angioplasty last October --
has her heart in the right place: she loves being personally
involved in the commissioning of a new piece. Two years ago, for
example, she felt inspired to underwrite Gernot Wolfgang's
composition Impressions. "I met and got to know him and when I
listened to his music, I was absolutely thrilled," said Ursula.
"And this year she is sponsoring
her fifth commissioned work: Gary Bachlund's An Echo from the Shore. "It's a good investment," Ursula
said. "It makes me feel good.