Bills - (2009)
for medium voice and piano
These annual bills! these annual bills!
How many a song their discord
Of "truck" consumed, enjoyed, forgot,
Since I was skinned by
last year's lot!
Those joyous beans are passed away;
blithe, O where are they?
Once loved, lost, mourned--now vexing ills
Your shades troop back in annual bills!
And so 'twill be when I'm
These yearly duns will still go round,
While other bards, with
Shall damn and damn these annual bills!
[ 3 pages, circa 1' 45" ]
The old adage seems ever more true: Two things are certain, death and taxes.
The definition of death in a more perceptive adage suggests it is the tax to
be paid for vitality. Twain held forth on this, of course. But it was not
only death which affected his life severely. It was debt. By 1894 Twain had
found himself approximately $100,000 in debt, for which he wrote, "If I live
I can pay off the last debt within four years, after which, at the age of
sixty-four, I can make a fresh and unencumbered start in life." Thanks to
assistance from his friend and head of Standard Oil in that era, Henry
Rogers, Twain's copyrights were assigned to Harper's in exchange for an
annual income and, with subsequent lectures in a worldwide tour, Twain did
indeed pay off his debts."
The poem, the original title being "Those Annual Bills," therefore speaks of
having enjoyed that which indebtedness had provided in the past, the bill
coming due in the future long after the enjoyment had gone. This lesson must
be relearned by every generation it seems, for which the biblical advice in
Proverbs 22 passed through William Shakespeare to Benjamin Franklin and
other voices seems profound to some while exceedingly old fashioned to those
who rely on debt; "Neither a borrower nor a lender be." The original
observes wisely, "The rich rules over the poor; and the borrower becomes
servant to the lender." Twain fell into debt, and felt this truth first
Judging by current political and economic trends around the world, whole
nations have fallen into the same predicament and must find their way out
again, as did Mark Twain.
The opening gesture appearing repetitively as an accompaniment figure is of
upper and lower voices converging into a closed chord form. The trills
mentioned in the text are echoed in the accompaniment as well and a
succession of small progressions pulls downward the last gestures for the
The title is reused as an additional lyric to bolster the disgust with bills
-- the consequences of having wagered and lost in investments and acquiring
unpaid debt. A flurry of downward soprano scales nags as introduction to
this "unofficial" part of the text. As bridge material the first couplet of
the poem's last stanza is broken away from the song form's chorus, and the
last couplet then serves twice to fill out the text in the repetition and
coda of the last chorus.
The score for Bills is 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