Compensation

 

 

Compensation - (2009)    

Paul Laurence Dunbar

for medium voice and piano


 

Because I had loved so deeply,
Because I had loved so long,
God in His great compassion
Gave me the gift of song.

Because I have loved so vainly,
And sung with such faltering breath,
The Master in infinite mercy
Offers the boon of Death.

[ 2 pages, circa 1' 45" ]


Paul Laurence Dunbar

 

The text is drawn from Dunbar's collection, Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow, published 1905. An adage suggests that mortality is the tax we pay for our vitality, in parallel with Dunbar's pointed yet conciliatory point of view. As at times in life this perspective can be shaken, I chose to emphasize both a quiet acceptance and alternatively a fury giving way again to that acceptance which is, in the final analysis, far more real than mere mood and rage. Yet both coexist in the hearts of men, as in this song setting.

 

 

The so-called major-minor seven chords in this song comprise almost the entire harmonic palette, while the root movement between tonic and subdominant, yielding later to the dark dominant with both major and minor thirds enclosed, is distinctly blues like without following the actual form itself.

 

 

The octave displacement of chords and sharper rhythms strengthen this moment of anger, as the word "compensation" is deemed for a moment to be a poor bargain in the face of this "boon of Death." And yet, the song setting recoils from this outburst, and returns to its beginning as the two parts of the bargain -- song and death -- are revisited. The notion of adding the title of the poem to the lyric is a habit which I have employed in other settings, and here serves the purpose of extending the length of the text without repeating some of the former lines in their entirety.

 

 

The score for Compensation 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 piano-vocal score.

 

Compensation