Election Day - (2009)
for medium voice and piano
Despots effete upon tottering thrones
Unsteadily poised upon dead men's
Walk up! walk up! the circus is free,
And this wonderful
spectacle you shall see:
Millions of voters who mostly are fools--
Demagogues' dupes and candidates' tools,
Armies of uniformed mountebanks,
And braying disciples of brainless cranks.
Many a week they've bellowed
Bitterly blackguarding, lying like thieves,
freely the quick and the dead
And painting the New Jerusalem red.
Tyrants monarchical--emperors, kings,
Princes and nobles and all such
Noblemen, gentlemen, step this way:
There's nothing, the
Devil excepted, to pay,
And the freaks and curios here to be seen
very uncommonly grand and serene.
No more with vivacity they debate,
Nor cheerfully crack the illogical pate;
No longer, the dull
understanding to aid,
The stomach accepts the instructive blade,
the stubborn heart learns what is what
From a revelation of rabbit-shot;
And vilification's flames--behold!
Burn with a bickering faint and cold.
Magnificent spectacle!--every tongue
Suddenly civil that yesterday rung
(Like a clapper beating a brazen bell)
Each fair reputation's eternal
Hands no longer delivering blows,
And noses, for counting,
arrayed in rows.
Walk up, gentlemen--nothing to pay--
goes back to Hell to-day.
[ 7 pages, circa 3' 50" ]
The text is from Bierce's Shapes of Clay (1903), in which a number of
texts draw cynical portraits of politics and politicians. Published over a
century ago and as I have often observed, the rhetoric of politics seems to
promise various kinds of hope and change, and yet that which was worthy of
acerbic skepticism in 1903 is more than worthy of the same and heightened
skepticism today, the world's governments generally in massive debt compared
to 1903. Defense through offence is the name of much politics in which one's
party -- quite like team sports -- receives accolades and offences are
easily excused, while the other side receives jeers and the smallest
infraction is built into a public-relations fed scandal of epic proportions.
Bierce reminds us that all sides will ultimately offer "the devil to pay."
Thus Bierce mixes "magnificent spectacle" with "tyrants," characterizing the
political cheerleaders as "braying disciples." I think that an apt
For the loyal devotee of any political party, each of you only need ruminate
on your own opinions of the "other" party which you oppose to realize how
apt Bierce's remarks seem towards it and its "braying disciples;" but
realize that the "other" party thinks of you quite in the same way.
The opening gesture is an stripped and simplified elongation of that kind of
gesture which circus bands and political marches often open. The verse
features a walking bass of tenths underpinning a single counterpoint to the
vocal line. The score is under-marked in terms of dynamics, but performers
are encouraged to find an ebb and flow to them within the popular style on
which this setting is based.
The first stanzas in this poem are treated in an A-A form with the shift to
the subdominant as the answering B section, as below.
After a reprise of the A section, there comes a new section of bridge
materials, a more agitated C in this extended form of sixteenth note chords,
before a return to the final A section.
The final reprise of the A section brings Bierce's conclusion to an end, as
he mentions the "Devil" which rears its head in each and every electoral
season of promises and often emotionally appealing but logically vacuous
rhetoric. Therefore "Hell today" is followed by the poem's title, for "hell"
is in Bierce's and my opinion also "election day."
The score for Election Day 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.