Happiness - (2007)
for medium voice and piano
I asked the professors who teach the meaning of life to tell
me what is happiness.
And I went to famous executives who boss the work
thousands of men.
They all shook their
heads and gave me a smile as though
trying to fool with them
And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out
the Desplaines river
[ 1 ]
And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees
their women and children and a keg of beer
[ 3 pages, circa 3' 00" ]
This short work of philosophy is drawn from Sandburg's collection,
Chicago Poems (1916), which he inscribed "To My Wife and pal,
Lillian Steichen Sandburg." Its musical setting was completed on that most
American holiday, Thanksgiving Day, while living in Berlin, Germany. An apt
musing to add to Thanksgiving Day thoughts, reflections and gratitude for
freedom's many blessings.
The vocal range of the work is very modest, a ninth. The open spacing for
the accompaniment are meant to take as much time as a performer might
require to clearly reach them within the overall tempo of the setting. The
falling theme in the top voice of the accompaniment is meant as a sign of
release from tension, for happiness is sometimes the release from too many
existential questions, as Sandburg teaches. The long-lined arch of the
accompaniment, over eighteen measures, is repeated several times, as it will
come to be seen that this is the echo of the happy tune that one imagines
was heard in a park almost a century ago.
Sandburg's scene moves from academia and the business office to a casual
"Sunday afternoon" wherein the simple joys of life seem to be celebrated. He
chooses Hungarians, immigrants of that time, but might we imagine immigrants
from any time, seeking freedom and the chance to improve the quality of
their lives? The top line of the accompaniment becomes more decorative,
filling in the spaces between harmonic changes until a small snippet of the
"original" accordion-like theme breaks through the longer-lined musing of
The score for Happiness 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.
[ 1 ] As a place
name it is properly spelled, Des Plaines, and in the American
pronunciation it is pronounced "des_plānz." It is also a small city
of northeast Illinois, a suburb of Chicago on the Des Plaines River.