Harte Songs - (2005)
for medium voice and piano
i. Mrs. Judge Jenkins [ 9 pages, circa 5' 55" ]
Muller all that summer day
Raked the meadows sweet with hay;
Yet, looking down the distant lane,
She hoped the Judge would come
But when he came, with smile and bow,
Maud only blushed,
and stammered, "Ha-ow?"
And spoke of her "pa," and wondered whether
He'd give consent they should wed together.
Old Muller burst into
tears, and then
Begged that the Judge would lend him "ten";
trade was dull, and wages low,
And the "craps", this year, were somewhat
And ere the languid summer died,
Sweet Maud became the
But on the day that they were mated,
brother Bob was intoxicated;
And Maud's relations, twelve in all,
Were very drunk in the Judge's hall.
And when the summer came
The young bride bore him babies twain;
And the Judge was
blest, but thought it strange
That bearing children made such a change;
For Maud grew broad and red and stout,
And the waist that his arm once
Was more than he now could span: and he
he pondered, ruefully,
How that which in Maud was native grace
In Mrs. Jenkins was out of place;
And thought of the twins, and
wished that they
Looked less like the men who raked the hay
Muller's farm, and dreamed with pain
Of the day he wandered down the
And, looking down that dreary track,
He half regretted
that he came back;
For, had he waited, he might have wed
maiden fair and thoroughbred;
For there be women fair as she,
Whose verbs and nouns do more agree.
Alas for maiden! alas for
Add the sentimental, -- that's one-half "fudge";
soon thought the Judge a bore,
With all his learning and all his lore;
And the Judge would have bartered Maud's fair face
For more refinement
and social grace.
If, of all words of tongue and pen,
saddest are, "It might have been,"
More sad are these we daily see:
"It is, but hadn't ought to be."
ii. Coyote [ 6 pages, circa 3' 20]
Blown out of
the prairie in twilight and dew,
Half bold and half timid, yet lazy all
Loath ever to leave, and yet fearful to stay,
He limps in
the clearing, an outcast in gray.
A shade on the stubble, a ghost by
Now leaping, now limping, now risking a fall,
and large-jointed, but ever alway
A thoroughly vagabond outcast in
Here, Carlo, old fellow,--he's one of your kind,--
seek him, and bring him in out of the wind.
What! snarling, my Carlo! So
even dogs may
Deny their own kin in the outcast in gray.
take what you will--though it be on the sly,
Marauding or begging,--I
shall not ask why,
But will call it a dole, just to help on his way
A four-footed friar in orders of gray!
iii. Plain Language from Truthful James [ 8 pages, circa 4'
I reside at Table Mountain, and my name is Truthful James;
I am not up
to small deceit, or any sinful games;
And I'll tell in simple language
what I know about the row
That broke up our Society upon the Stanislow.
But first I would remark, that it is not a proper plan
scientific gent to whale his fellow-man,
And, if a member don't agree
with his peculiar whim,
To lay for that same member for to "put a head"
Now nothing could be finer or more beautiful to see
the first six months' proceedings of that same Society,
Till Brown of
Calaveras brought a lot of fossil bones
That he found within a tunnel
near the tenement of Jones.
Then Brown he read a paper, and he
From those same bones, an animal that was extremely
And Jones then asked the Chair for a suspension of the rules,
Till he could prove that those same bones was one of his lost mules.
Then Brown he smiled a bitter smile, and said he was at fault,
he had been trespassing on Jones's family vault;
He was a most sarcastic
man, this quiet Mr. Brown,
And on several occasions he had cleaned out
Now I hold it is not decent for a scientific gent
say another is an ass, - at least, to all intent;
Nor should the
individual who happens to be meant
Reply by heaving rocks at him, to any
Then Abner Dean of Angel's raised a point of order,
A chunk of old red sandstone took him in the abdomen,
smiled a kind of sickly smile, and curled up on the floor,
subsequent proceedings interested him no more.
For, in less time than
I write it, every member did engage
In a warfare with the remnants of
the palaeozoic age;
And the way they heaved those fossils in their anger
was a sin,
Till the skull of an old mammoth caved the head of Thompson
And this is all I have to say of these improper games,
live at Table Mountain, and my name is Truthful James;
And I've told in
simple language what I knew about the row
That broke up our Society upon
Total cycle [ 23 pages, circa 13' 40" ]
American writer Bret Harte, born 1836, tried several occupations before he
became a writer and a journalist, and his writing life was full of ups and
downs. He became the founding editor of the Overland Monthly in 1868, some
years after being run out of Eureka California for printing a factual report
of a massacre of Indians.
In the early 1870s, Harte was at the top of his career. It's said he was the
highest paid, most-read author of the day. Mark Twain is quoted as saying "
. . though I am generally placed at the head of my breed of scribblers in
this part of the country, the place properly belongs to Bret Harte." But his
popularity became his undoing and he found himself unable to produce and
compete with other writers of the day. In 1877 he became a commercial agent
in Prussia, and later American Consul in Glasgow, Scotland. He died 25 years
later in London.
While best known for his stories such as "The Luck
of Roaring Camp" and "The Outcasts of Poker Flat," Harte also wrote numerous
poems, including the wildly popular satire "The Heathen Chinee," which he
called "the worst poem I ever wrote."
These songs for baritone are meant for a performer who is a storyteller as
well as a singer, and each is a ballad in the sense of a vignette with
perhaps a moral to be drawn from such a bit of storytelling. The set is
titled "Harte Songs," a deliberate recollection of those song books and
hymnals of that time and in the early twentieth century when gospel songs
were often published as "Heart Songs."
In the first, a rather bitter judge has chosen Maud Muller to become Mrs.
Judge Jenkins, and then, looking back, rues his decision and their
subsequent life together. Harte teaches that "If, of all words of tongue and
pen, the saddest are, it might have been, more sad are these we daily see:
It is, but hadn't ought to be." There is dark humor in his retelling of this
age-old dilemma represented in brittle harmonic and repetitive underpinning
to the ballad. It is a dark spoof of John Greenleaf Whittier's earlier and
very popular poem, "Maud Muller," in which the story of these characters is
much less unsavory. One can read the two comparatively and enjoy Harte's
humor all the more.