Joy - (2009)
for high voice and piano
for Anna Sylvan
Let a joy keep you.
Reach out your hands
And take it when it runs
As the Apache dancer
Clutches his woman.
I have seen them
Live long and laugh loud,
Sent on singing, singing,
Smashed to the
Under the ribs
With a terrible love.
Let joy kill you!
Keep away from the little deaths.
[ 4 pages, circa 2' 00" ]
Sandburg speaks to us of a zest for living, in comparing the joy he so
clearly recommends to "the Apache dancer" who "clutches his woman." This is
a most visceral image, for the Apache dancer, either man or woman, took part
in a dance-pretense of some brutality. The pantomime dance tells of the pimp
-- Apache in the French of the 1910s as made popular by Maurice Mouvet --
accosting his prostitute. As she refuses to turn over her earnings to him,
and he slaps her, throws her around, and drags her by her hair in circles of
triple time meter and finally and leaves her as in a heap in the corner. She
crawls back, begging forgiveness, professing love. The name is taken from a
Parisian street gang, which styled itself as vicious in the perceived manner
of an American Indian tribe. The word, apache, however is pronounced in
regard to the dance in the French manner of two syllables.
This of course violates modern feminist sensitivities, for which one need
remind that the dance is a pantomime just as plays about abuse and murder
are simply theater. Without such reminders of life, no Medea could be
staged, no Otello sung, and no grim realities of life portrayed in
any similar fashion in a humorless and artless life. Sandburg's suggestion
is not so much that art imitates life and such brutality is to be emulated,
as the intensity which a life such as the Apache dance suggests is pained
large on a canvas. So should joy be, even if sometime darkly received or
The text is drawn from Sandburg's 1916 anthology, Chicago Poems. For
more on other of my Sandburg settings, please see his entry in
Authors' Alphabetical Index - S.
The Scotch snap of the opening and the emphasis on the tonic accent in
general allows the hemiola in a 6/8 a larger effect, and highlights the
aggressiveness with which Sandburg paints the notion of "joy." Therefore the
opening is marked fortissimo. The verses into which this non-rhyming
poem's sentences are structured are built around references to blues
gestures, though an actual blues form is avoided.
The coda after three verses reiterates the poet's advice that we find joy
"always" and "everywhere." The last verse places the right hand an octave
higher, suggesting the honky tonk saloon wherein one might see such a dance
to life, even one so darkly represented as in the Apache dance. Rubati
and a general emphatic ritardando towards the final cadence may be
interpolated by the performers as felt, but are not wholly necessary.
Dr. Anna Sylvan was born in Indiana, but grew up in New York und Arizona. At
fifteen she played Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 with orchestra and won
various competitions. During her study at Mills College in California) she
began to study voice as well. At the University of Arizona she earned her
degrees of Master of Arts und Doctor of Musical Arts. She taught voice and
choral conducting at the University of Texas El Paso, while performing opera
roles such as Cherubino, Orlovsky, Hänsel und Rosina in regional opera
theaters. In 1989 Sylvan moved to Mainz, where she sang both as solo
and chorus. She lived in Berlin and led the children's choruses at the
Deutschen Staatsoper and choruses of various Berlin schools, and also worked
as vocal coach and instructor for piano, voice and recorder.
The score for Joy 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