Metaphysics - (2006)
for medium high voice and piano
to those important musicologists, Professor Why and Doctor
Why and Wherefore set out one day
To hunt for a wild Negation.
agreed to meet at a cool retreat
On the Point of Interrogation.
But the night was dark and they missed their mark,
And, driven well-nigh
They lost their ways in a murky maze
Then they took a boat and were soon afloat
On a Sea of Speculation,
But the sea grew rough, and their boat, though
Was split into an Equation.
As they floundered about in
the Waves of Doubt
Rose a fearful Hypothesis,
Who gibbered with glee
as they sank in the sea,
And the last they saw was this:
rock-bound Reef of Unbelief
There sat the
Then they sank once more and were washed ashore
the Point of Interrogation.
[ 4 pages, 1 '55" ]
Oliver Herford (1863 - 1935) English-born
American poet, illustrator, and wit, published over 50 volumes of light
verse and prose. "Metaphysics" is drawn from The Bashful
Earthquake (1898). Known as "the American Oscar Wilde," Herford,
was born in Sheffield, England, and as an illustrator and humorist drew
heavily from the contemporary European modes of caricature exemplified in
the pages of British journals such as the London Vanity Fair and
I chose to dedicate this song setting to two
anonymous musicologists, represented yet hidden by the noms-de-guerres
of Professor Why and Doctor Wherefore, who both taught me quite distinctly
by their own example that poorly skilled musicians can make decent careers
in music by surviving and thriving in the pantheon of musicological academia
where never again would they be required to demonstrate the paucity of their
minimal musical skills and insights.
As one pundit recently wrote of "the
institutional vanity and intellectual slovenliness of .... campus-based
intelligentsia," I feel strongly that musicians -- and musicologists claim
to be musicians -- must perform alongside their wordiness to show and teach
the meaning in music, not merely write copiously about music in words and
more words, a pursuit which remains utterly bound in language alone.
Professor Why and Doctor Wherefore would have been sorely tested thereby,
and proven, like Andersen's famed Emperor, to have had "no clothes."
Let it be said herein that I also hold some
other musicologists in high esteem for their public performances and passion
for music as a living art. For them, this simple score would be child's
play, while for Professor Why and Doctor Wherefore, it would be an
insurmountable challenge. Therein lies the tale.
The tessitura of the setting lies mostly in the middle range, with the
highest point coming at the "split" as their "boat, though tough" is broken
on the crashing waves of rising chromaticism. The setting vacillates between
a music hall style and structured dissonance, chromaticism flowing over a
twelve-tone row, yielding to a short and tonally varied snippet of the
"Liebestod" from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.
"As they floundered about in the Waves of
Doubt," the fearful hypothesis announces itself in three repetitions, as
chromaticism gives way to the twelve-tone row, the supposedly logical
extension and "freeing" of the tonal system which became itself an orthodoxy
in too few short decades. For my own little joke, each repetition of the row
is ended by simple octaves creating a pedal beneath the repetitions and
binding it to the tonal region of that moment, as the vocal line simply
A musicologist -- or music critic, for that
matter -- with demonstrably adequate musical skills should take no offence.
Musicologists with inadequate musical skills should be ashamed of
themselves, and return to the practice room forthwith.