Sobs En Route to a Penitentiary

 

 

Sobs En Route to a Penitentiary - (2009)    

Carl Sandburg

for medium voice and piano


 

Good-by now to the streets and the clash of wheels and
    locking hubs,
The sun coming on the brass buckles and harness knobs.
The muscles of the horses sliding under their heavy
    haunches,
Good-by now to the traffic policeman and his whistle,
The smash of the iron hoof on the stones,
All the crazy wonderful slamming roar of the street--
O God, there's noises I'm going to be hungry for.

[ 3 pages, circa 1' 50" ]


Carl Sandburg

 

The text comes from Sandburg's collection of 1916, Chicago Poems. Its original title is "A Teamster's Farewell," with the subtitle "Sobs En Route to a Penitentiary" from which I take this setting's title. Sandburg was in part a commentator on the body politic, as in this collection he observed of the city as of its inhabitants, "Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness..." Such are the stories of man, repeated again and again, of honor alongside corruption, the good alongside the evil. This tale is one of a teamster headed to prison and told from that singular perspective.

 

As an addendum to this page, I note in 2012 the news that ex-governors of Illinois Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, and George Ryan, a Republican, serving terms in prison for corruption only underscore Sandburg's text which was true once upon and time and remains true today. While the list of ex-governors is short, a review of the aldermen of Chicago convicted of crimes is extensive. Obviously many have thought that in politics, crime indeed pays.

 

 

The seeming blues character to the setting is one of harmonic colors rather than forms, for the chord forms as with other of my settings moves upwards by minor thirds, in this case from E flat minor as the tonic (with the inclusion of major thirds in the major-minor triadic harmony) to G flat, A and then C, before slipping to the expected dominant of B flat. The text is broken into two verses, not wholly identical.

 

 

 

The short bridge material includes a marcato gesture with its falling alto line in the mediant, before beginning the second verse. A final "Good-by" ends this short vignette "en route to a penitentiary." How many criminals of all sorts, but especially corrupt politicians and corrupt teamsters, have experienced this "Good-by," one imagines to be a pertinent question.

 

 

The score for Sobs En Route to a Penitentiary 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.

 

Sobs En Route to a Penitentiary