Soup - (2009)
medium voice and piano
I saw the famous man eating soup.
I say he was lifting a fat broth
Into his mouth with a spoon.
His name was in the newspapers that day
Spelled out in tall black headlines
And thousands of people were talking about him.
When I saw him,
He sat bending his head over a plate
Putting soup in his mouth with a spoon.
pages, circa 2' 20" ]
text is taken from Sandburg's collection, Smoke and Steel (1920).
While seemingly repetitive, its attention to the mundane detail of the scene
is a stark contrast to the seeming fame of this unnamed and therefore
forgotten "famous man." One notes immediately that the event speaks an
editorial along the lines of the old adage, "everyone puts their pants on
one leg at a time." In the moment which Sandburg has isolated in time, this
unnamed "famous man" is as mundane as are all those which fame so easily
thinks to be beneath them. This is as true a lesson for today and the worlds
of politics and media as it was when written.
motive which is found throughout the setting is of a major triad in second
inversion falling to its minor triad and thence by common tone to a root
position triad made the movement of the fifth of the first chords moving to
become the tonic of the third chord. Throughout this is made more stark by a
separation by octaves into the higher and lower ranges of the piano. The
vocal line first rises its leap of a sixth to mention "the name," while we
never learn of the name in the ironic editorial which Sandburg has fashioned
with the first rising sixth, three occur, the last emphasizing the same
editorial stance, that the "name" as well as "talking" and "mouth"
tell us only that this unnamed famous man slurped his soup, bent over the
bowl. The onomatopoeia of the sharp, forte gestures at measure 29
fade quickly away into a cadence on the octaves, empty of the other tones of
the many triads which preceded. Fame indeed is fleeting.
The score for
Soup 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.