The Sum - (2009)
Paul Laurence Dunbar
for low or medium voice and piano
A little dreaming by the way,
A little toiling day by day;
pain, a little strife,
A little joy, -- and that is life.
short-lived summer's morn,
When joy seems all so newly born,
day's sky is blue above,
And one bird sings, -- and that is love.
A little sickening of the years,
The tribute of a few hot tears
folded hands, the failing breath,
And peace at last, -- and that is
Just dreaming, loving, dying so,
The actors in the drama go
A flitting picture on a wall,
Love, Death, the themes; but is that
[ 3 pages, circa 3' 20" ]
Paul Laurence Dunbar
The text is published in a collection, Lyrics of the Hearthside,
1899. Given the variety of Dunbar's philosophic statements as rendered in
verse as well as in standard English as well as dialect, this opened
question is among the more pensive reflections he has written. "Is that
question comes to us all, and causes me to remember a dinner I had with a
colleague, friend and fine musician. In his work, he had reached the
pinnacle available to him in his forties. "What was to come? Is that all
there is," to which my response was a certain yes. That life is finite is a
given, but that in being finite there is worth is the key. When one thinks
on the story of our Papa Bach, he had achieved so much musically and yet
died being thought old-fashioned, and in the hands of inept if not criminal
physician. That life is finite and that we reach some kind of pinnacle, not
to climb significantly higher, is a normal place in life for many.
Dunbar asks the question, and our hindsight of knowing his history and
personal circumstances, the answer to the question -- in one's life -- can
be that "this is all there is." But beyond life, whether it take the forms
and expressions of religious beliefs to the simple proof that this setting
newly revisits this fine poet's work once again, the answer is also "no."
There is more to life which cannot be fathomed through the eyes of
mortality. This too Dunbar asserts in others of his great opus.
The harmonic rhythm is measure-long slow, as the simple chords move from
statement to statement in the text. From the tonic major begun with the
seventh of the scale and throughout, four-note diatonic chords in a mostly
single-voiced line accompany the vocal line's details. This verse form is
hymn like, with a short interlude between the stanzas.
The third stanza adds a quiet, sinking bass voice, which descends quietly by
scalar steps across the octave's tonic span.
The last stanza moves from D flat to F, with an alteration to the vocal
line's shape in the elongation and repetitions of Dunbar's topics, live,
love, and death. A small reference to the earlier D flat major seven at
measure 42 yields again to the brighter and higher F major. In answer to his
question, this setting in some small way affirms that there indeed is
"more," such that both answers to his query might seem appropriate, based on
one's perspective and frame of reference.
The score for The Sum 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