e. e.'s songs
E. E. Cummings
Five songs for medium or high voice and piano
Monday, June 02, 2008
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related song settings to texts demonstrably in the public domain for
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E. E. Cummings
Notes for the small cycle, e. e.'s songs -
While a typographical error created the myth of Cummings' lower case
spelling of his own name, I chose the lower case for his initials as the
title of this cycle. These small songs are tribute to the "small" texts in
which Cummings finds such wealth and insight into characters and their
speech. By spelling out the dialect for such words as "goil" and "coitnly"
in one poem and "datz" and "yez" in another, Cummings is much like other
earlier poets -- such as
James Campbell -- in capturing a patois which informs us of
the character and locale as well as the information found in the poem
"Jimmie's got a goil" contains repetitions of words, and so the setting must
reflect that. The typographical spacing of the words ever further to the
right is reflected in "spacing" the pitches ever higher. Often Cummings own
choices for the appearance of this poems suggests musical settings to me, as
can be seen in the song setting for "In Just --" from
chansons innocentes (1923).
The sweet morning greeting of "raise the shade" is captured in the simple
setting, its musical lower neighbors suggesting an earlier era, though of
course prostitution, which some surmise is the topic of the poem, knows no
The setting of "mary green" is also
simple, standing with one lilting foot in Ireland and the other squarely in
The gruff character and strong dialect of "says
ol man no body-" is reflected in a sharp square rhythm.
Asking "time" to be kind in the face of advancing years is a lovely notion
which Cummings captures admirably, pleading that reality be tempered by
realization of that reality.
Plato plays alongside other great historical characters in advising caution,
but gravity has its way as did time in the previous poem, striking the one
so cautioned with a piece of iron falling off the Fifth Avenue El -- or
elevated train. He should have been more careful, one concludes, with such a
wealth of advice from "you" and me. But as with so much good advice, we all
often do not heed it, and reality then teaches the lesson with a greater
gravity (pardon the word play), which is the joke of Cummings' little
lesson. The sternness of the advice is carried in the square four, while the
enthusiasm for giving that advice comes in the detail of the triple meter
both of which create that American form "swing" at which this musical