Mortality

 

 

Mortality - (2009)    

Paul Laurence Dunbar

for medium voice and piano


 

Ashes to ashes, dust unto dust,
What of his loving, what of his lust?
What of his passion, what of his pain?
What of his poverty, what of his pride?
Earth, the great mother, has called him again:
Deeply he sleeps, the world’s verdict defied.
Shall he be tried again? Shall he go free?
Who shall the court convene? Where shall it be?
No answer on the land, none from the sea.
Only we know as he did, we must:
You with your theories, you with your trust, --
Ashes to ashes, dust unto dust!

[ 3 pages, circa 3' 50" ]


Paul Laurence Dunbar

 

This is a moving picture not of mortality, per se, for all mankind faces that. Rather this particular and powerful image of mortality is a dirge which urges us to learn more of another, and in this case, the other is a victim of some significant injustice within the arena of life and death itself. Dunbar tells us in poetic metaphor that "mother" earth has reclaimed him "again." While one may have theories -- from the belief in religious narratives to the belief against religious narratives -- what still remains is only trust and that belief which proves nothing. For this Dunbar ends this striking poem with the dirge with which it was begun. The text was first published in Lyrics of the Hearthside, 1899.

 

 

The somber colors of a less-used A flat minor are dressed with dissonant seconds in the middle and lower range of the piano, as the vocal line rises and falls according to the litany-like repetition of questions. The setting is a three part setting with a middle section touching  G flat for a moment or two within the larger natural minor.

 

 

 

The score for Mortality 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.

 

Mortality