A Chorus Girl - (2008)
E. E. Cummings
for tenor and piano
When thou hast taken thy last applause, and when
The final curtain strikes the world away,
Leaving to shadowy silence and dismay
That stage which shall not know thy smile again,
Lingering a little while I see thee then
Ponder the tinsel part they let thee play;
I see the red mouth tarnished, the face grey,
And smileless silent eyes of Magdalen.
The lights have laughed their last; without, the street
Darkling, awaiteth her whose feet have trod
The silly souls of men to golden dust,
She pauses, on the lintel of defeat,
Her heart breaks in a smile -- and she is Lust . . .
Mine also, little painted poem of God.
[ 5 pages, circa 2' 00" ]
Sketched self-portrait of Cummings
This text may be found in Eight Harvard Poets, New York, Laurence J. Gomme, 1917. The image of this chorus girl is at once lovely, tawdry and sad. Throughout his work Cummings had mentioned burlesque, of which this counts as one. He wrote later in life, "Burlesque appeals to me. I’ve seen in the past thirty years of my proletarian life, a lot of burlesque shows (and I hope to see a lot more)." [ 1 ]
Moreover, he referred to it in Is 5, a poetry collection from 1926. [ 2 ]
For this tessitura, a high baritone might also sing the setting though conceived for tenor. The saloon style of the accompaniment can be accentuated as per the instincts of the pianist. After an initial marking of forte, there follow no additional dynamic suggestions, and the setting is intended to be slightly "brutal."
The bridge material is a set pair of two measure phrases in the accompaniment, the second merely an octave higher to accentuate the brittle nature of the images which Cummings conveys.
The coda repeats that "she is Lust," which Cummings capitalizes, and which I take to mean that this one woman epitomizes that potentially possessed "sexual object" which the poem clearly states is "mine also." This makes the irony of being a "painted poem of God" all the more harsh, for the beauty in this portrait is not chivalrous in any way.
The score for A Chorus Girl in the tenor key 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.
A Chorus Girl
[ 1 ] E. E. Cummings, "Burlesque, I Love It!" Stage, March, 1936.
[ 2 ] "At least my theory of technique, if I have one, is very far from original; nor is it complicated. I can express it in fifteen words, by quoting The Eternal Question and Immortal Answer of burlesk,viz. "Would you hit a woman with a child?--No, I'd hit her with a brick." In Foreword, Is 5, 1926, Horace Liveright, New York.