Decoration - (2008)
S. Foster Damon
for soprano and piano
for Dale Franzen
A little pan child-god plays
Beyond the far horizon haze,
And underneath the twilight trees
He blows a bubble to the breeze,
Which is borne upward in the night
And makes the heavens shine with light
But soon it sinks to earth again,
And, hitting hills, it bursts! And then
With foam the skies are splashed and sprayed;
And that's how all the stars are made.
[ 3 pages, circa 2' 00" ]
S. Foster Damon
Samuel Foster Damon (1893-1971) was an American academic, a specialist in William Blake, a critic and a poet. Born in Newton, Massachusetts, he was one of the so-called "Harvard Aesthetes." At Harvard, he majored in music and was captain of the fencing team, graduated in 1914, and returned there after World War I as an instructor in the English Department while earning his masters in 1926. His book William Blake, His Philosophy and Symbols from 1924 was later followed by A Blake Dictionary (1965), the work for which he is perhaps best known. His later academic career was at Brown University, where he had positions from 1927. His other writings include a biography of Amy Lowell, and the long poem The Moulton Tragedy, a heroic poem with lyrics (1971). He also published poetry under the pseudonym Samuel Nomad.
This text is drawn from the 1917 publication, Eight Harvard Poets.
Conceived for lyric soprano, though of seemingly limited range, this setting is meant to be sweetly yet dramatically sung. The opening gesture repeats thematically through the setting as that which the "little pan child-god plays" in bringing forth the stars. The denser diatonic chords which underlay this represent the earth beneath.
A crescendo brings on the E-major-against-F-major Klang which acts as a fulcrum moving the setting temporarily from its tonic to the mediant major, to illustrate the brilliance of light at night.
The play off underlying the metaphorical, storytelling conclusion to the poem employs gentle non-diatonic polytonality and a reprise of the "child-god" gesture, for in fact among the various modern physics theories after "superstring" comes the notion that there might well be an ongoing creation of not only stars but the universe as well.
Dale Franzen is an educator and a professional classical musician, having enjoyed a twenty-year career as singer. Her work in the arts has included television, film, radio, new media, and live performance. Currently she has a leadership role in arts education. While teaching voice at Santa Monica College, she designed its Opera Workshop program, and organized many successful master classes featuring leading opera stars and theater directors. For the last six years Dale has held the position of Director of the Madison Project of Santa Monica College, building a state of the art, 541-seat theater which serves as both a public performing arts center for the Westside of Los Angeles and as an arts education facility for Santa Monica college and community-at-large. It includes performing arts and educational outreach programs, a professional theater company in residence. Franzen has served as a judge at the Julian Gayarre (Jose Carerras) International Vocal Competition in Pamplona, Spain, serves as a member of the advisory committee for the World Sacred Music Festival LA. It need be mentioned that we were colleagues in some casts, among them at LA Opera many years ago.
The score for Decoration 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.