Four Sonnets (1923)

Music and Texts of  GARY BACHLUND

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Four Sonnets (1923)  - (2019)    

E. E. Cummings

for mezzo soprano and clarinet in B flat

for Emily Golden

i. goodby Betty

goodby Betty, don't remember me
pencil your eyes dear and have a good time
with the tall tight boys at Tabari'
s, keep your teeth snowy, stick to beer and lime,
wear dark, and where your meeting breasts are round
have roses darling, it's all i ask of you—
but that when light fails and this sweet profound
Paris moves with lovers, two and two
bound for themselves, when passionately dusk
brings softly down t he perfume of the world
(and just as smaller stars begin to husk
heaven) you, you exactly paled and curled

with mystic lips take twilight where i know:
proving to Death that Love is so and so.

ii. at Dick Mid's place

when you rang at Dick Mid's Place
the madam was a bulb stuck in the door.
a fang of wincing gas showed how
hair, in two fists of shrill colour,
clutched the dull volume of her tumbling face
scribbled with a big grin. her sow-
eyes clicking mischief from thick lids.
the chunklike nose on which always the four
tablets of perspiration erectly sitting.
—If they knew you at Dick Mid's
the three trickling chins began to traipse
into the cheeks "eet smeestaire steevensun
kum een, dare ease Bet, an Lee lee, an dee beeg wun"
her handless wrists did gooey severe shapes.

iii. "kitty"

"kitty". sixteen, 5'1", white, prostitute.

ducking always the touch of must and shall,
whose slippery body is Death's littlest pal,

skilled in quick softness. Unspontaneous. cute.

the signal perfume of whose unrepute
focuses in the sweet slow animal
bottomless eyes importantly banal,

Kitty. a whore. Sixteen
you corking brute
amused from time to time by clever drolls
fearsomely who do keep their sunday flower.
The babybreasted broad "kitty" twice eight

—beer nothing, the lady'll have a whiskey-sour—

whose least amazing smile is the most great
common divisor of unequal souls.

iv. thy last applause

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 large lips vivid, the face grey,
and silent smileless 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


In Chimneys (1923)

 [ 9 pages, circa 11' 15" ]


E. E. Cummings


The typographic oddities in these early Cummings poems are only part of the enjoyment, for the imagery remains paramount, captured in word and thereafter hopefully to be illustrated in the musical settings. As of 2019, these texts, once under copyright in the US over a ninety-five year period, are become part of the public domain and are made available here as such. These particular texts are numbers II, IV, V and VI of his poems gathered under the title, SONNETS--REALITIES, and gathered further into that first collection known as "Chimneys."



A sprightly gesture in the solo clarinet announces tonality and mood, then accompanying the vocal line jauntily. Tempi and dynamics throughout are mere suggestions, depending on performers' wishes, acoustic environments, and the like.





The humor of the second text comes in part from gestures, the canonic interplay between voices and the written dialect which the poet gives us.





After two somewhat light-hearted texts and settings, the poet offers a somewhat somber image of a young prostitute, perhaps at Dick Mid's place in the company of "Bet, Lee lee an dee beeg wun."  We find herein "the great divisor of unequal souls."




A last sonnet completes this little cycle, in a different setting from one composed for tenor and piano, published as A Chorus Girl from 2008.  Here the notion of that "last applause" becomes more somber, a "final curtain" which "strikes the world away." And yet it is in our nature to linger "a little."



Emily Golden, mezzo soprano, made a long career with many performances, especially as Bizet's Carmen.  Decades ago, I was Don José to her Carmen for the Scottish Opera in Glasgow and on tour, directed by Graham Vick and conducted by John Mauceri. Only this month, April of 2019, she'd written thinking back on that time, catching up on the years in between, and so, I thought to scrawl these little songs in her honor, choosing the clarinet as accompaniment, for her husband is a fine clarinetist. Given that I was re-reading Cummings the week these things came together, the texts, now in the public domain, seemed fun and apt for such a marriage of thoughts and idea and music.


The score 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.