Happiness - (2007)    

Carl Sandburg

for medium voice and piano


I asked the professors who teach the meaning of life to tell
     me what is happiness.
And I went to famous executives who boss the work of
     thousands of men.
They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though
     I was trying to fool with them
And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along
     the Desplaines river    [ 1 ]
And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with
     their women and children and a keg of beer and an


[ 3 pages, circa 3' 00" ]

Carl Sandburg


This short work of philosophy is drawn from Sandburg's collection, Chicago Poems (1916),  which he inscribed "To My Wife and pal, Lillian Steichen Sandburg." Its musical setting was completed on that most American holiday, Thanksgiving Day, while living in Berlin, Germany. An apt musing to add to Thanksgiving Day thoughts, reflections and gratitude for freedom's many blessings.



The vocal range of the work is very modest, a ninth. The open spacing for the accompaniment are meant to take as much time as a performer might require to clearly reach them within the overall tempo of the setting. The falling theme in the top voice of the accompaniment is meant as a sign of release from tension, for happiness is sometimes the release from too many existential questions, as Sandburg teaches. The long-lined arch of the accompaniment, over eighteen measures, is repeated several times, as it will come to be seen that this is the echo of the happy tune that one imagines was heard in a park almost a century ago.



Sandburg's scene moves from academia and the business office to a casual "Sunday afternoon" wherein the simple joys of life seem to be celebrated. He chooses Hungarians, immigrants of that time, but might we imagine immigrants from any time, seeking freedom and the chance to improve the quality of their lives? The top line of the accompaniment becomes more decorative, filling in the spaces between harmonic changes until a small snippet of the "original" accordion-like theme breaks through the longer-lined musing of the poet.




The score for Happiness 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.






[ 1 ]    As a place name it is properly spelled, Des Plaines, and in the American pronunciation it is pronounced "des_plānz." It is also a small city of northeast Illinois, a suburb of Chicago on the Des Plaines River.