Life - (2009)    

Paul Laurence Dunbar

for low or medium voice and piano

in memoriam - Andrew Rhodes Bourland

A crust of bread and a corner to sleep in,
A minute to smile and an hour to weep in,
A pint of joy to a peck of trouble,
And never a laugh but the moans come double;
        And that is life!

A crust and a corner that love makes precious,
With a smile to warm and the tears to refresh us;
And joy seems sweeter when cares come after,
And a moan is the finest of foils for laughter;
        And that is life!

[ 3 pages, circa 2' 25" ]

Paul Laurence Dunbar


The text, "Life", is drawn from Dunbar's collection, Lyrics of Lowly Life, published in 1896. A simple two stanzas, it recalls the fact that life remains the elusive mystery of mankind. An adage reminds that "morality is the tax we pay for vitality," and so does Dunbar add his poet's voice to this millennia-long observation of mankind, from the blessings associated with curses as one finds in Deuteronomy to the Christian tradition's implied curses in the blessings enumerated in the Beatitudes, to the many poets' and philosophers' voices which revisit this subject and preoccupation of men - life. It is, as Goethe observed, "one."



A simple two- and three-part "motet" accompanies a simple, folk-like melody made of repetitious, hymn-inspired phrases for the vocal line. The tessitura is but one octave and in this key, is accessible to all voices. A simple, two verse song form, the interlude between extends the meter only for one measure of 9/4 before returning to the regular scansion of the vocal line and its recitation of the text.



The final cadence allows the repetition of "and that is life," as if to finalize that one takes the good with the bad, as the joy with the sorrow.



The score for Life 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.