Mietvertrag  [ 1 ] - (2007)    

Olivia Melton

for medium voice and piano


The apartment they're leasing
on the fifth floor is the one where poltergeists pass
the windows on long summer nights. Piecing
together the shards of my dignity, I recheck the price: still crass.

As I'm signing the contract, the biro blots  [2]
black and I look up with my cheeks mottled
pink going on grey. The blood in my brain has congealed to a clot
which keeps my practiced suave lines tightly bottled.

Looking wolfishly pleased at the parchment he's creasing
between meaty hands, he shows me the brass
taps in the sizeable bathroom, its marbled
floor is freezing
but it reeks of class.
As I watch for the ghosts, his words are garbled.

Used by permission of the author

[ 3 pages, circa 2' 30" ]

Olivia Melton


The poem was written as a part of the "University of Cologne / Universität zu Köln" Creative Writing Homepage, though I came to know the poem through Lynn and Bill Melton, meeting Olivia at her parents' home in Hauset, East Belgium. My wife, Marilyn, had known Olivia as a young child, and years later here way I meeting her as a young adult, college student and author. Serendipities can surprise, the world being a fine puzzle.



This song setting utilizes the range of a tenth, most of the tessitura lying in the mid voice. The plan of the work was to employ a dissonant chord succession, functioning in place of the normal, common-tone tonic and dominant. In this setting, the C major triad over an A flat major triad becomes the tonic substitute, and the G flat major  in first inversion over a C major triad functions as the secondary relationship. Indeed the ending of the song setting leads to a cadence on C major. It is this unusual harmonic background which is intended to portray the haunting.



The opening is therefore the substitute, faux-dominant, as the vocal line begins in C, with a major third in the bottom octave and a minor third in the octave above and at the end of the first phrase. The long lined accompaniment with a prolonged sostenuto is meant to linger oddly and "echo."



The ending of the poem's text is not the end of the setting, as the mention of the "poltergeists" [3] is reprised, with its thoughts of "long summer nights." From the setting's harmonic succession as shown above, a more complex parade of polytonal minor chords builds to a small climax, and thence the tonality -- the faux tonic -- does not change, lingering for the final thirteen measures.




The score for Mietvertrag 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 ]     "Mietvertrag" is the German word for rental contract.


[ 2 ]    "Biro" is a British/Australian English-language nickname for a ballpoint pen. The word comes from the inventor of the modern ballpoint pen, László József Bíró (1899-1985). Although the word is a registered trademark, it has become a normal part of European vocabulary.

          Bíró was born in Budapest, Hungary. In 1938, while working as a journalist, he noticed that newspaper ink dried quickly, and was therefore quickly smudge-free. Working with his brother, a chemist, they developed a ball tip for pens that was free to turn in a socket, then roll to deposit ink on paper. Bíró patented the invention in Paris in 1938, because he was already migrating, after fleeing the anti-Jewish laws in Hungary. The brothers moved to Argentina in 1943 and filed another patent, forming Biro Pens of Argentina. The new design was licensed by the British, who produced ballpoint pens for Royal Air Force, these pens functioning better at high altitude.

          In 1950 Marcel Bich bought from Bíró the patent for the pen, which soon became the main product of his Bic company.


[ 3 ]     A poltergeist, from the German verb poltern meaning "to crash or thump about," and Geist meaning "ghost" or "spirit."

          Whether one believes in the supernatural or not, there are echoes to places, resonances of times past and of events which were painted upon the canvases of such backgrounds. That one might believe in such beings is a matter for belief, not argument, for in belief there can be no proof, just as is proven true for the opposite.

          In proof such as science and common experiences provide, there is no need for belief. Therefore in large part this text is about a belief, as counterpoint to the mundane act of making a contractual agreement -- the rental contract.