Mors et Vita


Mors et Vita - (2008)    

James Edwin Campbell

for medium voice and piano


Into the soil a seed is sown,

Out of the soil a soul is wrung,

Out of the shell a pearl is gone,

Out of the cage a bird is flown,

                Out of the body, a soul!


Unto a tree the seed is grown,

Wide in the world the song is sung,

The pearl in a necklace gleams more fair,

The bird is flown to sweeter air,

And Death is half and Life is half,

                 And the two make up the whole!

[ 4 pages, circa 3'00" ]

James Edwin Campbell


While James Edwin Campbell made a fine reputation for his poetry "in dialect" as one may see in my settings of five of his wonderful poems, Echoes from the Cabin, Campbell was a multi-faceted artist, as this set of images in standard English demonstrates beautifully. The argument of each image in the first stanza is concluded in the second, such that loss is seen as growth and especially as freedom.



Composed for medium voice, the majority of the setting is minimalistic and harmonically static, a sustained single bitonality of F major over G flat major. the vocal line participates in both tonalities by its scalar references, rooted in G flat with the raised second and fourth of the key signature. The accompaniment is intended, as marked, to be "blurred and echoed."



The final gesture of each stanza as set musically into a simple two verse structure references the bird which is "flown" to "sweeter air," a most optimistic view of not only life but death, thereby unifying the Latin title of "Life and Death."



The score for Mors et Vita 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.


Mors et Vita