Soup - (2009)
for medium voice and piano
I saw the famous man eating soup.
I say he was lifting a fat broth
Into his mouth with a spoon.
His name was in the newspapers that day
Spelled out in tall black headlines
And thousands of people were talking about him.
When I saw him,
He sat bending his head over a plate
Putting soup in his mouth with a spoon.
[ 2 pages, circa 2' 20" ]
The text is taken from Sandburg's collection, Smoke and Steel (1920). While seemingly repetitive, its attention to the mundane detail of the scene is a stark contrast to the seeming fame of this unnamed and therefore forgotten "famous man." One notes immediately that the event speaks an editorial along the lines of the old adage, "everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time." In the moment which Sandburg has isolated in time, this unnamed "famous man" is as mundane as are all those which fame so easily thinks to be beneath them. This is as true a lesson for today and the worlds of politics and media as it was when written.
The motive which is found throughout the setting is of a major triad in second inversion falling to its minor triad and thence by common tone to a root position triad made the movement of the fifth of the first chords moving to become the tonic of the third chord. Throughout this is made more stark by a separation by octaves into the higher and lower ranges of the piano. The vocal line first rises its leap of a sixth to mention "the name," while we never learn of the name in the ironic editorial which Sandburg has fashioned for us.
As with the first rising sixth, three occur, the last emphasizing the same editorial stance, that the "name" as well as "talking" and "mouth" tell us only that this unnamed famous man slurped his soup, bent over the bowl. The onomatopoeia of the sharp, forte gestures at measure 29 fade quickly away into a cadence on the octaves, empty of the other tones of the many triads which preceded. Fame indeed is fleeting.
The score for Soup 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.