Music and Texts of Gary Bachlund


The Old Men - (2008)    

William Carlos Williams

for medium voice and piano


Old men who have studied
every leg show
in the city
Old men cut from touch
by the perfumed music—
polished or fleeced skulls
that stand before
the whole theater
in silent attitudes
of attention,—
old men who have taken precedence
over young men
and even over dark-faced
husbands whose minds
are a street with arc-lights.
Solitary old men for whom
we find no excuses—
I bow my head in shame
for those who malign you.
Old men
the peaceful beer of impotence
be yours!

[ 4 pages, circa 3' 00" ]

William Carlos Williams


The text is drawn from from Williams early collection of poems,  Al Que Quiere! (1917) I was tempted to place a photograph of Williams as an older man, as seen on the page for my setting of Complete Destruction. When one is privileged to have long life, the inevitable aging carries with it certain features which the young might amuse themselves to ponder and about which the old may only be philosophic, as per the last lines of this poem. Those old men of whom Williams writes might have attended burlesque shows, as he says "every leg show" and their white hair or perhaps even the occasional bald pate in an audience must have "brightened" the audience.



The setting fluctuates between gentler phrases for the singer, and then outbursts of ersatz honky-tonk music for the short piano interludes. The range rises to the top notes infrequently as the tessitura remains mostly in the middle voice. The pianist is encouraged to take rubati and other liberties as spirit moves.



The last of the phrases adds "solitary" to the description of these old men, who might well have attended a "leg show" together. As such the adjective, solitary, tells much of each old man's individual thoughts, private and unspoken. The vocal line rises in range, ardor and intensity to "defend" them.



The last ironic line is answered with a repetition of the phrase, "old men," as the piano accompaniment slows into a lethargy and quiet, the dissonance of the final major-minor chord lingering long into silence.




The score for The Old Men 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.


The Old Men