Music and Texts of Gary Bachlund


To a Dead Friend - (2012)    

Paul Laurence Dunbar

for medium voice and piano


It is as if a silver chord
   Were suddenly grown mute,
And life's song with its rhythm warred
   Against a silver lute.

It is as if a silence fell
   Where bides the garnered sheaf,
And voices murmuring, "It is well,"
   Are stifled by our grief.

It is as if the gloom of night
   Had hid a summer's day,
And willows, sighing at their plight,
   Bent low beside the way.

For he was part of all the best
   That Nature loves and gives,
And ever more on Memory's breast
   He lies and laughs and lives.

3 pages, circa 2' 45"

Dunbar's grave marker


The opus of American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar, has sparked creativity in my music making. The time spent over these years with his fine work -- some traditional and some in savory dialect -- has affected me in the same way as my decades singing texts of many poets and librettists across a wide range of musical works. Though I may only meet him in this life through his words and work, I consider Paul Laurence Dunbar a living friend. On my opening page for this site, I state that -- of the authors and poets represented -- I include "something of who they were and are, what they have given and still give to us." Indeed and in deed, this is a truth for the artist that collaborative effort strike sparks of creativity, and crosstalk even across the centuries is a part of the foundation on which we stand. This then is my homage to him in his own words, because still he "laughs and lives."



The text is taken from Dunbar's collection, Lyrics of Love and Laughter (1903). For other settings of his texts, click here.


The long arches throughout are underpinned by an unchanging tonic pedal, the lines above revealing changing harmonies all rooted on the tonic. The quatrains are unified into two phrases, such that each strophe becomes a long gesture among long arched gestures. The sostenuto as marked in the pedal is intended throughout this extremely sparse and simple setting. The third strophe is treated in different but similar textural manner, such that the final strophe may act as a summation and of course eulogy.



The score for To a Dead Friend 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.


To a Dead Friend