Music and Texts of Gary Bachlund


Vengeance Is Sweet  -  (2012)    

Paul Laurence Dunbar

for baritone or bass and piano


When I was young I longed for Love,
And held his glory far above
All other earthly things. I cried:
"Come, Love, dear Love, with me abide;"
And with my subtlest art I wooed,
And eagerly the wight pursued.
But Love was gay and Love was shy,
He laughed at me and passed me by.

Well, I grew old and I grew gray,
When Wealth came wending down my way.
I took his golden hand with glee,
And comrades from that day were we.
Then Love came back with doleful face,
And prayed that I would give him place.
But, though his eyes and tears were dim,
I turned my back and laughed at him.

3 pages, circa 3' 45"

Paul Laurence Dunbar


The text is found in Dunbar's collection, Lyrics of the Hearthside (1899), available at the very fine Wright State University Libraries online Dunbar Collection. For other song settings of Dunbar's texts, click here.



The two strophes are treated similarly, some changes to emphasize the change of the speaker's tone as the recollection becomes more clearly revealed. While the title suggests "vengeance is sweet," the subtext can also reveal a bittersweet "aftertaste" from such experiences as are not told in detail. For this reading, I chose a minimalist two-measure gesture for the bulk of the accompaniment, with episodes varying slightly as introduction and bridge. A short codetta returns to the first words, "when I was young." Dunbar's more formal style, distinct from his dialect writing, speaks of Love and Wealth with capitalization. These are the other characters in the drama, for individuals and story details remain unidentified, missing from the overall generalization which hides them dramaturgically. The vocal range is limited such that the song be far more a dramatic work than a purely musical one.




The score for Vengeance Is Sweet 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.


Vengeance Is Sweet