e. e.'s songs - (1990)
E. E. Cummings
Five songs for medium or high voice and piano
Monday, June 02, 2008
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E. E. Cummings
Notes for the small cycle, e. e.'s songs -
While a typographical error created the myth of Cummings' lower case spelling of his own name, I chose the lower case for his initials as the title of this cycle. These small songs are tribute to the "small" texts in which Cummings finds such wealth and insight into characters and their speech. By spelling out the dialect for such words as "goil" and "coitnly" in one poem and "datz" and "yez" in another, Cummings is much like other earlier poets -- such as James Campbell -- in capturing a patois which informs us of the character and locale as well as the information found in the poem itself.
"Jimmie's got a goil" contains repetitions of words, and so the setting must reflect that. The typographical spacing of the words ever further to the right is reflected in "spacing" the pitches ever higher. Often Cummings own choices for the appearance of this poems suggests musical settings to me, as can be seen in the song setting for "In Just --" from chansons innocentes (1923).
The sweet morning greeting of "raise the shade" is captured in the simple setting, its musical lower neighbors suggesting an earlier era, though of course prostitution, which some surmise is the topic of the poem, knows no one era.
The setting of "mary green" is also simple, standing with one lilting foot in Ireland and the other squarely in America.
The gruff character and strong dialect of "says ol man no body-" is reflected in a sharp square rhythm.
Asking "time" to be kind in the face of advancing years is a lovely notion which Cummings captures admirably, pleading that reality be tempered by realization of that reality.
Plato plays alongside other great historical characters in advising caution, but gravity has its way as did time in the previous poem, striking the one so cautioned with a piece of iron falling off the Fifth Avenue El -- or elevated train. He should have been more careful, one concludes, with such a wealth of advice from "you" and me. But as with so much good advice, we all often do not heed it, and reality then teaches the lesson with a greater gravity (pardon the word play), which is the joke of Cummings' little lesson. The sternness of the advice is carried in the square four, while the enthusiasm for giving that advice comes in the detail of the triple meter both of which create that American form "swing" at which this musical setting hints.