Baritone Voice and Piano
NIGHT SONGS for Baritone and Piano is a collection of three 19th-century American poems, each of which provides commentary on human existence. The first, Stephen Crane’s aphoristic poem, “A man said to the universe,” is a pithy credo on Existentialism. A man shouts out to the universe; the universe responds with a message of indifference. My setting explores the contrast between the man’s energetic, almost desperate shouting and the universe’s apathy. Next, Walt Whitman’s famous “A noiseless patient spider” is an ethereal, isolated poem that compares the actions of a disconnected spider to those of a lost soul. The music is sparse and crystalline and evokes the sound of a spider crawling and shooting out thread. Finally, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s evocative sonnet, “Night,” presents a velvety dichotomy between night and day in which the former is idyllic and the latter is agitated and confused. My setting contrasts sumptuous, almost Romantic music with a rapid, irritated middle section to reflect this dichotomy. At the end, with the appearance of the word “palimpsest,” music from other movements comes to the surface, tying the collection together and leading to a cathartic close.
A man said to the universe – Stephen Crane (1899)
A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
“A sense of obligation.”
A noiseless patient spider – Walt Whitman (1871)
A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
Night – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1880)
Into the darkness and the hush of night
Slowly the landscape sinks, and fades away,
And with it fade the phantoms of the day,
The ghosts of men and things, that haunt the light,
The crowd, the clamor, the pursuit, the flight,
The unprofitable splendor and display,
The agitations, and the cares that prey
Upon our hearts, all vanish out of sight.
The better life begins; the world no more
Molests us; all its records we erase
From the dull commonplace book of our lives,
That like a palimpsest is written o'er
With trivial incidents of time and place,
And lo! the ideal, hidden beneath, revives.