Poet’s Apology

Poet’s Apology

Settings of five short poem excerpts selected at random from the Rice University library bookshelf. For baritone voice and piano.

No, the Muse has gone away,
Does not haunt me much today;
Everything she had to say
Has been said!

Category:  art song cycle

Instrumentation:  baritone & piano

Status:  available

Duration:  9m 15s

Completed:  1995

World Premiere:  April 22, 1996
Kieren’s Master’s Recital

Upcoming Performances:  n/a

Other Notable Performances:
  • 1996/04/22  Master’s Recital
  • Lee Gregory, baritone & Thomas Jaber, piano

    Commission:  n/a

    Dedication:  dedicated to the memory of Paul Cooper

    Additional Credits:  poetry by Andrew Lang, Anna Letitia Barbauld, John Keats, Algernon Charles Swinburne, and Ebenezer Elliott

    Recordings:  n/a

    Reviews:  n/a

    Other Links:  n/a

    Composer's Notes
    • Poet’s Apology was an assignment designed to encourage me to write music more quickly. Despite—or perhaps because of?—that origin, it is the only work from my student days which remains in my active catalogue.

      In February 1995, I was halfway through my first year of graduate studies at Rice University. My teacher, Paul Cooper, was frustrated at the slow pace of my composition, his (understandable) irritation compounded by my inability to finish any of the “absolute music” projects we had discussed—pieces which I dutifully began, and doggedly struggled with, but abandoned when inspiration ran dry.

      Out of sheer desperation, and recognizing my relative ease at setting text, Paul instructed me to go to Fondren Library, blindly select four or five books of poetry, open each to a random page, and set the first few lines that caught my eye—the theory being: if I wasn’t emotionally attached to the text, I wouldn’t become obsessed with finding “the perfect notes”, and would be able to complete each song rapidly.

      The exercise wasn’t a total success: I obsessed (though perhaps a little less than I normally might) on both the selection of text—I must admit I opened each book to a “random” page several times before making my final choices—and when it came to the musical setting.

      However, I did compose the music in what would then have been an unbelievably short period of time: only a day or two for each song, if the markings in the manuscript are to be trusted (and I have no reason to doubt them). Just over a week later, I was ready to present the entire cycle.

      I will never forget the day I first played “I Stood Tiptoe” for Paul. He sat in his armchair, staring out the window at the field behind the Shepherd School. I played and sang, and when I was done, I waited for his response. After what felt like an eternity—and without turning his gaze from the window—he said, “Play it for me again.” I played it again. This time when I looked up, Paul was quietly crying. He said, “You’ve really got something there, guy.”

      Paul passed away on April 4, 1996.

    • The Poet’s Apology
      (Andrew Lang)

      No, the Muse has gone away,
      Does not haunt me much to-day.
      Everything she had to say
      Has been said!
      Is There Not A Land
      (Anna Letitia Barbauld)

      Oh, is there not a land
      Between Pole and Pole
      Where the war trumpet sounds not
      To disturb the deep serene?
      And can I go there
      Without or wheel or sail,
      Wafted by a gentle gale?
      I Stood Tiptoe
      (John Keats)

      I stood tiptoe upon a little hill,
      The air was cooling, and so very still.
      Not the faintest motion could be seen
      Of all the shades that slanted o’er the green.
      Time And Life
      (Algernon Charles Swinburne)

      All the world is wearied, east and west,
      Tired with toil to watch the slow sun wheeling,
      Twelve loud hours of life's laborious quest.
      Eyes forspent with vigil, faint and reeling,
      Find at last my comfort, and are blest,
      Not with rapturous light of life's revealing—
      Nay, but rest.
      Hark! Music still is here!
      (Ebenezer Elliott)

      Hark! music still is here! How wildly sweet,
      Like flute notes in a storm, the psalm ascends.
      It is the hour that pensive thought loves best:
      The gloaming hour,
      When dying light is loveliest loneliness,
      When music’s voice is sweet as love’s caress.