Soprano, Flute (doubling Alto Flute and Piccolo), Clarinet (doubling Bass Clarinet), Violin, Violoncello and Piano
Texts: Poems by Archibald MacLeish, Louise Glück, Denise Levertov, and Louise Bogan
Duration: ca. 15 minutes
Publisher: C. F. Peters Corporation, Edition Peters 67485
Songs from Water and Stone was composed between 1983 and 1985 for soprano Christine Schadeberg, at the request of the Dallas-based new music ensemble Voices of Change, in honor of their 10th anniversary season. The work was premiered by that ensemble with Ms. Schadeberg as soloist in Dallas in 1985.
When it comes to composing for the voice, I am a traditionalist in the sense that I believe the vocal line and projection of the texts to be paramount. To ignore the voice’s unique capacity to convey emotion and meaning through words, treating it as merely another instrument, seems to me a sad waste of its potential. In Songs from Water and Stone, although each player in the ensemble has soloistic moments, and though the ensemble as a whole participates in highly variegated and often rather complex textures, the basic function of the instruments is to support, amplify and aid the singer in imparting the richness and emotional intensity of the poetry.
Virtually the entire cycle grows out of the clarinet’s first three notes at the outset of the first song, a setting of Archibald MacLeish’s “What Any Lover learns”; variants of this three-note figure are heard in each movement. Two of the clearest examples of this occur in the fifth song, which the clarinet begins with a slowed-down version of the figure; much later in the same movement the figure is heard prominently in the voice, at the beginning of the phrase,”–O remember/In your narrowing dark hours/That more things move/Than blood in the heart.”
While I cannot point to too many examples of overt text-painting (e.g., the soprano’s oscillating trill-like figure, supported by instrumental burblings and flickerings, on the word “waves” in my setting of Denise Levertov’s “Leaving Forever”), I do feel that certain instrumental sonorities contribute to the overall mood of several of the movements. For example, the block-like octaves in the fourth song, Louise Glück’s “Aphrodite,” might be said to have something of an imposing, granitic quality appropriate to that poem. Similarly, in the fifth song, Louise Bogan’s “Night,” the reference to “the clear nights of stars” is accompanied by a texture replete with high violin and cello harmonics combined with the glittering brightness of single tones in the piano’s upper register.