September 8, 2014

THREE GROTESQUES for soprano & piano

Three Grotesques (2002) uses Amy Lowell’s poem, Stravinsky’s Three Pieces “Grotesques” for String Quartet which is taken from the collection Men, Women, and Ghosts: Clocks Tick a Century (1916). The poem has three movements, each describing a movement of the Stravinsky string quartet. In writing the songs I choose to ignore her musical inspiration, the Stravinsky quartet, and in doing so create a new musical work from Lowell’s words about music.

Amy Barton, soprano & Jason Smith, piano (premiere) | April 11, 2003 | Opperman Music Hall, Tallahassee, FL

Amy Lowell (1874-1925)
from Men, Women, and Ghosts: Clocks Tick a Century (1916)
Stravinksy’s Three Pieces “Grotesques” for String Quartet

First Movement
Thin voiced, nasal pipes
Drawing sound out and out
Until it is a screeching thread,
Sharp and cutting, sharp and cutting,
It hurts.
Bump! Bump! Tong-ti-bump!
There are drums here,
And wooden shoes beating the round, grey stones
Of the market-place.
Sabots slapping the worn, old stones,
And a shaking and cracking of dancing bones;
Clumsy and hard they are,
And uneven,
Losing half a beat
Because the stones are slippery.
Bump-e-ty-tong! Whee-e-e! Tong!
The thin Spring leaves
Shake to the banging of shoes.
Shoes beat, slap,
Shuffle, rap,
And the nasal pipes squeal with their pigs’ voices,
Little pigs’ voices
Weaving among the dancers,
A fine white thread
Linking up the dancers,
Bang! Bump! Tong!
Delirium flapping its thigh-bones;
Red, blue, yellow,
Drunkenness steaming in colours;
Red, yellow, blue,
Colours and flesh weaving together,
In and out, with the dance,
Coarse stuffs and hot flesh weaving together.
Pigs’ cries white and tenuous,
White and painful,
White and –

Second Movement
Pale violin music whiffs across the moon,
A pale smoke of violin music blows over the moon,
Cherry petals fall and flutter,
And the white Pierrot,
Wreathed in the smoke of the violins,
Splashed with cherry petals falling, falling,
Claws a grave for himself in the fresh earth
With his finger-nails.

Third Movement
An organ growls in the heavy roof-groins of a church,
It wheezes and coughs,
The nave is blue with incense,
Writhing, twisting,
Snaking over the heads of the chanting priests.
Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine;
The priests whine their bastard Latin
And the censers swing and click,
The priests walk endlessly
Round and round,
Droning their Latin
Off the key.
The organ crashes out in a flaring chord,
And the priests hitch their chant up half a tone.
Dies illa, dies irae,
Calamitatis et miseriae,
Dies magna et amara valde.
A wind rattles the leaded windows.
The little pear-shaped candle flames leap and flutter,
Dies illa, dies irae;
The swaying smoke drifts over the altar,
Calamitatis et miseriae;
The shuffling priests sprinkle holy water,
Dies magna et amara valde;
And there is a stark stillness in the midst of them
Stretched upon a bier.
His ears are stone to the organ,
His eyes are flint to the candles,
His body is ice to the water.
Chant, priests,
Whine, shuffle, genuflect,
He will always be as rigid as he is now
Until he crumbles away in a dust heap.
Lacrymosa dies illa,
Qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus.
Above the grey pillars the roof is in darkness.