Why have we lost our sense of movement
from simple to complex and back again
as a primary cycle of Nature?
O Muse of sound, of the balance of the one
and the many. Listen to great Bach Choral Cantata,
to the fugue of many voices unfolding in an intricate
weave in Time and Space about a recurrent,
simple melody, to the finale hymn, as all move
together as one.
Simple. To Complex. To Simple.
A necessary unity.
It is a terrible thing when Culture
no longer sustains and nourishes,
but, like air or water too polluted
to breathe or drink, becomes
a dark force from which we must
seek refuge, and most especially,
protect the young.
[ROOTS: refugium >>> refuge >>>
re = back + fugare = flee;
same root as fugue >>> fuga = fight,
in the sense of two or more voices ‘fleeing’
from one another, as in the flight of some
birds, say, like swallows]
On the occasion of a new edition . . .
In The Circle in the Square performance project, one of
the primary problems addressed is the fragmentation of
poetry and music. In the view explored here, poetry and
music form a kind of necessary unity—that is to say that
they cannot survive let alone flourish without one another.
Yet only a cursory look at contemporary practice reveals
that poetry and music exist in largely separate worlds,
rarely crossing borders or showing any kind of what I
suppose academics might call interdisciplinary interest.
Poets in the English speaking world publish their work in
written form, largely for other poets. And New Music
composers in both Europe and America publish their work
by means of recordings, and, in a remarkably parallel way,
largely for other composers or new music specialists.
Given the tremendous difficulty of understanding the
origins of this kind of cultural fragmentation, which is so
characteristic of Western culture at present, I think it is
best to be simple and direct in one’s approach. By this I
mean: Place both poetry and music under one roof, so to
speak, like two parties of a loving relationship who have
somehow become estranged from one another, and simply
make sure they stay there. In other words: Do poetry; Do
music—and then—do them always together. In concerts;
in presentations of every description; and in one’s own
work as an artist. The key thing is that they remain
together, and that along the way, we become aware of I
would argue not so much new ways of unifying them, but
rather new ways of looking at their shared, common
It is in this spirit that I’ve undertaken the composition of a
number of new song cycles. The Winter Songs for
mezzo-soprano and solo violin is the first of these.
I’ve selected five very contrasting texts for the cycle. They
are all pieces I’ve lived together with for many years,
either having performed them myself or, in the case of Rilke,
have translated, or used with student performers.
The theme of winter has not so much to do with any
particular content, although that is there, too, but more
with a certain quality of space. As someone who has lived
almost at treeline in the mountains for so many years, I
have developed a certain love of “the nothingness” that
comes with the cold and snow in the northern latitudes.
One becomes somehow more intensely aware of things,
both good and bad, by their absence. Color attenuated to
almost an entirely white and granite gray world; smooth
white slopes where once their was a noisy road. But in the
depth of this winter silence, one also remembers, re—
collects as it were the world about oneself, as well as the
world one has experienced. And some- times, that, of
course, has to do with grief and suffering. That is why it
seemed natural to me to begin the cycle with a brooding
and magnificent poem from the German poet Rainer
Maria Rilke’s uncollected work, Exposed on the
mountains of the heart. Composed during some of the
darkest days of World War I, when Rilke saw the Europe
around him that he knew so well utterly destroying itself,
the voice of this poem calls out to the world about loss
with tremendous passion. It is a voice which, I hope, will
also take flight in the present era with song.
I: [Exposed on the mountains of the heart ]
Exposed on the mountains of the heart.
See, how small there,
see: the last hamlet of words, and higher, and yet so small,
a last homestead of feeling. Do you recognize it?
Exposed on the mountains of the heart. Rocky earth
under the hands. But something will flower here;
out of the mute abyss
flowers an unknowing herb in song.
But the knowing? Ah, that you began
to understand and are silent now,
exposed on the mountains of the heart.
Yet many an awareness still whole wanders there,
many a self-confident mountain animal
passes through and remains. And that great protected bird
circles about the peaks of pure denial. But
unprotected, here on the mountains of the heart.
Rainer Maria Rilke (tr. from the German by Cliff Crego)
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