Three Love Songs for Soprano (2015 - 16)
Love Sonnet, text by Pablo Neruda (translated by Mark Eisner)
I Carry Your Heart, text by E.E. Cummings
Echo, text by Christina Rossetti
This song cycle initially began with the composition of the final song, “Echo”, for the 2015 SFCM Art Song Composition Competition, for which it was selected as a First Prize winning piece. Soon after the competition, I started envisioning a cycle of three songs that could represent different phases of romantic love over the course of a lifetime. These phases emerged from the words of Pablo Neruda, E.E. Cummings, and Christina Rossetti.
The first song, “Love Sonnet” (Pablo Neruda, translated by Mark Eisner) represents the love that is now, the love that is first encountered. With analogies alluding to nature throughout, the song speaks of a love that is unadorned, without pride, and is ultimately inevitable: “I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love”. The setting is hushed and intimate, such that one has the feeling of words being whispered gently in a lover’s ear. The accompaniment is generally grounded throughout, with a very simple repeating motif (short, long), to represent the love that is present in the here and now.
The second song, “I Carry Your Heart” (E.E. Cummings) reflects the journey of love as it progresses through the years—a love that grows “higher than soul can hope or mind can hide”. Throughout this journey, these lovers become ever more entwined in each other’s lives and hearts, such that “(anywhere I go you go, my dear; and whatever is done by only me is your doing, my darling)”. The music gives the listener the sensation that they are soaring above it all, witnessing this profound journey as it is unfolding. Rhythmic ostinatos in the accompaniment surge and swell as undulating waves beneath the ever-heightening soprano melody. Every so often, the storm subsides for but a moment, before being carried off again by these relentless ostinato undulations. This is the love that is carried through the long journey ahead—carried safely in each other’s hearts.
Finally, in “Echo,” Christina Rossetti speaks of memory and hope in returning to “love of finished years”. The song tells of the painful loss of a lover, and the longing to return once again to that lost love. After a lengthy piano introduction that musically paints this tragic disconnect between lovers, the soprano invites us into a dream world, where she begins pleading and beckoning to her lover: “come to me in the silence of the night; come in the speaking silence of a dream”. It is a bittersweet remembrance, simultaneously hopeful and hauntingly tragic, yet always delicate and tender. Ultimately, she sings of living her very life again in her dreams (“Come back to me in dreams, that I may give pulse for pulse, breath for breath”)—a life of profound and divine love, shared together long ago, how long ago.
This cycle has meant a great deal to me on a personal level. These songs are dedicated to my wife and life partner, Erin Whitfield.