Three Poems by Auden
Three Poems is written for tenor voice and Flute (dbl alto flute), B-flat Clarinet (dbl Bass Clarinet), Horn in F, Viola, Violoncello and Piano, on poems by W. H. Auden. It is dedicated to David Henderson, who commissioned them for his vocal recital at the New England Conservatory in Boston on March 22, 1992.
for tenor and ensemble
The pitch material for The More Loving One is based on two tetrachords, separated by five different intervals. This 'shifting' of intervalic distance is likened to parallax, the distance some stars are to others, creating a colorful palate of chords and timbres. The overall length of the song is also based on the same integers, the result being a 36 hour cycle, starting from midnight to twilight of the following day. This alternation of night and day is suggested in all four stanzas. The main sense, though, is with the stars themselves; existing, always present, yet hidden from view during the day. The ensemble represents the stars, distant in quality, offered without much concern or emotion.
Bird-Language incorporates two pentachords. Indeed, the number five is operational here, suggested by the five qualities of bird songs (fear, rage, bravado, lust and joy). Composed as an arch form, the horn solo, which begins the song, leads to a walking-bass accompaniment for the tenor. An instrumental interlude follows in five small sections, each a commentary on the five qualities referred to in the poem. The walking-bass, now in the treble instruments, ends with the horn solo as at the beginning.
Alone uses two trichords as its pitch language. The number three is suggested by the third, fourth and fifth stanza: Narcissus, the young and the elderly. The overall form is ABA, with the B section comprised of three variations: the first with canonic imitation, the second with rapid triplets in the piano, and the third uttered forth with shaking and trembling, all commentaries of the middle three stanzas.
I. The More Loving One
Looking up at the stars. I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.
Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.
Trying to understand the words
Uttered on all sides by birds,
I recognize in what I hear
Noises that betoken fear.
Though some of them, I'm certain, must
Stand for rage, bravado, lust,
All other notes that birds employ
Sound like synonyms for joy.
Each lover has a theory of his own
About the difference between the ache
Of being with his love, and being alone:
Why what, when dreaming, is dear flesh and bone
That really stirs the senses, when awake,
Appears a simulacrun of his own.
Narcissus disbelieves in the unknown:
He cannot join his image in the lake
So long as he assumes he is alone.
The child, the waterfall, the fire, the stone,
Are always up to mischief, though, and take
The universe for granted as their own.
The elderly, like Proust, are always prone
To think of love as a subjective fake;
The more they love, the more they feel alone.
Whatever view we hold, it must be shown
Why every lover has a wish to make
Some other kind of otherness his own:
Perhaps, in fact, we never are alone.