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About Lineage (download/view pdf booklet 5.8MB)

When I was a child, one of my favorite activities was sitting on the floor with old photo albums, gazing at pictures of people I never knew, but with whom I still sensed a connection. I could see pieces of myself in them: the cleft in my grandfather's chin, my great grandmother's nose. Those photos revealed whom and where I came from, and connected me to a different time and place.

When Laura Ward and I first started planning this recording project, we pored over dozens of scores. Central to the project was a focus on American composers, and we wanted a personal connection with both the texts and their musical interpretation. Two relatively recent song cycles kept rising to the top: Benjamin Boyle's Le passage des rêves (2007), and Robert Maggio's Forgiving Our Fathers (2001). While the styles of these two composers are markedly different, Laura and I were drawn to the gift for narrative they share, and color palettes that evoke other times and places. As we narrowed our list of songs to complement these two cycles, the lineage they share became clear.

In Robert Maggio's (b. 1964) Forgiving Our Fathers, one hears a skillful sense of prosody akin to Ned Rorem. There are harmonic shadings of Samuel Barber, and the Gallic clarity of Nadia Boulanger's famous salon. The sharpest influences, however, are perhaps the rock and Broadway musicals that he listened to as a teenager. One hears the jazzy ostinatos of Leonard Bernstein and clever economy of Stephen Sondheim. Maggio's writing is never fussy or arty. Dramatic delivery of text is paramount, and Maggio writes in a way that allows the performers to project the song in a conversational, yet theatrical way.

Maggio writes:
"The poems I selected for these songs were all written by living American poets, and reflect on father and son relationships. The film Smoke Signals provided the initial spark: the story revolves around a young man's search for his father, their confrontation, and eventual reconciliation. When I heard Dick Lourie's poem, 'Forgiving Our Fathers,' recited by the main character at the end of the film, I was deeply moved by it, and hoped I would some day find the right opportunity to set it to music. After years of waiting, in the final months of revising and editing these songs, I became a first-time father."

The five songs of Charles Ives (1874-1954) that appear on this recording were written during one of his most productive periods of composition. "My Native Land (1895)" was written the year after his beloved father died, while Ives was a sophomore at Yale University. Having been raised in a musically adventurous home, Ives did not take well to the strict traditions of German music that were the pillars of the Yale musical education. In this song, we hear Ives attempt to compose a simple parlor song, but the forward-thinking young composer is unable to resist adding unexpected harmonies and turns of phrase. "Walking (1902)" shows Ives emboldened. Having graduated from Yale and comfortably established himself in the insurance industry, he is now clearly carrying his father's torch, challenging the "rules" of conventional music composition. Ives' "big October morning" is bright and brash, with parallel tritones and uneven rhythms. When our walker pauses for a moment, voice and piano are in different keys, perhaps unsure which direction to take. Will they quietly witness a funeral, or join the raucous scene of a dance hall? Ultimately, our protagonist decides today is not suited for dying or for dancing, but for living and walking.

"Ann Street (1921)" is one of Charles Ives' last songs, and at all of 20 measures, also one of his shortest. This short poem, found in the New York Herald, perfectly captures a day in the life of a tiny Manhattan street. Ives interprets the poem with sounds of jazz, traffic horns, and finally a bit of quiet as evening descends. A few days before they were married, Charles Ives' wife, Harmony, collected lines from a love letter she had written, and fashioned them into a poem, "Autumn (1908)." Ives uses a gently pulsing, syncopated half beat figure in the left hand of the piano, and a tender, contrapuntal melody in the right hand to complement the warm vocal writing. The effect is pure Schubert - a sense of constant motion, and also the suspension of time itself. "The Camp-Meeting (1912)" actually took a while to become a full-fledged song. Originally an organ prelude, it then became the inspiration for his Symphony no 3. The song unfolds slowly and very chromatically, becoming more and more complex until it finally transforms into the simple hymn, "Woodworth (Just as I am without one plea)."

Elliott Carter's (1908-2012) Three Poems of Robert Frost (1942) shows the composer still under the influence of Aaron Copland and Nadia Boulanger, with whom he had studied. With music that is playfully rhythmic and full of open fourths and fifths, Carter captures the brightness and humor of Frost's poetry. Carter gives us sounds of shimmering snow, falling upon the quizzical listener for "A Dust of Snow." For "The Rose Family," he uses a 5/8 pattern with displaced beats to dance around the idea that "a rose is a rose," capturing Frost's witty take on Gertrude Stein's famous poem. Finally, in "The Line Gang," we hear the strong, rhythmic sounds of workers as they "plant dead trees for living" for the new-fangled telephone and telegraph. The music seems to marvel at the excitement of our new world, even as that world threatens to overwhelm us.

Samuel Barber (1910-1981) had been a darling of the media for most of his life. Though contemporary composers scoffed that he still had one foot in the 19th century, his tonally rich and fluid music was greatly loved by American concertgoers. The public failure of his Anthony and Cleopatra, written for the 1966 opening of the new Metropolitan Opera, was quite a blow. He fell into a depression, relied heavily on alcohol, and obsessively tried to rework his opera. Effectively, he lost his will to compose. The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center's commission to write a set of songs for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Charles Wadsworth resulted in his last opus of song.

While the second song, "A Green Lowland of Pianos," reveals a lighthearted Barber - imagining a pasture full of grand pianos, vacationing from their hard work in the concert hall, the other songs inhabit darker places. The first song, "Now Have I Fed and Eaten Up the Rose," is sung from the grave. Using the desolate key of A minor, and sparsely filling out harmonies, Barber's protracted phrases tell of a man who has been buried alive. There is no panic, but an acceptance of what is to come, and a gentle musing about the color of a rose in the darkness, who is now his only companion and sustenance. "O Boundless, Boundless Evening" is Barber's final work for voice and piano. As twilight descends, the poet revels in earth's beauty, which brings a sense of satisfaction and nostalgia. Barber colors the "glow of long hills on the skyline" with characteristic warmth and richness of harmony. The vocal lines are some of the most expansive in the repertoire, filled with yearning and a desire for the rest that night will bring.

Benjamin CS Boyle's (b. 1979) cycle, Le passage des rêves, clearly has ties to another time and place. Boyle responds to French philosopher Paul Valéry's symbolist texts with music steeped in the richness of Debussy, Schumann, and Barber, that is then tempered with the clarity and precision of the Boulanger method. The songs meditate on anticipation and satisfaction, and clearly appeal to Boyle's unapologetically romantic nature. He seduces the listener with rich harmonies, and teases with deceptive cadences, sustaining our anticipation to the last bittersweet cadence.

Boyle writes:
"Have you ever experienced a moment that you wish could last forever? Have you ever cherished the anticipation of an event, perhaps intuiting that you will enjoy the waiting more than the actual event itself? Such are the questions Paul Valéry poses in the four poems that constitute Le passage de rêves. The cycle unfolds over one night, the poet (and thus, singer) trying to stay as long as he can in one blissful, perfect moment; living in perpetual anticipation. Of course, time does pass. The night finally ends with a paean to a glorious sunrise and all that it might promise."

English Text

Forgiving Our Fathers

The Tunnel (Mark Strand)

A man has been standing
in front of my house
for days. I peek at him
from the living room
window and at night,
unable to sleep,
I shine my flashlight
down on the lawn.
He is always there.

After a while
I open the front door
just a crack and order
him out of my yard.
He narrows his eyes
and moans. I slam
the door and dash back
to the kitchen, then up
to the bedroom, then down.

I weep like a schoolgirl
and make obscene gestures
through the window. I
write large suicide notes
and place them so he
can read them easily.
I destroy the living
room furniture to prove
I own nothing of value.
When he seems unmoved
I decide to dig a tunnel
to a neighboring yard.
I seal the basement off
from the upstairs with
a brick wall. I dig hard
and in no time the tunnel
is done. Leaving my pick
and shovel below,

I come out in front of a house
and stand there too tired to
move or even speak, hoping
someone will help me.
I feel I'm being watched
and sometimes I hear
a man's voice,
but nothing is done
and I have been waiting for days.

The Empty Body (Mark Strand)

The hands were yours, the arms were yours,
But you were not there.
The eyes were yours, but they were closed and would not open.
The distant sun was there.
The moon poised on the hill's white shoulder was there.
The wind of Bedford Basin was there.
Your mouth was there,
But you were not there.
When somebody spoke, there was no answer.
Clouds came down
And buried the buildings along the water,
And the water was silent.
The gulls stared.
The years, the hours, that would not find you
Turned in the wrists of others.
There was no pain. It had gone.
There were no secrets. There was nothing to say.
The shade scattered its ashes.
The body was yours, but you were not there.
The air shivered against its skin.
The dark leaned into its eyes.
But you were not there.

Answers (Mark Strand)

Why did you travel?
Because the house was cold.
Why did you travel?
Because it is what I have always done between sunset and sunrise.
What did you wear?
I wore a blue suit, a white shirt, yellow tie, and yellow socks.
What did you wear?
I wore nothing. A scarf of pain kept me warm.
Who did you sleep with?
I slept with a different woman each night.
Who did you sleep with?
I slept alone. I have always slept alone.
Why did you lie to me?
I always thought I told the truth.
Why did you lie to me?
Because the truth lies like nothing else and I love the truth.
Why are you going?
Because nothing means much to me anymore.
Why are you going?
I don't know. I have never known.
How long shall I wait for you?
Do not wait for me. I am tired and I want to lie down.
Are you tired and do you want to lie down?
Yes, I am tired and I want to lie down.

Forgiving Our Fathers (Dick Lourie)

maybe in a dream: he's in your power
you twist his arm but you're not sure it was
he that stole your money you feel calmer
and you decide to let him go free

or he's the one (as in a dream of mine)
I must pull from the water but I never
knew it or wouldn't have done it until
I saw the street-theater play so close up
I was moved to actions I'd never before taken

maybe for leaving us too often or
forever when we were little maybe
for scaring us with unexpected rage
or making us nervous because there seemed
never to be any rage there at all

for marrying or not marrying our mothers
for divorcing or not divorcing our mothers
and shall we forgive them for their excesses
of warmth or coldness shall we forgive them

for pushing or leaning for shutting doors
for speaking only through layers of cloth
or never speaking or never being silent

in our age or in theirs or in their deaths
saying it to them or not saying it -
if we forgive our fathers what is left
Moon (Billy Collins)

The moon is full tonight
an illustration for sheet music,
an image in Matthew Arnold
glimmering on the English Channel,
or a ghost over a smoldering battlefield
in one of the history plays.

It's as full as it was
in that poem by Coleridge
where he carries his year-old son
into the orchard behind the cottage
and turns the baby's face to the sky
to see for the first time
the earth's bright companion,
something amazing to make his crying seem small.

And if you wanted to follow this example,
tonight would be the night
to carry some tiny creature outside
and introduce him to the moon.

And if your house has no child,
you can always gather into your arms
the sleeping infant of yourself,
as I have done tonight,
and carry him outdoors,
all limp in his tattered blanket,
making sure to steady his lolling head
with the palm of your hand.

And while the wind ruffles the pear trees
in the corner of the orchard
and dark roses wave against a stone wall,
you can turn him on your shoulder
and walk in circles on the lawn
drunk with the light.
You can lift him up into the sky,
your eyes nearly as wide as his,
as the moon climbs high into the night.

Charles Ives:
Five Songs

My Native Land (Eduard Lassen, after Heine)

My native land now meets my eye,
The old oaks raise their boughs on high,
Violets greeting seem,
Ah! 'tis a dream!

And when in distant lands I roam,
My heart will wander to my home;
While these visions while these fancies teem,
Still let me dream.

Walking (Charles Ives)

A big October morning,
the village church-bells,
the road along the ridge,
the chestnut burr and sumach,
the hills above the bridge
with autumn colors glow.
Now we strike a steady gait,
walking towards the future,
letting past and present wait,
we push on in the sun,
Now hark! Something bids us pause…
(down the valley, a church, a funeral going on.)
(up the valley, a roadhouse, a dance going on.)
But we keep on a-walking,
'tis yet not noon-day,
the road still calls us onward,
today we do not choose to die
or to dance, but to live and walk.

English Text (con't)

Ann Street (Maurice Morris)

Quaint name Ann street.
Width of same, ten feet.
Barnum's mob Ann street,
Far from ob-solete.
Narrow, yes, Ann street,
But business, both feet.
Sun just hits Ann street,
Then it quits--some greet!
Rather short, Ann Street.

Autumn (Harmony Twitchell Ives)

Earth rests! Her work is done, her fields lie bare,
and 'ere the night of winter comes
to hush her song and close her tired eyes,
She turns her face for the sun to smile upon
and radiantly, radiantly, thro' Fall's bright glow,
he smiles and brings the Peace of God!

The Camp Meeting (Charles Ives/ Charles Elliott)

Across the summer meadows fair,
there comes a song of fervent prayer,
It rises radiantly o'er the world,
Exulting, exulting, in the power of God!
Exalting Faith in life above
but humbly, yielding, yielding to His Love.

Just as I am without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidd'st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Three Poems of Robert Frost

I. Dust of Snow

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

II. The Rose Family

The rose is a rose,
And was always a rose.
But the theory now goes
That the apple's a rose,
And the pear is, and so's
The plum, I suppose.
The dear only knows
What will next prove a rose.
You, of course, are a rose -
But were always a rose.

III. The Line-Gang

Here come the line-gang pioneering by.
They throw a forest down less cut than broken.
They plant dead trees for living, and the dead
They string together with a living thread.
They string an instrument against the sky
Wherein words whether beaten out or spoken
Will run as hushed as when they were a thought
But in no hush they string it: they go past
With shouts afar to pull the cable taut,
To hold it hard until they make it fast,
To ease away-they have it. With a laugh,
An oath of towns that set the wild at naught
They bring the telephone and telegraph.

Three Songs, Opus 45

Now Have I Fed and Eaten Up the Rose (James Joyce, translation of Keller)

Now have I fed and eaten up the rose
Which then she laid within my stiffcold hand.
That I should ever feed upon a rose
I never had believed in liveman's land.

Only I wonder was it white or red
The flower that in the darkness my food has been.
Give us, and if Thou give, thy daily bread,
Deliver us from evil, Lord, Amen.

A Green Lowland of Pianos (Czeslaw Milosz, translation of Jerzy Harsymowicz)

in the evening
as far as the eye can see
of black pianos

up to their knees
in the mire
they listen to the frogs

they gurgle in water
with chords of rapture

they are entranced
by froggish, moonish spontaneity

after the vacation
they cause scandals
in a concert hall
during the artistic milking
suddenly they lie down
like cows

looking with indifference
at the white flowers
of the audience

at the gesticulating
of the ushers

O Boundless, Boundless Evening (Christopher Middleton translation of Georg Heym)

O boundless, boundless evening. Soon the glow
Of long hills on the skyline will be gone,
Like clear dream country now, rich-hued by sun.
O boundless evening where the cornfields throw
The scattered daylight back in an aureole.
Swallows high up are singing, very small.
On every meadow glitters their swift flight,
In woods of rushes and where tall masts stand
In brilliant bays.Yet in ravines beyond
Between the hills already nests the night.

Le passage des rêves
Paul Valéry

La Dormeuse

Quels secrets dans mon coeur brûle ma jeune amie,
Âme par le doux masque aspirant une fleur?
De quels vains aliments sa naïve chaleur
Fait ce rayonnement d'une femme endormie?

Souffles, songes, silence, invincible accalmie,
Tu triomphes, ô paix plus puissante qu'un pleur,
Quand de ce plein sommeil l'onde grave et l'ampleur
Conspirent sur le sein d'une telle ennemie.

Dormeuse, amas doré d'ombres et d'abandons,
Ton repos redoutable est chargé de tels dons,
Ô biche avec langueur longue auprès d'une grappe,

Que malgré l'âme absente, occupée aux enfers,
Ta forme au ventre pur qu'un bras fluide drape,
Veille; ta forme veille, et mes yeux sont ouverts.

Les Pas

Tes pas, enfants de mon silence,
Saintement, lentement placés,
Vers le lit de ma vigilance
Procèdent muets et glacés.

Personne pure, ombre divine,
Qu'ils sont doux, tes pas retenus!
Dieux!… tous les dons que je devine
Viennent à moi sur ces pieds nus!

Le Sylphe

Si, de tes lèvres avancées,
Tu prépares pour l'apaiser,
À l'habitant de mes pensées
La nourriture d'un baiser,

Ne hâte pas cet acte tendre,
Douceur d'être et de n'être pas,
Car j'ai vécu de vous attendre,
Et mon coeur n'était que vos pas.

Ni vu ni connu
Je suis le parfum
Vivant et défunt
Dans le vent venu!

Ni vu ni connu
Hasard ou génie?
À peine venu
La tâche est finie!

Ni lu ni compris?
Aux meilleurs esprits
Que d'erreurs promises!

Ni vu ni connu,
Le temps d'un sein nu
Entre deux chemises!

À L'Aurore

À l'aurore, avant la chaleur,
La tendresse de la couleur;
À peine éparse sur le monde,
Étonne et blesse la douleur.

Ô Nuit, que j'ai toute soufferte,
Souffrez ce sourire des cieux
Et cette immense fleur offerte
Sur le front d'un jour gracieux.

Grande offrande de tant de rosés,
Le mal vous peut-il soutenir
Et voir rougissantes les choses
À leurs promesses revenir?
J'ai vu se feindre tant de songes
Sur mes ténèbres sans sommeil
Que je range entre les mensonges
Même la force du soleil,

Et que je doute si j'accueille
Par le dégoût, par le désir,
Ce jour très jeune sur la feuille
Dont l'or vierge se peut saisir.

The Passage of Dreams

Paul Valéry, translation by Benjamin CS Boyle

The Sleeper

What secrets burn in your heart my young friend,
Whose spirit, through the soft mask, breathes in a flower?
From what futile nourishment does its naïve heat
Shine upon this sleeping woman?

Sighs, dreams, silences, invincible calm,
You triumph, o peace stronger than tears,
When from this deep sleep the shadow and the light
Conspire in the breast of a true enemy.

Sleeping one, golden mass of shadows and abandons,
Your perfect sleep is infused with such gifts,
O languorous doe, so long near the cluster of flowers,
That despite an absent soul, laboring in Hell,
Your form, lying prostrate save for a fluid arm draped to one side,
Awakens; your form awakens, and my eyes are open.

The Steps

Your steps, children of my silence,
Saintly, slowly placed
Near my sleepless bed
Proceed mute and frozen.

Pure soul, divine shadow,
How soft they are, your withheld steps!
Gods! …all the gifts that I can imagine
Come to me on those bare feet.

If, with your advancing lips,

You prepare to pacify them,
To the inhabitant of my thoughts,
The sustenance of a kiss,

Do not hasten this tender act,
The sweetness of being and of not being,
I have lived only to wait for you
And my heart was ever only your steps.

The Sylph

Unseen and unknown
I am the perfume
Living and lost
In the coming wind!

Unseen and unknown,
Chance or design?
Barely arrived
The work is finished!

Unread and ungrasped?
To the greatest minds
The error can promise!

Unseen and unkown
The hour of a naked breast
Between two sheets!

A L'aurore…

At dawn, before the day's heat,
The tenderness of the color
Barely spreading over the world,
Surprises and wounds the sadness.

O Night, in which I suffered all,
Suffer this celestial smile
this immense flower offered
At the start of a grateful day.

Great offering, so full of roses,
Can evil hold you up
And see the reddening results
Of their returning promises?

I saw, pretending to myself, so many dreams
In my sleepless darkness
That I place among the deceptions
Even the force of the sun -

And that I doubt if I can welcome
By disgust, by desire,
This new day on the leaf
Whose virgin-gold light can itself seize