Intro: Winter Songs—for mezzo-soprano and solo violin

clip of mountains

(fragment from page four of the score of movement I)

| go to scores pages of movement I | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | movement II 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | movement III 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |

| go to score pages of movement IV 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | movement V 1 | 2 | 3 |
| Listen to computer models of movements: I | II | III | IV | V |
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| download PDF of Winter Songs: complete  (twenty-three 11" x 17 "pages (A3))  | [540 K]]

clip of winter songs

Listen to Cliff Crego
the five poems
of the

Listen / download mp3
of performance model
[ 19' 17.5 Mb]

Music and poetry as a necessary unity

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 source.

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.

The Texts

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.

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)

| go to the Gerrman text |

The moon was but a chin of gold

The moon was but a chin of gold
a Night or two ago—
And now she turns Her perfect Face
Upon the World below—

Her forehead is of Amplest Blonde—
Her Cheek—a Beryl hewn—
Her Eye unto the Summer Dew
The likest I have known—

Her Lips of Amber never part—
But what must be the smile
Upon Her Friend she could confer
Where such Her Silver Will—

And what a privilege to be
But the remotest Star—
For Certainty She takes Her Way
Beside Your Palace Door—

Her Bonnet is the Firmament—
The Universe—Her Shoe—
The Stars—the Trinkets at Her Belt—
Her Dimities—of Blue—

Emily Dickinson  

III: Learning

A piccolo played, then a drum.
Feet began to come -- a part
of the music. Here came a horse,
clippety clop, away.

My mother said, "Don't run --
the army is after someone
other than us. If you stay
you'll learn our enemy."

Then he came, the speaker. He stood
in the square. He told us who
to hate. I watched my mother's face,
its quiet. "That's him," she said.

William Stafford

IV: The Snow

It sifts from Leaden Sieves—
It powders all the Wood.
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkles of the Road—

It makes an Even Face
Of Mountain and the Plain—
Unbroken Forehead from the East
Unto the East again—

It reaches to the Fence—
It wraps it Rail by Rail
Till it is lost in Fleeces—
It deals Celestial Vail

To Stump, and Stack—and Stem—
A Summer's empty Room—
Acres of Joints—where Harvests were,
Recordless, but for them—

It Ruffles Wrists of Posts
As Ankles of a Queen—
Then stills its Artisans—like Ghosts—
Denying they have been—

Emily Dickinson

V: The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of pine-trees crusted with snow,

And have been cold a long time
to behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun, and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing from the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Wallace Stevens

preview the performance score of WINTER SONGS
[ opens in a new window ]

Winter Songs: the five movements  Listen: [c. 19 ']
I: Exposed on the mountains of the heart . . .

| go to scores pages of movement I | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |  Listen:  
II: The moon was but a chin of gold

| go to score pages of movement II 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |  Listen:
III: Learning

| go to score pages of movement III 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |  Listen:
IV: The Snow

| go to score pages of movement IV 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |  Listen:
V: The Snow Man

| go to score pages of movement V 1 | 2 | 3 | Listen:
Download Adobe Acrobat PDFs (Portable Document Files)

(0) PDF of Winter Songs: complete  (twenty-three 11" x 17 "pages (A3)) [540 K]]

(1) PDF of movement I: Exposed on the mountains of the heart . . . (five 11" x 17 "pages (A3)) [120 K]]

(2) PDF of movement II: The moon was but a chin of gold (tsix 11" x 17 "pages (A3)) [136 K]]

(3) PDF of movement III: Learning (four 11" x 17 "pages (A3)) [124 K]]

(4) PDF of movement IV: The Snow  (five 11" x 17 "pages (A3)) [152 K]]

(5) PDF of movement V: The Snow Man  (three 11" x 17 "pages (A3)) [68 K]]

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