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Five Songs

for medium voice and piano

 

1.   Daliah's Soup (Unidentified  School Child)

2.  O You Whom I Often And Silently Come (Walt Whitman)

3.  Little Elegy (Elinor Wylie)

4.  Mentor (Rainer Maria Rilke)

5. The Secret Garden (Rita Dove)

 

 

Notes from composer

I was talking about food with the owner of my neighborhood copy center when he mentioned some recipes that a kindergarten teacher had brought in to copy that day. The teacher gave him a transliteration of this recipe because it was at first hard to understand, adding, importantly, that the soup was for Daliah's friend, Stella, who was ill. I asked if he had the original and he looked in the trash and found what you see to the right in Daliah’s own handwriting. I asked the owner to keep an eye out for the teacher but she was never seen again. That night Ain’t Misbehavin was on Great Performances with Nell Carter. I thought that’s the music for Daliah’s Soup and began improvising a Fats Waller like accompaniment which the next day became the material for this song.

 

I admit to being a method actor when I compose. I recalled the inner voice of my homoerotic longings as a teenager to evoke this Whitman text, O You Whom I Often And Silently Come. The opening piano prelude is the “electric” thrill of young closeted love.

Little Elegy is a quirky but gleeful waltz. The trick is to imbue the last word “nowhere” with its proper spatial context so it does not suggest the words “know where.”

I entitle the well-known excerpt from Letters to a Young Poet, Mentor and dedicate it to a former piano teacher. I use the excellent English translation by M. D. Herter. For me the words embody the secret of a great teacher: that deep acceptance of one's own humanity. The piano enters with a stately figure, which seems to genuflect in humility before Rilke's gentle counsel begins. The poet bares his soul utterly. The tender and stately theme returns before a pendulous harmony ends the song as if to say, "Now, it is your tum."

Edna St. Vincent Millay converges with Lewis Carrol and Julia Childs in the whimsical and often sexualized flora and fauna of Rita Dove’s The Secret Garden. Dove won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1987 for her collection, Thomas and Beulah, loosely based on her grandparents’ life. She teaches on the English faculty at UVA and I met her on many different occasions in Charlottesville when I was developing my musical, Edgar, at Live Arts Theatre.

I remember her mentioning the importance of gardening in her life and when I read this poem, I was tickled by what I knew to be biographical references. Rita is a gorgeous African-American woman while her husband, Fred Viebahn, an expatriate German photographer/writer has a Teutonic complexion and long blonde hair. When I read the final line of the poem, I thought Aha… that’s been Fred and Rita all along!

--Martin Hennessy

Daliah's Soup

MH vocals

and piano (all tracks)

O You Whom I Often

Shoshannah Marote, mezzo-soprano

Little Elegy

James Martin, baritone

Mentor

Elem Eley, baritone

The Secret Garden

Elizabeth Shammash, mezzo-soprano