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Four Songs Volume 2

For high voice and piano

 

1. Moon Poem (Helen Rickards)

2. Il girasole * (Eugenio Montale)

3. Mentor (Rainer Maria Rilke in Eng. translation)

4. Sonnet for Michael (Edna St. Vincent Millay)

* Italian text

Moon Poem is the portrait of a woman abandoned by the man she loves. Like Ariadne, she lives on an island somewhere in time, singing her story in the lush, moonlit landscape of her exile. The richly chromatic harmonies of the piano interweave the changing moods of this spurned siren. The voice rages out in the realization that "These are the things that kiss my brow, that take the place of thee." Nature remains faithful, yet she is herself unfulfilled. Her final admonishment: "Study the moon's soft gleam" is delivered as a prophetic plea.

Sonnet for Michael is a setting of Millay's poem Time does not bring relief and was commissioned by my friend, baritone, Peter Van Derick, in memory of Michael Alhonte, a young musician and singer, struck down by AIDS. The piano prelude evokes the fragility of beauty swept up in a harsh, uncertain world. The opening line rips from the heart in agonizing admission. Anger inundates and condemns in "you all have lied." A poignant lullaby provides the setting's core, exposing time and space that only echo loss. I accompanied Peter as he premiered Sonnet in a concert at St. Bart's Chapel in Manhattan on November 6, 1996.

I entitle the well-known excerpt from Letters to a Young Poet, "Mentor" and dedicate it to a former piano teacher. 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."

When I was a child my father let me plant sunflowers in the last row of the garden next to the rhubarb. After brilliant careers when they were spent and dry, we cut off the giant heads and nailed them up in trees to become bird feeders. They eyed us like great pre-historic masks.

During a group at the London Healing Circle in 1994 I shared how I was able to "come out" about my own HIV status through the example of a young Italian man. A German fellow told me afterwards that my experience recalled Montale's poem, Il girasole (The sunflower). I would memorize and set it in dedication to my courageous lover/friend, Gianni.

A dazzling Mediterranean light instructs the piano prelude. The vocal line yearns  sun-ward,  "outing"  and transforming  itself. Darker harmonies  lure us within  the shaft of this dinosaur flower, pulling up from the cool shade to explode again into the golden yellows of B flat and D. Positive Music presented the premier in a concert at  the  Greenwich  House  in  New  York  on June  24,  1996 with  tenor,  Joseph Wolverton and myself at the piano.

 

-Martin Hennessy

Moon Poem *

Heidi Skok, vocalist, Martin Hennessy, pianist all tracks

Il girasole 

Joseph Wolverton, tenor

Sonnet for Michael *

Heidi Skok, vocalist

*excerpts

Mentor *

Heidi Skok, vocalist