American Cycles & Sets

Paul Sperry Sings American Cycles and Sets

As a song recitalist one of my favorite pastimes is putting programs together. I love to figure out how to juxtapose songs so as to show them off to greatest advantage. When I program cycles or sets, the composers have done some of my work for me. They have decided how they want their songs to interrelate, and then it becomes my job, as it is with this recording, to see which cycles and sets go well together. I think of a cycle as something which doesn't excerpt effectively; each song is dependent on its neighbors to make its full effect. A set excerpts easily but also functions well as a complete group, usually using works of a single poet. In this recording, I think of the Beaser, Talma and Gruenberg as cycles, and the Smith, Wilson and Berg as sets. They appear together on this recording because they are all works I love and have performed frequently, and I think they make an intriguing totality. They are also pieces which are accessible to the general public but which could only have been composed in the twentieth century.

Robert Beaser was born in 1954 in Boston, received his BA summa cum laude and his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Yale. He is currently composer in residence with the American Composers Orchestra and has had works performed by the Chicago Symphony, the Saint Louis Symphony, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, RAI-Italiana and many others. He has also composed chamber music, choral music and vocal music, and has received numerous awards including the Prix de Rome - he is the youngest American ever to receive that prize. I first heard “The Seven Deadly Sins” when my friend Earle Brown gave me a tape of its premiere (in its baritone versions sung by Richard Lalli) while Beaser was still a student at Yale. I was bowled over by the piece and called Beaser to tell him so. Out of that call came my premiere of the tenor version, and the start of a friendship. Performers who perform only dead composers miss so much. I sing this cycle at every possible opportunity and feel that it stands right alongside the best of the genre from any period. Beaser draws on many styles from Ravel to jazz to find the right music for Anthony Hecht's striking texts; he has written a cycle of unusual power and created major challenges for both the singer and the pianist.

Born in Byelorussia in 1884, Louis Gruenberg came to America at age two and died in Beverly Hills in 1964. He was a gifted pianist and began composing early. In the 1920's his compositions were being performed here and in Europe to great acclaim. His opera on Eugene O'Neill's “The Emperor Jones” was performed successfully at the Metropolitan. He moved to Hollywood in the late 1930's and won three Academy Awards, after which the national musical establishment took him less seriously. Heifitz did commission a violin concerto from him in 1944 and played it around the country. Gruenberg wrote a great many vocal works including ten operas (most, unfortunately, still unpublished), several vocal chamber pieces - among which “The Daniel Jazz,” also on a Vachel Lindsay text, is my favorite - and a small number of songs. “Animals and Insects” dates from the twenties, but it sounds advanced for an American at the time. Gruenberg had studied in Germany and as a composer combined a love of jazz with sophisticated European training. He picks up on the folksiness of Vachel Lindsay's texts with music that at times has a quasi-pop sound and at others sounds almost abstract. I've always loved the wit of “Animals and Insects” and the opportunity it gives me for differentiating the characters vocally.

Larry Alan Smith comes from Canton, Ohio. He has already led a remarkably busy musical life for someone born as recently as 1955. He has an extensive catalog of compositions: operatic, symphonic, chamber, choral, vocal, and a flourishing second career as a teacher and administrator. He is currently Dean of the Hartt School of Music having previously been Dean of Music at the North Carolina School of the Arts. He also somehow finds time to play the piano and conduct. I first met him in 1982 when he asked me to perform several pieces on a concert of his music in New York City. I loved the music and made another friend. In 1983 he gave me a score of “Songs of the Silence” as a Christmas present, not expecting that I would necessarily perform the songs. I have, as frequently as possible. Richard Nickson's poetry has provided the texts for three of Larry Alan Smith's works, and indeed Nickson wrote the poems which he calls Staves with the intention that they serve as lyrics. Smith's simple almost stark settings seem completely appropriate to me.

Richard Wilson wrote his “Three Painters” in 1985 as a present for his friend Barbara Haskell, who is a curator at the Whitney Museum of Art. Wilson is drawn to humorous texts - his two other major solo vocal works are also extremely witty. He has a catalog of approximately sixty works for orchestra, chamber groups and solo piano. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1941 and since 1966 has been on the faculty at Vassar College. After having delighted in giving several performances (including the premiere) of his “Ballad of Longwood Glen” for tenor and harp on a scathingly funny Nabokov poem, I was more than eager to premiere these three painters with Irma Vallecillo in 1985 at Bard College. My greatest problem in performing them is not to laugh myself.

Louise Talma's moving “Terre de France” was composed during the second World War and was her response to the terrible situation in France. Since she received her most significant musical training in Fontainebleau - studying piano with Isidore Philipp and composition with Nadia Boulanger —she was particularly distressed by the German occupation and chose to express those feelings by setting some of the greatest French poetry dealing with love of country and love of peace. At the time she wrote in a neoclassic style which she later abandoned for a very personal serial technique. Having worked often with her, I marvel at their precision, her attention to detail and her ability to put clear instructions on the page telling her performers what to do. Her metronome markings and dynamics mean precisely what they say. Louise Talma was born in 1906 and educated in New York City. She taught for fifty years at Hunter College, first English, then music theory. She was the first woman composer to be admitted to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, but I think she now takes even greater pleasure in the fact that she is no longer referred to as “one of our leading women composers” but simply as “one of our leading composers.” She has been exceedingly prolific throughout her life and is still actively composing at eighty-five.

Christopher Berg was born in Detroit in 1949 and studied first with his father whose musical tastes were very broad - one of Chris's earliest musical memories is of the old 78's of “Pierrot Lunaire,” surely not a best seller in the 1950's. The largest portion of Berg's output consists of vocal works, including songs, chamber pieces, an orchestral song cycle and a Mass for Soprano, Chorus and Orchestra. He cites as his most important mentors Noel Farrand, a little-known American Romantic, and Richard Hundley, one of America's finest song composers. So far he has written thirteen Frank O'Hara settings from which I have selected this group of six - they work so well together that I consider them a set. I think Berg has succeeded in translating in to music O'Hara's mixture of brashness, lyricism, vivacity and toughness. He mixes classical and popular elements in a persuasive manner that seems to me exactly appropriate to the texts which he so obviously loves. Whether setting O'Hara at his most loving or most comical Berg takes him seriously. The results always delight me.

Paul Sperry


The Seven Deadly Sins


“For me Almighty God Himself has died,”

Said one who formerly rebuked his pride

With, “Father, I am not worthy,” and here denied

The Mercy by which each of us is tried.



hen, to a popular tune, God's Mercy and Justice


Coagulate here again,

Establishing in tissue the True Republic

Of good looks to all men

And victuals and wit and the holy sloth of the lily,

Thou shalt not toil nor spin.


I saw in stalls of pearl the heavenly hosts,

Gentle as down, and without private parts.

“Dies Irae,” they sang, and I could smell

The dead-white phosphorus of sacred hearts.


The penniless Indian fakirs and their camels

Slip through the needle's eye

To bliss (for neither flesh nor spirit trammels

Such as are prone to die)

And from emaciate heaven they behold

Our sinful kings confer

Upon an infant huge tributes of gold

And frankincense and myrrh.


The Phoenix knows no lust, and Christ, our mother,

Suckles his children with his vintage blood.


Not to be such a One is to be other.



The first man leaps the ditch (Who wins this race

Wins laurel, but laurel dies.)

The next falls in (who in his hour of grace

Plucked out his offending eyes.)

The blind still lead. (Consider the ant's ways;

Consider, and be wise.)


Let the poor look to themselves, for it is said

Their savior wouldn't turn stones into bread.

And let the sow continually say grace.

For moss shall build in the lung and leave no trace,

The glutton worm shall tunnel in the head

And eat the word out of the parchment face.

from The Hard Hours, by Anthony Hecht. ©1967 by Anthony Hecht.

Reprinted with the permission of Antheneum Publishers, New York, NY.


Animals and Insects

The Lion

The Lion is a kingly beast

He likes a Hindu for a feast.

And if no Hindu he can get,

The lion-family is upset.

He cuffs his wife and bites her ears

Till she is nearly moved to tears

Then some explorer finds the den

And all is family peace again.

An Explanation of the Grasshopper

The Grasshopper, the Grasshopper,

I will explain to you:—

He is the Brownies' racehorse,

The fairies' Kangaroo.

The Spider and the Ghost of the Fly

Once I loved a spider

When I was born a fly,

A velvet-footed spider

With a gown of rainbow-dye.

She ate my wings and gloated.

She bound me with a hair.

She drove me to her parlor

Above her winding stair.

To educate young spiders

She took me all apart.

My ghost came back to haunt her.

I saw her eat my heart.

A Dirge For A Righteous Kitten

Ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong.

Here lies a kitten good, who kept

A kitten's proper place.

He stole no pantry eatables,

Nor scratched the baby's face.

He let the alley-cats alone.

He had no yowling vice.

His shirt was always laundried well,

He freed the house of mice.

Until his death he had not caused

His little mistress tears,

He wore his ribbon prettily,

He washed behind his ears.

Ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong.

The Mysterious Cat

I saw a proud, mysterious cat,

I saw a proud, mysterious cat,

Too proud to catch a mouse or rat—

Mew, mew, mew.

But catnip she would eat, and purr,

But catnip she would eat, and purr.

And goldfish she did much prefer—

Mew, mew, mew.

I saw a cat—`twas but a dream,

I saw a cat—`twas but a dream,

Who scorned the slave that brought her cream—

Mew, mew, mew.

(Unless the slave were dressed in style,

Unless the slave were dressed in style,

And knelt before her all the while—

Mew, mew, mew.)

Did you ever hear of a thing like that?

Did you ever hear of a thing like that?

Did you ever hear of a thing like that?

Oh, what a proud mysterious cat.

Oh, what a proud mysterious cat.

Oh, what a proud mysterious cat.

Mew … mew … mew.

The Mouse That Gnawed the Oak-Tree Down

The mouse that gnawed the oak-tree down

Began his task in early life.

e kept so busy with his teeth


He had no time to take a wife.

He gnawed and gnawed through sun and rain

When the ambitious fit was on.

Then rested in the sawdust till

A month of idleness had gone.

He did not move about to hunt

The coteries of mousie-men.

He was a snail-paced, stupid thing

Until he cared to gnaw again.

The mouse that gnawed the oak-tree down,

When that tough foe was at his feet—

Found in the stump no angel-cake,

Nor buttered bread, nor cheese nor meat—

The forest roof let in the sky.

“This light is worth the work” said he.

“I'll make this ancient swamp more light.”

And started on another tree.

Two Old Crows

Two old crows sat on a fence rail.

Two old crows sat on a fence rail,

Thinking of effect and cause,

Of weeds and flowers,

And nature's laws.

One of them muttered, one of them stuttered,

One of them stuttered, one of them muttered.

Each of them thought far more than he uttered.

One crow asked the other crow a riddle.

One crow asked the other crow a riddle:

The muttering crow

Asked the stuttering crow,

“Why does a bee have a sword to his fiddle?

Why does a bee have a sword to his fiddle?”

“Bee-cause,” said the other crow,


B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B-cause,”

Just then a bee flew close to their rail:—

“Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzz

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz ZZZZZZZZZ.”

And those two black crows

Turned pale,

And away those crows did sail.


B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B-cause,”

B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B-cause,”

“Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzz

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz ZZZZZZZZZ.”

Vachel Lindsay


Songs of the Silence

All Music, All Delight

We were lone wanderers

Passing by

A wide wood under

A wider sky.

Over us twilight

Loomed as still

As the tall cedar

On the dark hill.

We saw no other

Thing at all

Than deepening shadows

At nightfall.

We heard no other

Sound than this:

Two soft murmurs,

One light kiss.

No more we wandered

Then that night,

Who found all music,

All delight

Wound in the silence

Where we stood,

Hushed as the shadows,

Still as the wood.

The Fountain and the Fire

Let trumpets snarl from the high tower

And a rolling drumbeat sound

To boast the way that other hearts

Than ours in passion bound.

Our way is the wind in silence

Wafting the stars that ride

Like tossing sails upon the sea

Farther than any tide.

Our way is love's way,

Mute with all desire,

Whirled in the linked rhythms of

The fountain and the fire.

Come, then, to me the while your voice

And mine are stricken dumb:

Lest words flail the silence of love,

In silence, sweetheart, come.


Lost on the stillness die

Echoes of failing song:

Untuned the lute strings lie

That love had strummed nightlong.

Beauty, the bud of youth,

Droops in time's deep mould,

Withered as every truth

Once know, once told.

Even the glittering day

Dwindles to twilight gloom,

And as we kiss we lay

All heaven in a tomb.

From Staves: A Book of Songs by Richard Nickson, the Moretus Press, NY 1977.


Three Painters

On the Farther Wall, Marc Chagall

One eye without a head to wear it

Sits on the pathway, and a chicken,

Pursued perhaps by astral ferret,

Flees, while the plot begins to thicken.

Two lovers kiss. Their hair is kelp.

Nor are the titles any help.

The Casual Look

In pictures by Grandma Moses

The people have no noses.

Squeeze Play

Jackson Pollock had a quaint

Way of saying to his sibyl,

“Shall I dribble?

Should I paint?”

And with never an instant's quibble,

Sibyl always answered,


from “Spectator's Guide to Contemporary Art” by Phyllis McGinley. Published in Times Three. New York, The Viking Press.


Terre de France

I. Mère, voici vos fils

Mère, voici vos fils et leur immense armée.

Qu'ils ne soient pas jugés sur leur seule misère.

Que Dieu mette avec eux un peu de cette terre

Qui les a tant perdus et qu'ils ont tant aimée.

Que Dieu mette avec eux dans le juste plateau

Ce qu'ils ont tant aimé, quelques grammes de terre,

Un peu de cette vigne, un peu de ce coteau,

Un peu de ce ravin sauvage et solitaire.

Mère, voyez vos fils qui se sont tant battus.

Vous les voyez couchés parmi les nations.

Que Dieu ménage un peu ces êtres débattus.

Ces coeurs pleins de tristesse et d'hésitation.

Charles Péguy

I. Mother, Behold Your Sons

Mother, behold your sons who with the host have perished.

O be their judgment not based on sorrows that tried them.

May God grant them a bit of that dear earth beside them

That wrought them so much woe and that so much they cherished.

May God grant them a bit of that earth that could fill

Their hearts with so much love, sev'ral grains of earth only,

A little of that vineyard, a little of that hill,

A little of that deep ravine so wild and lonely.

Mother, behold your sons who fought so hard a fight,

Whom lying now at rest among the tribes you see.

God grant a little mercy to their sorry plight,

Their hearts so filled with grief and with uncertainty.

II. Sonnet

Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage,

Ou comme cestuy-là qui conquist la Toison,

Et puis est retourné, plein d'usage et raison,

Vivre entre ses parents le reste de son aage!

Quand revoiray-je, hélas! de mon petit village

Fumer la cheminée, et en quelle saison

Revoiray-je le clos de ma pauvre maison,

Qui m'est une province, et beaucoup d'avantage?

Plus me plaist le séjour qu'ont basty mes ayeux,

Que des palais romains le front audacieux,

Plus que le marbre dur me plaist l'ardoise fine;

Pls mon Loyre gaulois que le Tybre latin,

Plus mon petit Lyreé que le mont Palatin,

Et plus que l'air marin la doulceur angevine.

Joachim Du Bellay

II. Sonnet

O happy he who's journeyed well as did of yore

Ulysses or the man who the Fleece bravely got,

And then returned to find mongst his kindred his lot

Through his remaining years enriched with wisdom's store.

When shall I see again the smoke that rises o'er

The humble village roofs, the familiar old spot,

O and when shall I see my own poor little cot,

For me a great demesne, and vastly vastly more?

Home my forefathers built is the place I would bide,

Not haughty Roman halls with all their pomp and pride.

Far more than marble hard, thin slate my fancy pleases;

More my own Gallic Loire than the Tiber of Rome,

More than the Palatine my Lyré here at home,

And more than ocean air my Anjou's gentle breezes.

III. Ballade

En regardant vers le païs de France,

Ung jour m'avint, à Dovre sur la mer,

Qu'il me souvint de la doulce plaisance

Que je souloye où-dit païs trouver.

Si commençay de cueur `à souspirer,

Combien certes que grant bien me faisoit

De veoir France, que mon cueur amer doit.

Je m'avisay que c'estoit non sçavance

De tells soupirs dedens mon cueur garder,

Veu que je voy que la voye commence

De bonne paix, qui tous bien peut donner.

Pour ce tournay en confort mon penser:

Mais non pourtant mon cueur ne se lassoit

De veoir France, que mon cueur amer doit.

Alors chargeay en la nef d'espérance

Tous mes souhaitz, en les priant d'aler

Oultre la mer, san faire demourance,

Et à France de me recommander.

Or, mous doint Dieu bonne paix sans tarder;

Adonc auray loisir, mais qu'ainsi soit,

De veoir France, que mon cueur amer doit.

Paix est trésor qu'on ne peut trop louer,

Je hé guerre, point ne la doit priser;

Destourbé m'a longtemps, soit tort ou droit,

De veoir France, que mon cueur amer doit.

Charles d'Orléans

III. Ballade

While toward the land of France my eyes were turning,

One day it chanced at Dover on the sea

That mem'ry fond those pleasures was discerning

Which I was wont to find in that countree.

Then I began to sigh most fervently,

How much truly it would bring me good cheer

To see France that to my heart is so dear.

Then I bethought myself to keep such yearning

Within my heart would surely nonsense be,

Since paths of peace open now, I am learning,

Of lovely peace, which makes all glad and free.

This turned my mind to a happier key,

But still my heart lost not its wish sincere

To see France that to my heart is so dear.

So then I loaded those wishes a-burning

All on the bark of hope, and bade them flee

Over the sea across the billows churning,

Straight to France, and convey regards from me.

Now that God give speedy peace is my plea,

And I'll have leisure then, granted He hear,

To see France that to my heart is so dear.

Peace is a treasure of highest degree;

Who hates not war, truly a dolt is he;

War's forbidden me now for many a year

To see France that to my heart is so dear.

IV. Ode

Dieu te gard l'honneur du printemps

Qui étens

Tes beaux trésors sur la branche,

Et qui découvres au soleil

Le vermeil

De ta beauté naïve et franche.

D'assez loin tu vois redoublé

Dans le blé

Ta face, de cinabre teinte,

Dans le blé qu'on voit réjouir

De jouir

De ton image en son verd peinte.

Près de toy, sentant ton odeur,

Plein d'ardeur

Je façonne un vers dont la grâce

Maugré les tristes Soeurs vivra,

Et suivra

Le long vol des ailes d'Horace.

Les uns chanteront les oeillets


Ou du lis la fleur argentée,

Ou celle qui s'est par les prez


Du sang des princes enfantée.

Mais moy, tant que chanter pourray,

Je louray

Toujours en mes Odes la rose,

Autant qu'elle porte le nom

De renom

De colle où ma vie est enclose.

Pierre de Ronsard


IV. Ode

ou are queen of spring as you spread


Ruby red

Treasures on view in their rareness,

And so unto the sun you show

The bright glow

Of your naïve and candid fairness.

You can see redoubled appear

Far and near

Your face with its vermilion flushes

Through the wheat joys in the scene

Midst its green

Of your fair image that bright blushes,

As I breathe your scent that's distilled,


Close at hand a song I am singing

To live, the Sisters grim despite,

And take flight

Where his course great Horace is winging.

Now some of carnations will write

Crimson bright,

Or the lily's silvery flowers,

Or blossoms whose life had as springs

Blood of kings,

In meadows gay with varied bowers.

But I while I sing shall praise

All my days

No flow'r in my Odes save roses,

Because `tis the rose bears the name

Of great fame


Of her who my being encloses.


V. Adieux à la Meuse

Adieu, Meuse endormeuse et douce à mon enfance,

Qui demeures aux prés, où tu coules tout bas.

Meuse, adieu: j'air déjà commencé ma partance

En des pays nouveaux où tu ne coules pas.

Voici que je m'en vais en des pays nouveaux:

Je ferai la bataille et passerai les fleuves,

Je m'en vais m'essayer à de nouveaux travaux,

Je m'en vais commencer là-bas les tâches neuves.

Et pendant ce temps-là, Meuse, ignorante et douce,

Tu couleras toujours, passante accoutumée,

Dans la vallée heureuse où l'herbe vive pousse,

O Meuse inépuisable et que j'avis aimée.

Un silence.

Tu couleras toujours dans l'heureuse vallée;

Où tu coulais hier, tu couleras demain.

Tu ne sauras jamais la bergère en allée,

Qui s'amusait, enfant, à creuser de sa main

Des canaux dans la terre, —à jamais écroulés.

La bergère s'en va, délaissant les moutons.

Et la fileuse va, délaissant les fuseaux.

Voici que je m'en vais loin de tes bonnes eaux,

Voici que je m'en vais bien loin de nos maisons.

Meuse qui ne said rien de la souffrance humaine,

O Meuse inaltérable et douce à mon enfance,

O toi qui ne sais pas l'émoi de la partance,

Toi qui passes toujours et qui ne pars jamais,

O toi qui ne sais rien de nos mensonges faux,

O Meuse inaltérable, ô Meuse que j'aimais.

Un silence.

Quand reviendrai-je ici filer encor la laine?

Quand verrai-je tes flots qui passent par chez nous?

Quand nous reverrons-nous? et nous reverrons-nous?

Meus que j'aime encore, ô ma Meuse que j'aime.

Charles Péguy

V. Farewell to the Meuse

Farewell, dreamy sweet stream, O Meuse in meadows flowing,

You that lulled me in youth with your murmurings low,

Meuse, farewell, I must leave, even now I am going

To countries new and strange where you will never flow.

Behold that now I go to countries new and strange,

I shall join in the fray, and cross full many rivers,

Now I go to essay new work and strange new change,

Now I go far away to enter new endeavors.

And throughout all that time, Meuse, you will still be lowing,

Still sweet and unaware, on your accustomed courses,

There in the happy vale where grass is greenly growing,

O my belovéd Meuse of never-falling sources.

A silence.

There in the happy vale, you will ever be lowing,

Flowing to-morrow still, where you flowed yesterday.

Shepherdess gone away—oh of her all unknowing,

Who as a child would scoop in the earth in her play

Little channels that now are demolished for aye.

Now the shepherdess goes, and her labs now she leaves,

Ay and the spinner goes, with her tasks incomplete.

See how I now must go, far from your waters sweet;

See how I now must go, far from my own dear eaves.

Meuse who know naught of man, of his sorrows and sinning,

O Meuse my childhood's joy that naught can ever alter,

You know naught of how parting makes human heart falter,

You who ever will pass and never will depart,

You know naught of our lies and naught of our deceit,

O Meuse that, never changed, I love with all my heart.

A silence.

When shall I come again once more to do my spinning,

When once more see your waves that flow back home, O when?

When shall we meet again? And shall we meet again?

Meuse O my Meuse beloved still as in the beginning.

trans. E. Adelaide Hahn to fit Louise Talma's music


Six Poems of Frank O'Hara


How funny you are today New York

Like Ginger Rogers in Swingtime

And St. Bridget's steeple leaning a little to the left

here I have just jumped out of a bed full of V-days

(I got tired of D-days) and blue you there still

accepts me foolish and free

all I want is room up there

and you in it

and even the traffic halt so thick is a way

for people to rub up against each other

and when their surgical appliances lock

they stay together

for the rest of the day (what a day)

I go by to check a slide and I say

that painting's not so blue

where's Lana Turner

she's out eating

and Garbo's backstage at the Met

everyone's taking their coat off

so they can show a rib-cage to the rib-watchers

and the park's full of dancers with their tights and shoes

in little bags

who are often mistaken for worker-outers at the West Side Y

why not

the Pittsburgh Pirates shout because they won

and in a sense we're all winning

we're alive

the apartment was vacated by a gay couple

who moved to the country for fun they moved a day too soon

even the stabbings are helping the population explosion

though in the wrong country

and all those liars have left the U.N.

the Seagram Building's no longer rivalled in interest

not that we need liquor (we just like it)

and the little box is out on the sidewalk

next to the delicatessen

so the old man can sit on it and drink beer

and get knocked off it by his wife later in the day

while the sun is still shining

oh god it's wonderful

to get out of bed

and drink too much coffee

and smoke too many cigarettes

and love you so much


Lana Tuner has collapsed!

I was trotting along and suddenly

it started raining and snowing

and you said it was hailing

but hailing hits you on the head

hard so it was really snowing and

raining and I was in such a hurry

to meet you but the traffic

was acting exactly like the sky

and suddenly I see a headline


there is no snow in Hollywood

there is no rain in California

I have been to lots of parties

and acted perfectly disgraceful

but I never actually collapsed

oh Lana Turner we love you get up


It is dirty

does it look dirty

that's what you think of in the city

does it just seem dirty

that's what you think of in the city

you don`t refuse to breathe do you

someone comes along with a very bad character

he seems attractive, is he really, yes very

he's attractive as his character is bad. is it. yes

that's what you think of in the city

run your finger along your no-moss mind

that's not a thought that's soot

and you take a lot of dirt off someone

is the character less bad. no. it improves constantly

you don't refuse to breathe do you

St. Paul and All That

Totally abashed and smiling

I walk in

sit down and

face the Frigidaire

it's April

no May

it's May

such little things have to be established in morning

after the big things of night

do you want me to come? when

I think of all the things I've been thinking of I feel insane

simply “life in Birmingham is hell”

simply “you will miss me

but that's good”

when the tears of a whole generation are assembled

they will only fill a coffee cup

just because they evaporate

doesn't mean life has heat

“this various dream of living”

I am alive with you

full of anxious pleasures and pleasurable anxiety

hardness and softness

listening while you talk and talking while you read

I read what you read

you do not read what I read

which is right, I am the one with the curiosity

you read for some mysterious reason

I read simply because I am a writer

the sun doesn't necessarily set, sometimes it just disappears

when you're not here someone walks in and says


there's no dancer in that bed”

O the Polish summers! those drafts!

those black and white teeth!

you never come when you say you'll come but on the other hand you do come


I'm gong to New York!

(what a lark! what a song!)

where the tough Rocky's eaves

hit the sea. Where th'Acro-

polis is functional, the trains

that run and shout! the books

that have trousers and sleeves!

I'm going to New York

(quel voyage! jamais plus!)

far from Ypsilant and Flint!

Where Goodman rules the Empire

And the sunlight's eschato-

logy upon the wizard's bridges

And the galleries of print!

I'm going to New York!

(to my friends! mes semblables!)

I suppose I'll walk back West.

But for now I'm gone forever!

the city's hung with flashlights!

the Ferry's unbuttoning its vest!

Frank O'Hara

Steps, Poem (Lana Turner has collapsed!), Song (Is it dirty), and St. Paul and All That from LUNCH POEMS by Frank O'Hara. © 1964 by Frank O'Hara. Reprinted with the permission of City Lights Books, San Francisco, California. Autobiographia Literaria from THE COLLECTED POEMS OF FRANK O'HARA. © 1971 by Maureen Granville-Smith. Reprinted with the permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, New York. Song (I'm going to New York!) from POEMS RETRIEVED by Frank O'Hara. © 1974 by Maureen Granville-Smith. Reprinted with the permission of Grey Fox Press, San Francisco, California.

Paul Sperry is recognized as one of today's outstanding interpreters of American music. Although he is equally at home in a repertoire that extends from Monteverdi opera and the Bach Passions to Britten's “War Requiem” and hundreds of songs in more than a doze languages, he brings to American music a conviction and an enthusiasm that has brought it to life for countless listeners.

Many of today's leading composers have written works specially for him; Sperry has world premieres of works by more than thirty Americans to his credit. He premiered Leonard Bernstein's “Dybbuk Suite” with the composer conducting the New York Philharmonic, Jacob Druckman's “Animus IV” for the opening of the Centre Georges Pompidou at Beaubourg in Paris in 1977, and Bernard Rands' Pulitzer Prize winning “Canti del Sole” with the New York Philharmonic in 1983 under Zubin Mehta. Other composers whose works he has premiered include William Bolcom, Daniel Brewbaker, Richard Hundley, Marvin David Levy, Stephen Paulus, Larry Alan Smith, Lousie Talma, Francis Thorne, Nicholas Thorne, Dan Welcher and Charles Wuorinen.

Singing songs has always been Sperry's principal passion. For the American Bicentennial in 1976, Sperry assembled a three-recital series, “Red, White and Blue—A Salute to American Song,” which explored the little known literature of the past hundred years. Subsequently he increased his repertoire and has now performed songs by over a hundred American composers.

Sperry is also a passionate advocate for American music. He has tried to insure that many of the wonderful works he has unearthed will be easily available to others. To that end, he has compiled and edited several volumes of American songs, both anthologies and single composer collections for G. Schirmer, Peer-Southern, Boosey & Hawkes and Dover Publications. In 1989 he became the first non-composer to be elected president of the American Music Center, a fifty year old national organization which houses a large circulating library of scores, recordings and tapes and provides information all over the world about American composers and their music.

Born in Chicago, Mr. Sperry graduated from Harvard College and continued his studies at the Sorbonne in Paris. He worked extensively with such masters of art-song interpretation as Jennie Tourel, Paul Ulanowsky and Pierre Bernac. Today Mr. Sperry is widely appreciated for his own master classes at the Eastman School of Music, the Peabody Institute, Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, the Cleveland Institute of Music, the University of Southern California, the Manhattan School of Music, Harvard and Yale to name a few. Since 1984 he has taught 19th- and 20th-century song repertory and performance at the Juilliard School, and he has created there what may be the country's only full-year course in American song. He has been a faculty member of the Aspen Music Festival since 1978. He lives in New York City with his wife and their three children.

Pianist Irma Vallecillo has been internationally acclaimed as a bravura soloist and chamber musician. A student of Adele Marcus, Angelica von Sauer and Joanna Graudan, she is in constant demand as partner for some of the world's most celebrated soloists. Ms. Vallecillo has performed in concerts at the Sitka Music Festival and Winter Classics, Ravinia Festival, Chamber Music Northwest, Aspen Music Festival, Schleswig-Holstein Festival, Library of Congress, Carnegie Hall, and the Kennedy Center. Recently she appeared on the television gala celebrating Wolf Trap National Park with Richard Stolzman.

Ms. Vallecillo has been associated with the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico since 1974, appearing both in chamber music and solo repertoire. She has recorded extensively on the RCA, Louisville Symphony, Desmar, Orion, Laurel, and Avant, and Albany Records labels. Ms. Vallecillo has taught at UCLA, The Aspen Music Festival, and currently teaches at Vassar College, and has just joined the faculty of the Hartt School of Music where she is in charge of building a department of piano chamber music and accompanying.

Recorded at The Barn, Bedford, New York, 1990. Producer: Judith Sherman • Cover Design: Ann Sperry • Production Assistance for Albany Records: Michael Bregman