Choral Music of Richard Wilson





Stresses in the


Peaceable Kingdom




The Choral Music of


Richard Wilson




William Appling


Singers & Orchestra


William Appling, conductor








Choral Works of Richard Wilson




Richard Wilson writes:




This recording encompasses all of my choral music: from In Schrafft's, begun in 1966, to Poor Warren, composed in 1995. Ten works, spanning thirty years. Four poets are involved: W.H. Auden, Stephen Sandy, John Unterecker, and John Ashbery. With each of them I have had some degree of personal association. W.H. Auden was friendly with individuals in Harvard's Quincy House, where I lived half of my undergraduate years, and could often be seen in bedroom slippers, taking meals in our dining hall. I never summoned the nerve to meet him. Stephen Sandy was my English teacher in 1959 and was, in fact, the first college teacher I encountered as a fearful, insecure, unconfident freshman. Only later did I discover his poetry. John Unterecker worked on his Hart Crane biography at the artists' colony Yaddo when I was also a guest. We became friendly and enjoyed long talks together. Finally, John Ashbery teaches at Bard College just up the Hudson River from Vassar. We share an appreciation of Jack Benny's radio programs from the 1940's.




In Schrafft's is a setting of W.H. Auden's poem for mixed chorus, clarinet, marimba and harpsichord. It began as a work for men's chorus with four-hand piano (but with experimental inside-the-piano effects) and was intended as a present for Elliot Forbes, who conducted the Harvard Glee Club when I was its accompanist. In 1979, I decided to rework the piece for mixed chorus with a different perhaps more practical instrumental component. The choral writing remains a mixture of singing, speaking and whispering to somewhat whimsical effect. It is still dedicated to Elliot Forbes.




A Dissolve, for women's voices, was the first of what became a series of seven choral settings of poems by Stephen Sandy. It was written for the Vassar Madrigal Singers and their conductor, Albert van Ackere, to take on a tour of Scandinavia in the spring of 1968. The premiere occurred in Aarhus, Denmark.




Elegy, whose Sandy poem was entitled "Thanksgiving in the country" and refers to the assassination of JFK, went through several stages of revisions; its final form was premiered in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1984, thirteen years after the first setting was begun.




Soaking, another Sandy setting was written in 1969 and dedicated to my wife (although we were not to be married until 1971). It is a complex, enigmatic statement that probably reflects my preference for baths over showers.




Poor Warren is a setting of four poems by John Ashbery: "Frontispiece," "Crazy Weather," "Just Walking Around," and "Qualm." All but the third, which is unaccompanied, involve rather tricky piano writing, and the language of the poetry is often whimsical and mercurial; I have tried to make my musical settings convey these qualities.




Home From the Range, poem again by Stephen Sandy, stems from 1970, the heart of the Vietnam era, and was premiered by the Vassar Madrigal Singers in Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, in 1972. The keen listener will detect the ghost of "Home on the Range" at several points in the setting. The "Merton" referred to in the poem is Thomas Merton, a Trappist sworn to an oath of silence who lived in a monastery at Gethsemani, Kentucky. The setting is dedicated to old friends Gerald and Vreni Bennett.




Can, written in 1968, finds Stephen Sandy memorializing a discarded tin can "now only fit to cut and scold." It is one of his, and my, lighter efforts.




Light in Spring Poplars, also written in 1968, is a more serious piece in which I recall the word-painting of Renaissance madrigals in my treatment of "populace," "contagious," "infecting through" etc. Again, words are by Stephen Sandy.




Hunter's Moon dates from 1972 but underwent revision in 1992. At the time of this recording it has never been performed in public. The poem is Sandy's portrait of a dragonfly.




August 22, a setting of John Unterecker's poem of that title, was composed during a period when I made several visits to the studio of a friend, the painter Philip Guston. Because these visits were exhilarating and a great stimulus to my work, I had intended to dedicate the work to Mr. Guston. Sadly, Philip Guston died on June 7, 1980, before August 22 was performed or issued in print. The dedication has accordingly been made to his memory.




The poem commemorates an actual walk by the sea taken on August 22 in the company of someone whose birthday it was. The poem became a birthday gift from the poet to his companion.




August 22 is published by Boosey and Hawkes. All other works on this recording are published by Peermusic Classical. All selections are ASCAP.








In Schrafft's


Having finished the Blue-plate Special


And reached the coffee stage,


Stirring her cup she sat,


A somewhat shapeless figure


Of indeterminate age


In an undistinguished hat.


When she lifted her eyes it was plain


That our globular furore,


Our international rout


Of sin and apparatus


And dying men galore,


Was not being bothered about.


Which of the seven heavens


Was responsible for her smile


Wouldn't be sure but attested


That, whoever it was, a god


Worth kneeling-to for a while


Had tabernacled and rested.


— W.H. Auden




A Dissolve


The dream is tamed.


Fabulous bison of hunters'


memory, pumiced bone.


The idea


takes shape, virgin White Pine logged, stripped


clear to Minnesota.


It all dissolves,


the dying straggle in green fjords


of tall grass. They veer off,


the horses dying.


— Stephen Sandy






The twilight ascends into itself.


Clouds swim into themselves:


one cloud.


Night rises out of the long meadowgrass


reaches up


from among branches


these cedars take hands, a dark going.


One mile off, under the shade


of a larger limb


the headlights cross hands, blend


in a stream and


these drivers move


homeward round the interchange




and slowly somewhere.


He is gone. All these


boarded houses and bashed barns. Vanes


fallen in pumpkin vine


dry now. And morning


glories. This desire for someone


for our desires.


—Stephen Sandy






One microbubble of air


edges up my spine and


escapes at neckline;


the very lightest touch,


tick of caress,




tentative hand.


Farther down, the water


hot over my chin now


at earlobes, laps


in and out,




a warm finger in each ear.


The wet sole of my foot


rubs on the enameled rim


and sounds like a dog


whining to get in from the cold.




Down still more


the water round my face like a bonnet


various digestive workings




gurgle and clink


like steam heating.




I hear breathing,


a wind tunnel, loud,


breathe through the nose


deeply, a jet engine


taking its time




and below that


with even step


the heart


walks on the floor of the tub


firm and alone.


— Stephen Sandy




Poor Warren






Expecting rain, the profile of a day


Wears its soul like a hat, prow up


Against the deeply incised clouds and regions


Of abrupt skidding from cold to cold, riddles




Of climate it cannot understand.


Sometimes toward the end


A look of longing broke, taut, from those eyes


Meeting yours in final understanding, late,




And often, too, the beginnings went unnoticed


As though the story could advance its pawns


More discreetly thus, overstepping


The confines of ordinary health and reason




To introduce in another way


Its fact into the picture. It registered,


It must be there. And so we turn the page over


To think of starting. This is all there is.




Crazy Weather




It's this crazy weather we've been having:


Falling forward one minute, lying down the next


Among the loose grasses and soft, white, nameless flowers.


People have been making a garment out of it,


Stitching the white of lilacs together with lightning


At some anonymous crossroads. The sky calls


To the deaf earth. The proverbial disarray


Of morning corrects itself as you stand up.


You are wearing a text. The lines


Droop to your shoelaces and I shall never want or need


Any other literature than this poetry of mud


And ambitious reminiscences of times when it came easily


Through the then woods and ploughed fields and had


A simple unconscious dignity we can never hope to


Approximate now except in narrow ravines nobody


Will inspect where some late sample of the rare,


Uninteresting specimen might still be putting out shoots, for all we know.




Just Walking Around




What name do I have for you?


Certainly there is no name for you


In the sense that the stars have names


That somehow fit them. Just walking around,




An object of curiosity to some,


But you are too preoccupied


By the secret smudge in the back of your soul


To say much, and wander around,




Smiling to yourself and others.


It gets to be kind of lonely


But at the same time off-putting,


Counterproductive, as you realize once again




That the longest way is the most efficient way,


The one that looped among islands, and


You always seemed to be traveling in a circle.


And now that the end is near




The segments of the trip swing open like an orange.


There is light in there, and mystery and food.


Come see it. Come not for me but it.


But if I am still there, grant that we may see each other.










Warren G. Harding invented the word “normalcy,”


And the lesser-known “bloviate,” meaning, one imagines,


To spout, to spew aimless verbiage. He never wanted to be president.


The “Ohio Gang” made him. He died in the Palace




Hotel in San Francisco, coming back from Alaska,


As his wife was reading to him, about him,


From The Saturday Evening Post. Poor Warren. He wasn't a bad egg,


Just weak. He loved women and Ohio.




This protected summer of high, white clouds, a new golf star


Flashes like confetti across the intoxicating early part


Of summer, almost to the end of August. The crowd is hysterical:


Fickle as always, they follow him to the edge




Of the inferno. But the fall is, deliciously, only his.


They shall communicate this and that and compute


Fixed names like “doorstep in the wind.” The agony is permanent


Rather than eternal. He'd have noticed it. Poor Warren.




— John Ashbery






Home From The Range




I can hear the dour howl of far


breakers from sea shells held to my ear


and deep from my skull I hear the


same small, inveterate tolling


— I've come of age!




a screened knowledge;


the bad duty


serving one's country.


My head is,


the waste is, not clear; is a sound


rings like the sea in my ear,




“Minuscule nerve ends of the inner ear


abraded by a rough sound,” the doctor said,


“you will be deaf in the highest ranges;


no matter, you won't miss everyday sounds;


hear talk, the usual noises, music…”


“Flag is up — Flag is waving — Flag


is down.”


The bolt slides home in my


head a slender explosion —


but a fist's distance from the ear.


Waters rolling, the sound of war,


heavy traffic on wet pavements


the far-off highways


the plains, the


straddled sanctuaries


the fast


wildnesses hooped, roped like




being broken, the lasso of


highway, concrete belt, the sing of






cars escaping into space


such as Merton and his brothers


hear from their dark dormitories


Kentucky nights…


The sound, the guns


(said the Fort Knox private who knew)


was the sound of sea


heard inland —


heard as immortal agony


as galactic matter earthbound …


of God


in his generations


wild. Crashing against the shore of


our flesh, womb-wrought curl of ear,


natal memorial, chalice


of delicate lobes:


“Ready on


the Right


Ready on the Left


Ready on the






nothing will clear this waste;


guns of unlearned knowledge toll.




hold me with a light G.I. ring;


a slight ear-plug, always in place.


At Gethsemani


Merton hears


the guns of Fort Knox. The ring of




the sound of the traffic down


the inmost canals of our life.


Srrrriiiinng —




be deaf in the highest ranges.”




— Stephen Sandy








I found a sharp and jobless can,


now only fit to cut and scold.


It rang its tongueless gong of tin:


rattling, rattled, cold.


Each time I kicked the thing its shout


echoed a bright, unopened youth.


Looking for work, it tossed about,


one spiteful, jagged mouth.


Only a bent tin soldier, lame,


it went off crying to hold new food


(louder but lighter than it came),


no heft, no shine, no good.


Stephen Sandy




Light in Spring Poplars


A populace — but


of one blood. Contagious,


one, the sun


in the white poplars flared, radial, foamed


infecting through, when


up cold marches of the


slow season


buds caught: waxed in the pealed light, as the sun


on far flaked waters


was one husked candle


furled to light


others; — the gold buds many, but one flame.


Stephen Sandy






August 22




Here at the edge of nowhere and the sea


you wind a thread of seaweed on your wrist.


“Now I belong to this place.”


Like a coil of sandy hair


it loops the blue pulse of stretched skin.


Salt tides stretch out into the blue salt


darkness of the sea.


— John Unterecker




Hunter's Moon




An airborne dragon-


fly brash with first frost


buzzed me where I lay


in the open, still,


considering a


juniper lap and


vein the clouds;




like seaweed or a


mote down the eye's film,


he stained the sky with


four mica-seamed wings,


just able to hold


onto his outrigged


eyes, spying — a head?


— a stone?


Circling or


in the sunless air


coasting he hovered


the wing whirr missing


flaking, taking me


again — his insect


candor! — and again


for a window, a


door, a sun-banked stone,


or any warm thing.


— Stephen Sandy






Richard Wilson




Richard Wilson was born in Cleveland, where he studied piano with Roslyn Raish Pettibone, Egbert Fischer and Leonard Shure, and cello with Ernst Silberstein. After graduation from Harvard, he received the Frank Huntington Beebe Award which allowed him to study with the Austrian pianist Friedrich Wührer in Munich. Back in the United States he studied composition with Robert Moevs at Rutgers University and then joined the music faculty of Vassar College.




The composer of over seventy works in many genres, including opera, Mr. Wilson has received such recognition as the Hinrichsen Award (from the American Academy/Institute of Arts and Letters), the Stoeger Prize (from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center), the Cleveland Arts Prize (from the Women's City Club of Cleveland), a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a major commission from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation. His orchestral works have been performed by the San Francisco Symphony, the London Philharmonic, the American Symphony, the Pro-Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston, the Orquesta Sinfonica de Colombia, the Residentie Orkest of The Hague, and the Hudson Valley Philharmonic.




Conductors who have performed Mr. Wilson's music include Leon Botstein, Herbert Blomstedt, Imre Pallo and Luis Biava.




Also active as a pianist, Mr. Wilson has appeared as concerto soloist with the American Symphony Chamber Orchestra, the Residentie Orkest of The Hague, and the Hudson Valley Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra.




Mr. Wilson holds the Mary Conover Mellon Chair in Music at Vassar; he is also Composer-in-Residence with the American Symphony Orchestra.




William Appling




William Appling has a distinguished career as conductor, pianist and educator. He has received numerous honors including First Prize in Piano from the National Association of Negro Musicians and the first Kulas Foundation Fellowship Award for Choral Conducting with The Cleveland Orchestra, during which time he assisted George Szell and Robert Shaw. As solo pianist he has appeared with The Cleveland Orchestra and the Cleveland Summer Pops Orchestra, and in recital at Severence Hall, New York's Town Hall and the Brooklyn Museum of Art. He has played under the batons of French composer Darius Milhaud and Robert Shaw and in recital with internationally known singers and instrumentalists.




William Appling has taught on the faculties of Vassar College, Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Institute of Music and in the Cleveland Public Schools. In 1971 he founded Summer Music Experience, an international six-week program offering intensive music training and performance experience to gifted students of high school age.




William Appling Singers & Orchestra




The William Appling Singers & Orchestra is a select company of professional musicians performing works of all periods and styles, particularly the music of today's American composers. The ensemble has appeared in numerous concerts including Alice Tully Hall, the Bard Music Festival, Severence Hall and Blossom Music Center and has premiered works by many composers including Richard Hundley, Donald Erb, Hale Smith and Richard Wilson. Founder and conductor William Appling has been acclaimed as "a remarkable choral conductor" (The Nation) and for his "decisive podium leadership" (Cleveland Plain Dealer), and the musicians have won praise for their exciting, sensitive performances, technical mastery and sophisticated musicianship. WASO's recording of music by the early American composer William Billings was released on New World Records in 1998.




William Appling Singers & Orchestra


William Appling, conductor




Thomas Baker, tenor


Chandler Carter, bass


Philip Cutlip, baritone


Albert de Ruiter, bass


David Dusing, tenor


Michele Eaton, soprano


Neil Farrell, tenor


Joan Fuerstman, alto


Jonathan Goodman, tenor


R.J. Hazeltine-Shedd, bass


Elizabeth Henreckson-Farnum, soprano


Deborah Jamini, alto


Denise Kelly, alto


Karen Kreuger, alto


Natasha Lutov, alto


John Olund, tenor


John Mack Ousely, bass


Joan Peterson, soprano


Gregory Purnhagen, baritone


Paul Solem, tenor


Michael Steinberger, tenor


Deborah Stephens, soprano


Curtis Streetman, bass


Tobias Tumarkin, tenor


Arlene Travis, soprano


Mark Wagstrom, bass


Cynthia Richards Wallace, soprano


Pamela Warrick-Smith, alto


Nancy Wertsch, alto




Recorded in Vassar College's Skinner Hall, Poughkeepsie, New York


August 22is a May, 1991 performance. All other works recorded August, 1996.


Produced by William McClelland


Recorded, edited and mastered by George Faddoul, The Barn, Ravenna, Ohio.






"A Dissolve,""Can," "Home from the Range," "Hunter's Moon," "Light in Spring Poplars," "Soaking," and "Thanksgiving in the Country" appear in Stresses in the Peaceable Kingdom, Houghton Mifflin Co. "Frontispiece," "Crazy Weather," "Just Walking Around" and "Qualm" appear in John Ashbery: Selected Poems, Viking/Penguin. "In Schrafft's" appears in Collected Poems by W.H. Auden, Random House. "August 22" appears in Stone: Poems by John Unterecker, University Press of Hawaii. All poems reprinted by permission.






Cover Photo: Thomas Marker






Stresses in the Peaceable Kingdom




The Choral Music of Richard Wilson




William Appling Singers & Orchestra


William Appling, conductor




In Schrafft's (8:18)


A Dissolve (4:43)


Elegy (3:32)


Soaking (4:52)


Poor Warren


Frontispiece (2:37)


Crazy Weather (2:05)


Just Walking Around (2:44)


Qualm (2:31)


Home from the Range (7:50)


Can (3:51)


Light in Spring Poplars (4:44)


Hunter's Moon (4:13)


August 22 (14:55)