Harold Blumenfeld: Mythologies

























































Derek Walcott


(By William Gass)


It is the faintest mark on most maps - Castries - the capital town of St. Lucia, where Derek Walcott and his twin brother were born early in 1930. St. Lucia is an island of the Windward group - a string of mountains that hold their peaks barely above water, and round off the Atlantic toe of the Caribbean - an island so small it is all shore, sea girt to a fault, so Walcott would seem, even to himself as he grew up, a dot in a dot on a dot. All day, all week, most months, the ocean would be empty and the horizon a sharp line dividing two blues. A sail was something to stir the heart. In St. Lucia, on top of a deep layer of French there had been thrown a light cover of British occupation, but the population of the island was as much a mix of continents as the future poet was - a bit of Dutch, a little English, some African - a melange that was the result of many small colonial wars during which, it was said, the island was fought over as frequently as the fabled Helen had been.


So much water and air, yet so small a spot where the mind might run about, deprived of space, and the free movement space provided, the way the earth-bound sod house on the prairie penned its unsuspecting pioneers to the ground. Yet from this life, which felt to Walcott as if he were flying solo, a world renowned poet would emerge, enlarging his sphere at the new University of the West Indies in Jamaica and then, through his interest in theater, with study in New York at the Circle in the Square, before he returned to the Indies to live in Port of Spain in Trinidad. Eventually, he would teach at many of the prestigious schools of the Ivy League before settling on Boston University.


It is the light in the islands - sea sounds and salt air - that stir this poet to be a painter, and it is the setting of sail - the severity of every journey into the ocean, the similarities of ancient Aegean sagas to the stories St. Lucian ships fetch home like fish - that stimulate this painter to be a poet. His poetry, like his fame, has traveled the globe, and picked up subjects from everywhere (including Arkansas), but it is always the Indies that give most of his work its taste of salt, as if the voice that sings these songs sits siren-like on spray-making rocks. Surf, wind, rain, sun, stars, the high sky, the endless ocean and our struggle with it, are his principal subjects. Or rather, are where his themes begin to crest like a wave.


Boston might claim to be the hub of things, and St. Lucia to be away from it all, but the Nobel Prize in Literature was not awarded to Walcott in 1992 on account of his Boston connections, but because he had so brilliantly placed life in these islands at the center of our human concerns, and made it a metaphor for the African roots and Ionic trunk of our civilization, especially through his great epic, Omeros, which transports the Homeric stories to a modern setting and transmogrifies their meaning for a postcolonial world.


Each of the three lyrics that Harold Blumenfeld has chosen to give his evocative music to are “ocean” poems that link Walcott's islands with others far off, and two of them provide perfect examples of the metamorphoses he magically recreates: the hump of a hill becomes that of a bull in “Europa” where Zeus' sexual adventure is mapped out in the stars (for she is among the brightest of the satellites of Jupiter that Galileo's telescope discovered). In the commanding body of a white bull, Zeus carries the Phoenician princess off to Crete where she founds a race of kings. Here the ancient myth descends by means of “human horniness” to become but a heated anecdote in a farmhand's literature. When finally “seen through” there is only moon and foam, not copulation, yet finally something grander than anything before.


In “Archipelagoes,” islands, poems, and poets from both the present and the past are joined by means of a most remarkable metaphor. The Austrians call a rain that falls in separate strands as from a watering can - Strähne… string rain - and here such a string becomes the lines of blind Homer's lyre.


“The Dream” recalls a similar poem by James Joyce, the last lyric of Chamber Music - “I Hear an Army” - and invokes the ancient African Moslem nation of Bornu which flourished where northeast Nigeria now is from the 14th century until it was divided by Great Britain, France, and Germany in the 19th. The moon, once more, transforms a booming surf into images of unity and determination that reclaim an ancestral spirit.


William Gass was born in Fargo, North Dakota, in 1924, and joined the faculty of Washington University in 1969. Among his works are In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, On Being Blue, and The World Within the Word. His essays, Habitations of the Word (1985), won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism. His vast novel The Tunnel (1995) received a major award from the Before Columbus Foundation, and his essays Finding a Form (1996) won yet another National Book Critic Circle award. In short order there followed Cartesian Sonata and Reading Rilke. His sixth book of essays, Tests of Time, appears in 2001.


Siegfried Sassoon


Siegfried Sassoon, with Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke, formed the great and unmatched trinity of World War poets, Britons all. After Cambridge, Sassoon led a dual life of outdoor sportsman and unremarkable Georgian poet. At 28, he enlisted in the service, just days before the August 1914 British declaration of war. Within a year he was commissioned in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Serving with reckless valor, he was given a Military Cross for actions in rescuing his wounded under fire.


In 1917, recovering from a wound, he came under the influence of prominent pacifists, Bertrand Russell among them. He turned against the war, attacking the “callous complacence with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and with which they have not sufficient imagination to realize.” He met Wilfred Owen, who was convalescing from what was then termed “shell shock,” and lent encouragement to the writing of his younger fellow patient. Sassoon's disenchantment comes through loud and clear:


“You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye


who cheer when soldier lads march by,


Sneak home and pray you'll never know


the hell where youth and laughter go.”


But coming to realize that protest was useless, serving only to keep him from his men, Sassoon rejoined the Fusiliers serving in Palestine and then - his elan and heedless courage restored - back in the trenches of France as a company commander. He fell wounded again three months before the German capitulation and his war was over.


Wilfred Owen fell at 25, killed in machine gun fire just weeks before the armistice. Rambling and raging, his lines are on a plane different from Sassoon's, and can come across in devastating simplicity: “I am the enemy you killed, my friend.” Rupert Brooke's reputation has rested more on his stunning good looks than on his handful of romanticizing war sonnets. “The handsomest man in England,” Yeats had said. Early on in the war, Brooke died at 28 from a neglected infection, at once to become the Empire's galvanizing icon of the beautiful fallen poet-warrior. Sassoon survived. Moving on, soon he met and befriended the likes of T.E. Lawrence, Thomas Hardy and John Galsworthy. But his true voice had been forged in war's cauldron. His subsequent writing seems held hostage to the past. He devoted almost two decades to a six-volume autobiography, and living to the age of 80, long outlasted history's next brutal round, the 1938-1945 sequel to his war, that War to Start All Wars.


There is fierceness and bitter lamentation in Sassoon's war poetry - “October's bellowing anger breaks and cleaves the bronzed battalions of the stricken wood…;” “O martyred youth and manhood overthrown..” With graphic force, agony is conveyed: “Then the pain leapt like a prowling beast, and gripped and tore his groping dreams with grinding claws and fangs…” and resignation: “… Death replied `I choose him.' So he went, and there was silence in the summer night; silence and safety and the veils of sleep….” War poetry unlike any other.


Sassoon was born in Kent. His father had been disowned for marrying a gentile woman. The marriage fell apart when Siegfried was five. Almost in carbon copy, Siegfried's 1933 marriage to Hester Gatty ended after a dozen years when his own son was barely nine. Sassoon lies buried at St. Andrew's Church, Somerset.




Hart Crane


The Silken, Skilled Transmemberment of Song


Hart Crane was born in 1899 near Cleveland and ended his life at age 33. His poetry strikes a rich, dense and allusive new chord, its substance transmuted, layer on layer, into swirling crosscurrents of idea and image.


The parallels with Rimbaud are striking. There is the reinvention of language, the overturning of syntax and meaning, the unbridled mixing of metaphor, the synaesthetic confusion of sight and sound. Each poet achieved his major work in under three years. The lives of both were short and intense - Crane's became increasingly depressive, out of control and ultimately suicidal. Rimbaud in his devastated renunciation of poetry at 19, programmed his literary self-destruction, moving towards another life. In their times, Crane's work reached little audience; Rimbaud's practically none. Each in his own way turned to a woman's companionship towards the end. And Crane knew his predecessor's work, admiring its rapturous and explosive destructivism… “Rimbaud was the last great poet that our civilization will see - he let off all the great cannon crackers in Valhalla's parapets,” he wrote.


The work of each had its admirers. With Rimbaud, it was Verlaine. On Crane, the editor Gorham Munson wrote, “… you are writing the most highly energized poetry in the United States. `Voyages' is the finest love suite composed by any living American”; and of Crane's “White Buildings” the poet-critic Allen Tate: “… its publication is one of the five or six events of the first order in the history of American poetry. Hart Crane's poetry is one of the finest achievements of this age. So one must predict the reviewer's protest - `incomprehensible!'”


Exactly. “Poetry” and “Dial” were the ranking literary magazines of Crane's time, Harriet Monroe and Marianne Moore their respective editors.


“…wrecks passed without sound of bells,


The calyx of death's bounty giving back


A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,


The portent wound in corridors of shells…”


In a letter to Crane about the stanza from “Melville's Tomb,” Miss Monroe asks “How a calyx - of death's bounty or anything else - can give back a scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph; and how, if it does, can such a portent be wound in corridors - of shells or anything else?” Crane responds, “This calyx refers in a doubly ironic sense both to a cornucopia and the vortex made by a sinking vessel. As soon as the water has closed over a ship this whirlpool sends up broken spars, wreckage, etc. which can be alluded to as livid hieroglyphs, making a scattered chapter so far as any complete record of the recent ship and her crew is concerned.” But he goes further, “As a poet I may very possibly be more interested in the so-called illogical impingements of the connotations of words on the consciousness (and their combinations and interplay in metaphor) than I am interested in the preservation of their logically rigid significations.” And rubs it in: “I ask you how Blake could possibly say that a sigh is a sword of an Angel King; how Eliot can possibly believe that every street lamp that I pass beats like a fatalistic drum!”


Marianne Moore, too, was ambivalent about Crane's submissions and when not rejecting them outright, could edit them down to extinction. In a letter to Tate, Crane bitches, “I wonder how much longer our market will be in the grip of two such hysterical virgins as `Dial' and `Poetry.'”


Hart Crane's “Voyages,” a marvel of the English tongue, was written concurrent with an intense love affair with Emil Opffer, a Danish-American merchant mariner. It is at once the radiant extrusion of an experience and a fervid paean to the sea, within whose margins a passion develops, culminates in a wild explosion of word and image and then subsides and cools, leaving its subject stranded “where icy and bright dungeons lift of swimmers their lost morning eyes…” — stranded and straining for meaning, for an Answer. It arrives in a dazzling flood of sea images coalescing into the Botticelli “… lounged goddess when she rose conceding dialogue with eyes that smile unsearchable repose” - this, and the incomparable transcending closing stanzas.


Crane's vast “Bridge” epic was published in 1930 and created a mixed critical stir. But it was too late. Addiction to alcohol and to an ever more risky life of cruising for sex, losing faith in his gifts and seeing his patrimony go up in the smoke of the Depression, Crane's life spiraled downward into despair and rage. “Let my lusts be my ruin, since all else is a fake and mockery,” he had said. To the dismay of his friends, his behavior turned manic, sociopathic. He took a razor to the portrait the muralist Siqueiros had made of him, ripping it to shreds. He swallowed iodine, then mercurochrome. His lover Peggy Crowley persuaded him to return to New York with her. Sailing out of Havana, he attempted to jump overboard but was restrained by a steward. Later that night he was beaten and robbed, probably by a propositioned sailor. He broke out of his locked cabin, went to Peggy and told her “I'm not going to make it, dear. I am utterly disgraced.” He proceeded to the deck and jumped overboard into his Carib sea. His body was never recovered.






Harold Blumenfeld


Harold Blumenfeld is a composer given to language, languages and the human voice. Born in Seattle of musical parents, he studied at Yale with Hindemith, in Zurich, and trained with Leonard Bernstein and Boris Goldovsky at Tanglewood. In the Sixties, from his academic base at Washington University, he launched the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, forerunner of the present company, focusing on the production of early and contemporary works.


During a 1970 summer residency at Yaddo he drafted the choral WAR LAMENT, converting the forceful World War poetry of Siegfried Sassoon into a polyphonic protest against the Vietnam war. Though still loosely anchored in a kind of “neo-classicism”, this work, with its dramatic outbursts and moments of poignancy, engendered textural and coloristic choral procedures going materially beyond a capella norms. After a 1971 guest stint at Queens College, CUNY, Blumenfeld returned to St. Louis determined to withdraw from operatic production and immerse himself in musical composition. There resulted a series of works based upon Blake and Hart Crane, Rilke and Mandelstam, Baudelaire and Verlaine - and in their wake, awards from the American Academy and the National Endowment for the Arts.


His RILKE FOR VOICE AND GUITAR, written in six summer days at Yaddo, was widely performed by soprano Rosalind Rees and guitarist David Starobin who recorded it for VOX. Meantime, the composer had fallen hard under the spell of Hart Crane's luminously evocative poetry. On impetus from Starobin and with much audacity, Blumenfeld tackled Crane's vast VOYAGES cycle, setting it for baritone with guitar, viola and percussion. Part of the panoramic work was issued on a CRI American Academy LP disk in 1978.


In quick succession there followed LA VOIX RECONNUE after Verlaine, for soprano, tenor and ensemble, and the Baudelaire-based cycle VIEANTERIEURE, set for three voices and ensemble. Later, coming to feel he had overreached in this latter work, the composer rewrote it for baritone, soprano and full orchestra in 1997, recast as VERS SATANIQUES. The Seventies were rounded out with SILENTIUM, after the poetry of Osip Mandelstam, for medium voice and piano and set in the original language (as is the case with all of the composer's vocal works.) The cycle was recorded by ex-Soviet artists in Yerevan during 2000 for subsequent release in the U.S.


Then an epiphany. With shock, the composer discovered Arthur Rimbaud. The Eighties were now given over to an entire sequence of works inspired by the surreal, explosive, transcendent writing of the teen-age genius who reinvented French and international literature. There are LA FACE CENDREE (mezzo, cello and piano) and ANGE DE FLAMME ETDEGLACE (medium voice and seven players) — both gleaned from the “Illuminations”; and CARNETDEDAMNE, a verbatim setting of the “Adieu” from “Une Saison en enfer,” in which the disillusioned young poet announces his renunciation of literature. Next, MEADOWS OF EMERALD AND IRON and DILUVIAL, two ten-minute symphonic fragments for orchestra. All the above were issued by Centaur Records on CD CRC 2277, featuring the extraordinary singer, Christine Schadeberg. The composer's Rimbaud obsession culminated in the two-act opera SEASONS IN HELL - The Lives of Rimbaud, to a libretto by the composer's collaborator, Charles Kondek. SEASONS premiered in 1996 to full houses and electrifying success in Cincinnati in an unbridled staging by Malcolm Fraser and under the galvanizing baton of Gerhard Samuel. The opera is recorded on a compact disc set by Albany Records, Troy 262/63


As a counterpoise to Rimbaldian rigors, Blumenfeld and Kondek created FOURSCORE - An Opera of Opposites (1986) - a thickly ensembled operatic spoof involving the interaction of four families, each cast in one of the classic temperaments. Sanguine is pitted against melancholy, choleric versus phlegmatic, and all is spun out in dense, multi-layered intrigue modeled directly after Johann Nestroy's “Haus der Temperamente.” [Nestroy was Vienna's hilarious answer to France's Beaumarchais.] En route there was also the mini-opera BREAKFAST WALTZES, a curtain raiser farce in the manner of Molnar.


In 1990, Derek Walcott visited St. Louis to offer readings of his work to a literary organization in which Blumenfeld was involved. The composer was swept away by the power and imagery of this poetry and a friendship was forged over shared adoration of Rimbaud. Blumenfeld mustered three Walcott poems into the cycle MYTHOLOGIES, scored for baritone, flute, clarinet, three celli and percussion - the work featured on the present disc.


A new opera, BORGIA INFAMI, is greeting the new millennium. Initiated in 1998 at the Bogliasco Foundation, Liguria and brought to term in 2001 in St. Louis, the work is based upon German novelist Klabund's headlong Borgia exposé and Victor Hugo's ultra-operatic drama “Lucrèce Borgia.” This latest collaboration deals with the obsessions, passions and crimes of the notorious Spanish Borgia clan and is ingeniously connected to the present. Next, in a 2001 Bogliasco residency of his own, Kondek develops the libretto for a full length chamber opera based in the extravagant little skits and playlets of the absurdist dramatist Jean Tardieu.


Blumenfeld's musical works are published by MMB Music, Inc, St. Louis. It is noted that during the Sixties the composer was also active as critic, having penned over a hundred feature articles on music and theatre for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and, on occasion, the Los Angeles Times. This together with reviews of new operas for Opera News and Opera (Great Britain).


In effect, it was through adoration of Claudio Monteverdi that Blumenfeld's course was initially set. Fresh out of Yale, he musically engineered the first American stage production of the “Incoronazione di Poppea,” produced in 1951 by his then mentor Boris Goldovsky at the New England Conservatory. Blumenfeld realized the work's unfigured bass, converted cellists into gambists, made a singing translation of the Italian text, imported Suzanne Bloch and her lute, and helped officiate at the harpsichord. The spectacular young cast featured a teen-age Rosalind Elias in the title role. Monteverdi turned Boston upon its ear and pushed Blumenfeld further into opera. Soon he was staging and conducting everything from Gluck via Mozart and Verdi to Hindemith and Berg. When he withdrew from opera direction in 1972, it was with a new farewell production of “Poppea” in and around St. Louis. Thus the first circle of his musical career was now closed, complete, freeing him to move forward in quest of music and operas he himself was to craft.


THEMUSIC:Composer's Notes




“Mythologies” was composed in 1990, the result of direct contact with Derek Walcott and his work during readings in St. Louis. Moved by the power of his language, by the originality and boldness of its imagery, I scoured Walcott's oeuvre, coming up with three poems which worked admirably together, all underlain with mythological strains.


A man stands on the shore of his Caribbean isle facing eastward. Coalescing from sea foam, he envisions black horsemen thundering towards him across the breakers to carry him back to the land of his origins. This is the strong, troubling substance of “The Dream,” opening the cycle. A persistent hoofbeat is sounded in the unlikely combination of drums and three celli. Only in the movement's final chord are a flute and clarinet introduced, harbingers of an ensuing change in tone. The languor-laden opening of “Europa” is conveyed by the three celli, high and in resonant choir, embellished by mellifluous woodwind duos; the sound of the surf, “sensuously promiscuous”, foams in with vibraphone and maracas. A tree is envisioned as a girl's body, naked, bent in spume. The black hump of a hill transmogrifies into a softly snorting bull. The girl clamps her thighs tight on the beast's back, their ride culminating in an image of monstrous drum-backed constellational coitus. Gently the vision evaporates, leaving its imprint “anagrammed in stars.”


The closing poem, “Archipelagoes,” evokes the Trojan War's grey aftermath. Its closing line, “A man with clouded eyes picks up the rain and plucks the first line of the Odyssey”, ends the cycle and looks towards Walcott's towering “Omeros” epic. To the baritone and small instrumentarium I added a Distant Voice to invoke the titles of the poems and-at the outset of “Archipelagoes” - to intone the opening line of the Homeric saga, this in its original ancient Greek.




“War Lament” was composed and performed in protest against prosecution of the war in Vietnam and out of vexation with the American's military's chauvinistic deafness to the lesson of Dien Bien Phu, site of the earlier French rout.


Originally intended as a purely a capella work, I came to feel that discreet use of the guitar could add strength to it. The angry indictment in “Autumn”, the opening setting, needed nothing added, nor did the lyrical respite offered in the second poem, “Before the Battle.” But wanting to prolong the momentary tranquillity, I added a serene guitar postlude. “Suicide in the Trenches,” the next setting, starts out innocently enough in the jaunty Shropshire Lad lilt of its simple soldier boy (“who grinned at life in empty joy”). But the persistent misery of the trenches impinges. This I have conveyed in mutterings in the basses; and as the cocky initial tune evaporates, our lad puts a bullet through his brain. (“No one spoke of him again.”) Violently, the tone changes into an accusatory attack on civilian complacency. An abrupt guitar intervention was needed here, to lend force to the bitter outburst.


The final piece sets the second and cogent half of Sassoon's “The Death Bed.” In service of the poem's dramatic power, its pity and poignancy, I attempted to “orchestrate,” so to speak, for the choral medium, writing with maximum variety and flexibility. At points, the texture is divided into as many as a dozen parts; elsewhere, unison unanimity is applied. No guitar participation was appropriate here: I felt it would have detracted.


Quite apart from war protest, I was attempting something else here. The great Renaissance a capella tradition resounding in the masses and motets of Obrecht and Josquin, Lassus and Victoria was choked off with the rise of instruments and instrumental music in the course of the Baroque. In the thousand works of J.S. Bach, the only a capella vestige lies in a handful of unaccompanied motets. In our own day [with a few exceptions, Hindemith and Barber notably among them] the noble a capella art has been reduced to the singing of dour anthems and pep wiffenpoofery. Having caught the bug early on, in Hindemith's Collegium Musicum at Yale, I wanted to try my hand at contributing a substantial a capella work for our time. WAR LAMENT was the result. To date, only Orland Johnson in St. Louis and Gregg Smith in New York have had the nerve to tackle it.




I discovered Hart Crane in the early Seventies. I was overwhelmed, swept away. I vowed that I would set “Voyages” one day, when I grew up. That day arrived sooner than expected. In February 1977 David Starobin asked for a piece for flute and guitar. Within a month, “Voyages” was on its way, the medium expanding to involve virtuosic guitar and viola with four timpani and thirty other percussion, some of them exotic, commanded by two percussionists. An exceptional language-driven singer would be required. At the outset I resigned myself to omitting the fourth of Crane's six “Voyages” poems from my setting, to avoid inordinate length. It was the only possible omissibility.


The percussion is designed to evoke the feverishness of Hart Crane's surrounding sea, and along with that, an infinite array of human emotions. The guitar part is huge, omnipresent and pushed to the limits of the playable. The viola enters midway n the second poem, signifying the presence of the lover. Its voice comes to the fore in the erotic landscape of the third poem. Here the language and imagery go the limit, culminating in one of literature's wildest, most obliterating orgasmic seizures.


With the fourth text there is a change of tone, an ambience of chill in the air. Passion has cooled. Naked, the voice intones its “…infrangible and lonely…the bay estuaries fleck the hard sky limits….” The final poem opens in a desolation conveyed musically in a kind of microtonal amorphousness. But as the disconsolate poet reaches towards meaning, the vocal line finds its bearings, soon to be transfigured by a revelatory and blinding vision of Venus risen from the sea, the still fervid covenant, and its Answer,


“The imaged Word, it is, that holds


Hushed willows anchored in its glow…”


My intention, right from the outset, was to shape the vocal line to stand complete and self-sufficient in itself, independent of instrumental elaboration. The part is mercilessly demanding, taking on poetry already as richly musical as language can be, and exacting the conveying of an extreme cycle of emotion.


The demands which the work places on its executants are equaled by those exacted from the listener. Love of language - better yet, language addiction - is the key to “Voyages,” the musical work, for every note and sound is engineered in service to Crane's Imaged Word. I have come to the conviction that live performances of the complete, very extended “Voyages” will not convey its point; and that a recording is the saving grace, allowing quiet, direct concentration upon the text itself. Nothing further need be said.




Under the energetic direction of Jo Boatright, its founder and artistic director, the Dallas-based Voices of Change has flourished for over two decades as the Southwest's leading exponent of new American music. The Organization tours widely in the U.S., Latin America and throughout Europe, has received numerous awards, and has issued a number of adventurous compact discs. As a pianist, Jo Boatright herself is a distinguished exponent of new music for keyboard.


For 45 years the Gregg Smith Singers have made an impressively wide range of contributions to American choral music. Starting in a collaboration with Stravinsky, Gregg Smith has built his organization into an inspired engine for the performance and propagation of new music, repeatedly touring the U.S., Europe and Asia and garnering three Grammys for its recordings.


As Gregg Smith is to choral music, Arthur Weisberg has been for contemporary chamber music. For three decades his New York-based Contemporary Chamber Ensemble set the standard for performance and recording of new scores. Branching out into orchestral conducting, Mr. Weisberg has led the New York Philharmonic and major European orchestras, generally focusing on twentieth century works. A bassoon virtuoso, he has developed a new key system for his instrument. He now makes his home in Boca Raton.


Paul Phillips is conductor of the Meadows Symphony Orchestra at SMU, where he is on the music faculty. A keen exponent of new music, he has guested with the Dallas and Atlanta orchestras and held the baton for the Voices of Change in Dallas.


Donnie Ray Albert has sung with the opera companies of New York, Chicago, Dallas and Montreal, and abroad in Berlin, Vienna, La Scala and currently Covent Garden. He has appeared as soloist with numerous major orchestras here and abroad, and his recording of Porgy and Bess is recipient of a Grammy award.


Patrick Mason, baritone and poet, has performed as soloist with major American chamber music and choral organizations, toured widely with David Starobin and recorded for CRI, VOX and Nonesuch Records. Most recently he has performed with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. He is on the music faculty of the University of Colorado, Boulder.


The viola virtuoso Kim Kashkashian has performed as soloist with orchestras throughout North America and Europe, frequently focusing upon twentieth century repertoire. After a lengthy residence in Germany, she now makes her home in Boston.


The guitar virtuoso David Starobin is an international motive force behind new music for his instrument. In the wake of some 300 works for guitar which he has instigated or commissioned [our Rilke for Voice and Guitar, and Voyages among them], the technical and expressive possibilities of the instrument have seen exponential expansion.


Orland Johnson was director of the elite Washington University madrigal singers, with whom he premiered War Lament a year prior to his collaboration with Gregg Smith on the present recording. Alan Rosenkoetter is instructor in guitar on the University's music faculty










Walcott - “Mythologies”


I - The Dream


I stood on the sand, I saw


black horsemen galloping towards


me, they were all white like


the waves and turbanned too


like the breakers, their flags


thinning away into spume; white,


white were their snorting horses.


I saw them. It was no dream. They


rode through me, they came from


my home, as fresh as the waves


and older than this sea.


Rider and breaker, one cry!


I have seen them at a ceremony


of lances, white robed knights,


(I forget the names of our tribes).


They are coming, I trembled, to claim


their brothers, to bring them


home, thundering round the edge


of the headland, exploding from sight!


Spears shoot on the edge


of the wave every moonlit night -


The horsemen will keep their pledge,


the knights of Bornu.








II - Europa


The full moon is so fierce that I can count the


coconuts' cross-hatched shade on bungalows,


their white walls raging with insomnia.


The stars leak drop by drop on the tin plates


of the sea almonds, and the jeering clouds


are luminously rumpled as the sheets.


The surf, insatiably promiscuous,


groans through the walls; I feel my mind


whiten to moonlight, altering that form


which daylight unambiguously designed,


from a tree to a girl's body bent in foam;


then, treading close, the black hump of a hill,


its nostrils softly snorting, nearing the


naked girl splashing her breasts with silver.


Both would have kept their proper distance still,


if the chaste moon hadn't swiftly drawn the drapes


of a dark cloud, coupling their shapes.


She teases with those flashes, yes, but once


you yield to human horniness, you see


through all that moonshine what they really were,


those gods as seed-bulls, gods as rutting swans—


an overheated farmhand's literature.


Who ever saw her pale arms hook his horns,


her thighs clamped tight in their deep-plunging ride,


watched, in the hiss of the exhausted foam,


her white flesh constellate to phosphorous


as in salt darkness beast and woman come?


Nothing is there, just as it always was,


but the foam's wedge to the horizon-light,


then, wire thin, the studded armature,


like drops still quivering on his matted hide,


the hooves and horn-points anagrammed in stars.


III - Archipelagoes


At the end of this sentence, rain will begin.


At the rain's edge, a sail.


Slowly the sail will lose sight of islands;


Into a mist will go the belief in harbors


of an entire race.


The ten-years war is finished.


Helen's hair, a gray cloud.


Troy, a white ashpit


by the drizzling sea.


The drizzle tightens like the strings of a harp.


A man with clouded eyes picks up the rain


And plucks the first line of the Odyssey.






Sassoon - “War Lament




October's bellowing anger breaks and cleaves


The bronzed battalion of the stricken wood


In whose lament I hear a voice that grieves


For battle's fruitless harvest, and the feud


Of outraged men. Their lives are like the leaves


Scattered in flocks of ruin, tossed and blown


Along the westering furnace flaring red.


O martyred youth and manhood overthrown,


The burden of your wrongs is on my head.




2 - Before the Battle


Music of whispering trees


Hushed by a broad-winged breeze


Where shaken water gleams;


And evening radiance falling


With reedy bird-notes calling.


O bear me safe through dark,


you low-voiced streams.


I have no need to pray


That fear may pass away;


I scorn the growl and rumble of the fight


That summons me from cool


Silence of marsh and pool


And yellow lilies islanded in light.


O river of stars and shadows,


lead me through the night.




3 - Suicide in Trenches


I knew a simple soldier boy


Who grinned at life in empty joy,


Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,


And whistled early with the lark.


In winter trenches, cowed and glum


With crumps and lice and lack of rum,


He put a bullet through his brain.


No one spoke of him again.


You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye


Who cheer when soldier lads march by,


Sneak home and pray you'll never know


The hell where youth and laughter go.




4 - The Death Bed [excerpt]


Rain—he could hear it rustling through the dark;


Fragrance and passionless music woven as one;


Warm rain on drooping roses; patterning showers


That soak the woods…a trickling peace,


Gently and slowly washing life away.


He stirred, shifting his body; then the pain


Leapt like a prowling beast, and gripped and tore


His groping dreams with grinding claws and fangs.


But someone was beside him; soon he lay


Shuddering because that evil thing had passed.


And death, who'd stepped toward him,


Paused and stared.


Light many lamps and gather round his bed.


Lend him your eyes, warm blood, and will to live.


Speak to him; rouse him;


you may not save him yet.


But death replied: `I choose him.' So he went,


And there was silence in the summer night;


Silence and safety; and the veils of sleep.


Then, far away, the thudding of the guns.


H. Crane - “Voyages”




Above the fresh ruffles of the surf


Bright striped urchins flay each other with sand.


They have contrived a conquest for shell shucks,


And their fingers crumble fragments of baked weed


Gaily digging and scattering.


And in answer to their treble interjections


The sun beats lightning on the waves,


The waves fold thunder on the sand;


And could they hear me I would tell them:


O brilliant kids, frisk with your dog,


Fondle your shells and sticks, bleached


By time and the elements; but there is a line


You must not cross nor ever trust beyond it


Spry cordage of your bodies to caresses


Too lichen-faithful from too wide a breast.


The bottom of the sea is cruel.




—And yet this great wink of eternity,


Of rimless floods, unfettered leewardings,


Samite sheeted and processioned where


Her undinal vast belly moonward bends,


Laughing the wrapt inflections of our love;


Take this Sea, whose diaspason knells


On scrolls of silver snowy sentences,


The sceptred terror of whose sessions rends


As her demeanors motion well or ill,


All but the pieties of lovers' hands.


And onward, as bells off San Salvador


Salute the crocus lustres of the stars,


In these poinsettia meadows of her tides,—


Adagios of islands, O my Prodigal,


Complete the dark confessions her veins spell.


Mark how her turning shoulders wind the hours,


And hasten while her penniless rich palms


Pass superscription of bent foam and wave,—


Hasten, while they are true, —sleep, death, desire,


Close round one instant in one floating flower.


Bind us in time, O Seasons clear, and awe.


O minstrel galleons of Carib fire,


Bequeath us to no earthly shore until


Is answered in the vortex of our grave


The seal's wide spindrift gaze toward paradise.




Infinite consanguinity it bears—


This tendered theme of you that light


Retrieves from sea plains where the sky


Resigns a breast that every wave enthrones;


While ribboned water lanes I wind


Are laved and scattered with no stroke


Wide from your side, whereto this hour


The sea lifts, also, reliquary hands.


And so, admitted through black swollen gates


That must arrest all distance otherwise,—


Past whirling pillars and lithe pediments,


Light wrestling there incessantly with light,


Star kissing star through wave on wave unto


Your body rocking!


and where death, if shed,


Presumes no carnage, but this single change,—


Upon the steep floor flung from dawn to dawn


The silken skilled transmemberment of song;


Permit me voyage, love, into your hands…




Meticulous, past midnight in clear rime


Infrangible and lonely, smooth as though cast


Together in one merciless white blade—


The bay estuaries fleck the hard sky limits.


—As if too brittle or too clear to touch!


The cables of our sleep so swiftly filed,


Already hang, shred ends from remembered stars,


One frozen trackless smile… What words


Can strangle this deaf moonlight? For we


Are overtaken, Now no cry, no sword


Can fasten or deflect this tidal wedge,


Slow tyranny of moonlight, moonlight loved


And changed… “There's


Nothing like this in the world,” you say,


Knowing I cannot touch your hand and look


Too, into that godless cleft of sky


Where nothing turns but dead sands flashing.


“—And never to quite understand!” No,


In all the argosy of your bright hair I dreamed


Nothing so flagless as this piracy.


But now


Draw in your head, alone and too tall here.


Your eyes already in the slant of drifting foam;


Your breath sealed by the ghosts I do not know:


Draw in your head and sleep


the long way home.




Where icy and bright dungeons lift


Of swimmers their lost morning eyes,


And ocean rivers, churning, shift


Green borders under stranger skies,


Steadily as a shell secretes


Its beating leagues of monotone,


Or as many waters trough the sun's


Red kelson past the cape's wet stone;


O rivers mingling toward the sky


And harbor of the phoenix' breast—


My eyes pressed black against the prow,


——Thy derelict and blinded guest


Waiting, afire, what name, unspoke,


I cannot claim: let thy waves rear


More savage than the death of kings,


Some splintered garland for the seer.


Beyond siroccos harvesting


The solstice thunders, crept away,


Like a cliff swinging or a sail


Flung into April's inmost day—


Creation's blithe and petalled word


To the lounged goddess when she rose


Conceding dialogue with eyes


That smile unsearcheable repose—


Still fervid covenant, Belle Isle,


—Unfolded floating dais before


Which rainbows twine continual hair—


Belle Isle, white echo of the oar!


The imaged Word, it is that holds


Hushed willows anchored in its glow.


It is the unbetrayable reply


Whose accent no farewell can know.






Mythologies recorded 26 November 2000, Caruth Auditorium, Meadows School of the Arts, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas. Curtis Craig, sound designer.


War Lament recorded 23 October 1972, Graham Chapel, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri for LP GSS102. Reissued courtesy Gregg Smith. Remastered for compact disc by Wayne Hileman, Greg Squires Productions, Elmsford,New York.


Voyages recorded 19 November 1977, New York for Composers Recordings, Inc. American Academy Award LP CRISD387. Chuck Irwin, recording engineer. Reissued by arrangement with CRI. Parts I, II and IIIremastered for compact disc by Wayne Hileman. Parts IV and V remastered by Joseph Dalton, CRI.


All works are published by MMB Music, Inc.




Cover Paintings:


Harold Blumenfeld, from portrait by Rosemarie Beck, 1978


Derek Walcott, from self-portrait, 1998


Cover Design:Bates Miyamoto Design






Harold Blumenfeld


Mythologies after Derek Walcott [20:08]


1 The Dream [4:50]


2 Europa [7:05]


3 Archipelagoes I [8:13]


Voices of Change


Jo Boatright, Artistic Director


Donnie Ray Albert, baritone


Paul Phillips, conductor


Harvey Boatright, flute • Paul Garner, clarinet


Deborah Mashburn &Brad Wagner, percussion


Mitch Maxwell, Anthony Adkins, Camilla Boatright, celli


Harold Blumenfeld, distant voice


War Lament after Siegfried Sassoon [13:08]


4 Autumn [1:59]


5 Before the Battle [3:07]


Guitar Interlude


6 Suicide in Trenches [2:14]


7 The Death Bed [5:48]


Gregg Smith Singers


with the Washington University Madrigal Singers,


Orland Johnson, director • Alan Rosenkoetter, guitar


Gregg Smith, conductor


Voyages after Hart Crane [35:09]


8 I. “Above the fresh ruffles of the surf…” [5:05]


9 II. “—And yet this great wink of eternity…” [7:37]


10 III. “Infinite consanguinity it bears…” [8:25]


11 IV. “Meticulous, past mdnight in clear rime…” [6:13]


12 V. “Where icy and bright dungeons lift…” [7:49]


Patrick Mason, baritone


Contemporary Chamber Ensemble


Arthur Weisberg, conductor


David Starobin, guitar • Kim Kashkashian, viola


Gordon Gottlieb and Louis Oddo, percussion