Jubal Songs

Donald Freund composed Backyard Songs in 1990 in honor of the Jubal Trio's 15th

anniversary. The Indiana University-based Freund is active not only as a

composer, but also as pianist, conductor, and lecturer. Freund has written:

Backyard Songs emulates the carefree virtuosity heard in the jazz singing of

Ella Fitzgerald and the raw emotional power communicated by Memphis blues singer

Ruby Wilson. The voice-dominated "songs" - settings of poems by Pulitzer-Prize

winning Chicago poet Gwendolyn Brooks - are introduced and linked by "scat"

sections in which the voice is instrumentally integrated to create a real

mixed-trio texture. Dramatically, the set moves from the whimsical naughtiness

of "a song in the front yard," through the threatening suppressed violence of

the up-tempo "We Real Cool," and concludes with the wrenching, cathartic

blues-cort?ge of "DeWitt Williams on his way to Lincoln Cemetery".

With his amalgam of jazz-blues and traditional western classical instruments,

Freund has taken a firm stand in the crossover camp. His harp in Backyard Songs

functions as string bass and rhythm section might in a jazz ensemble. Similarly,

the flute plays the role of saxophone or trumpet. The soprano must retain a

flexibilty that implies improvisation, even though the scat sections are fully

written out. Freund manages to evoke the styles of both blues and jazz

effectively without being derivative. It is a tricky tightrope to walk, but

Freund's compelling music is an apt setting of Gwendolyn Brooks's powerful


Among the five composers represented on this CD, George Crumb is the elder

statesman. His affinity for the poetry of Federico Garc'a Lorca is well known;

so too is his poignant identification of the world of children. Federico's

Little Songs for Children (1986) brings together those two recurring aspects of

his music. The composer knew the artistry of harpist Susan Jolles from her

performances and recording of Ancient Voices of Children and of flutist Sue Ann

Kahn through her many performances of his music. Perhaps because he had the

particular sound of the Jubal Trio in mind, CrumbÕs Federico's Little Songs for

Children is expertly written for all three participants. The composer has


The seven little poems constituting the Canciones para Ni-os (poetry by Garc'a

Lorca) reflect many different aspects of a child's fantasy world. The mood can

be reflective, playful, mock-serious, gently ironic, or simply joyous. At an

early stage in the sketching process I decided to include all four instruments

of the flute family so that I might associate an appropriate timbre with the

innate character of each poem. Of course the varied treatment of voice and harp,

together with purely compositional choices (tempi, thematics, texture, etc.),

likewise help delineate the desired mood.

The opening song, "Sen-orita of the Fan," is set for the most part in a quintuple measure. The reference to "crickets" is illustrated by a chirping piccolo motif.

"Afternoon" (with flute in C) is delicate and idyllic throughout. "A Song Sung"

is set in a very capricious style. The alto flute personifies Lorca's "Griffon

Bird." The central song in the cycle, "Snail" (bass flute), projects a sense of

time suspension and wonder. The soprano whispers the opening and concluding

lines of the poem; for the central portion, the soprano sings in Sprechstimme

style, combined with highly coloristic use of the harp. In "The Lizard is

Crying!" the soprano alternates between a quasi-cadenza style of singing and

rhythmically articulated spoken passages. The alto flute participates in the

general sobbing! "A Little Song from Seville" parodies a well-known type of

Spanish music. The concluding piece, "Silly Song," is . . . just a silly song!

Harvey Sollberger has divided his career equally among composing, conducting,

and playing the flute. He currently teaches composition and conducting at

University of California, San Diego; he served previously on the faculties of

Manhattan School of Music, Columbia University, and Indiana University.

Sollberger has enjoyed a prominent reputation as a performing flutist. He has

experimented extensively with new sounds that can be produced on the family of

flutes, techniques that come into play in Life Study.

Sollberger's own poem is presented fragmentarily at the beginning of Life Study.

Only at the end of the piece, when it becomes an extended song, do we hear it in

its entirety. Both flutist and harpist participate in the half-whispered,

half-chanted fragments of text that introduce the work. Along Life Study's

journey the composer touches on a wide variety of musical and literary styles.

These include quotations from or allusions to the early 15th-century

Franco-Italian composer Matteo da Perugio, Dante's Inferno, pointillist

atonality, a Swiss military march, one of Shakespeare's sonnets, the cabaret

style of Lotte Lenya, Sigmund Freud, and salsa. Some of SollbergerÕs diverse

sources have special resonance in his life; others he found serendipitously and

thought might fit into the mix. The effect is patchwork, a musical collage that

fades from one image to the next like a multi-screen slide show, an aural

pastiche. Life Study brims with intricate detail and can startle with its abrupt

switches from one context to another. Yet each speck in the apparent chaos is

individual and important. Sollberger's mosaic derives a spiritual unity through

its gradual progression from the nightmarish world of uncertainty to the

jubilation of the close. The piece gathers strength and conviction as it

proceeds, with its strongest, most affirming text and musical statement

(Sollberger calls it "Jubalant") at the end.

Sollberger perceives Life Study as program music, but qualifies that

categorization in a stream-of-consciousness description that captures the

atmosphere of his piece. He writes:

Life Study does not attempt to "paint or depict aspects of external "reality"

(windmills, sheep, a glass of beer); rather, what is depicted is the ebb and

flow of the composer's consciousness as projected through the metaphor of a

dream. The result is a kind of psychological program music in which the piece,

as it unfolds, could be said to be describing or enacting its own composition.

As to the dream which the piece embodies (or is the piece embodied in the dream?

It would take Borges or Calvino to entangle some of this . . .), what populates

its at times nightmarish corridors, mazes and mirrors? Firstly, certain personal

preoccupations of the dreamer as revealed or hinted at in the text, Life Study,

as well as in other literary and musical texts and subtexts which wander into

this landscape; secondly, the composer's hesitations, doubts, wonder, anxiety,

visions as, in his dreamwork, he wrestles with creating this piece, this Life

Study, for the Jubal Trio, (the name of the group - as well as those of its

members - is embroidered at times in the dreamflow). The piece's overall

trajectory describes a process of working through the contents of this

phantasmagoric night-world, as sounds, words, and images coalesce finally into

song." Life Study was commissioned through a grant from the New York State Council on

the Arts.

Cuban-born Tania Leon is well known both as the New York Philharmonic's Revson

Composer and as the founding music director of Dance Theatre of Harlem. Her

ancestry is French, African, Spanish, and Chinese in addition to Cuban. Le—n was

educated in Cuba and at New York University. Over the course of nearly a

quarter-century in the United States, she has established a double profile as

composer and conductor. Le—n describes herself as "very inspired working with

poets." Her most successful works bring poetry to life with vivid, evocative

sounds. Le—n's most recent major work is an opera based on South African auther

Wole Soyinka's A Scourge of Hyacinthe.

Like Freund's Backyard Songs, Journey was written in 1990 in honor of the Jubal

Trio's 15th anniversary. Le—n writes: Journey was inspired by all three members

of the Jubal Trio, and is based on a text written for them by Californian Etal

Adnan, an American poet, writer, and painter, born in Beirut. The work reflects

movement and contrasts in moods, and is dedicated to Julius Eastman and Talib

Rasul Hakim.

Leon's brilliant flourishes transform the 'gentle' instruments of this trio into

bold proclaimers of fanfares. Her music is celebratory, embracing the universal

scope of Adnan's anticipatory quatrain. Only the opening and closing phrases of

the text - "the human spirit" - are declaimed as written; Le—n calls for the

balance of the text to be sung in retrograde. The effect is gestural, and the

gestures are broad. Using flashy harp glissandos and broad leaps for soprano and

flute, Journey emphasizes the exploratory possibilities of its title.

Minnesota composer Eric Stokes has roots in tonal lyricism, with a liberal

sprinkling of electronic music and other avant-garde currents expanding his

musical horizons since the 1960's. A violist who began his musical career as a

boy soprano, Stokes also writes poetry. "I like to work on poems," he says, "but

I don't hang out a shingle. I love composing for the voice in English - or

American." Stokes has written a considerable amount of vocal music, most notably

two operas, Horspfal (1969) and Apollonia's Circus (1994), and a chamber opera,

We're Not Robots, You Know (1986), on a libretto by Keith Gunderson. When

harpist Susan Jolles suggested that Stokes write a piece for the Jubal Trio, he

initially thought of a traditional song cycle, but couldn't find a text that

seemed quite right.

The solution turned out to be texts by three poets: Keith Gunderson, Robert

Samarotto, and the composer himself. Prior to Song Circle, Stokes had written a

substantial corpus of vocal works and compositions for flute. In these songs,

Stokes has risen admirably to the less familiar challenge of writing for harp,

an instrument whose wonderful coloristic resources he acknowledges demand study

if one wants to work with them with facility. Song Circle is Stokes' first

setting of his own writing or Samarotto's. According to the composer, the title

is a double entendre that obliquely refers to the song cycle which it isn't, and

also to his Minnesota circle of poet friends. Stoke's music is rich with

text-painting on the vivid imagery of Song Circle's capricious texts. The five

poems have little connection to one another, but collectively their lighter mood

provides a contrast to the other pieces recorded on this CD.

The commissioning of Song Circle was funded by Chamber Music America with funds

from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

-Laurie Shulman © 1996

Night by Lake Calhoun*

Wynd, wind

Great harping woods

Bark gloved, bobbin branced,

Your needling fingers,

Threading wind,

Wind that scuffling sound,

That autumn wound

Softly round the heart.

  • E. Stokes

*Printed by Permission of Cynthia Stokes

Chameleon Wedding





on a leaf


and the bridesmaids

all wore


lovely red

no, brown

no, gree

no, red

lovely red

o well




on a leaf





and it

looked o.k.

  • from To See a Thing by Keith Gunderson


Tear-jerker, sob-sister

You are the fruit of sorrow.

Your story is as old as life

For the death of my father

I mourned three days.

For my mother

I cry feathers and dust

But when you come apart in my hand

Tears bloom in my eyes,

I swim in your universal sorrow

“In water dense as blindness.”

- from Vegetable Poems by Robert Smarotto