Permit Me Voyage



Permit Me Voyage


Songs by American Composers


Mary Ann Hart, mezzo soprano


Dennis Helmrich, piano


Dominick Argento Elliott Carter Henry Cowell William Flanagan


Richard Hundley Ricky Ian Gordon Gary Schocker




The centerpiece of this collection, Dominick Argento's cycle From the Diary of Virginia Woolf , was awarded the 1974 Pulitzer Prize. A setting of eight excerpts from Woolf's journal, this ambitious and complex work offers in each song a glimpse into the writer's voyage of self-discovery as she observes her literary, emotional, social, and creative life. Beginning with the opening entry from 1919, the songs traverse a variety of experiences past her prescient 1940 thought, "I can't conceive that there will be a 27th June 1941," to the final entry, just before her suicide in March of 1941. Observation as a source of artistic self-discovery is a central theme of the cycle: by observing dispassionately, Woolf hopes to make sense of her experience and distill that experience into art that will be "transparent enough to reflect the light of our life."




In the composer's words, "I think I write music as a way of learning who I am, what I really think, what I truly believe. My own career has been an exercise in self-discovery. The strong concentration that these texts focus on self-knowledge may have prompted me to write my most moving music. Not a week goes by that I do not receive a letter from a singer or a listener saying how moved they were by a performance of the Virginia Woolf Diary."




The most primeval forms of music, in Argento's conception, are the lullaby, the lament, the hymn, and, when all's well, the glee. Evocations of all these are found among the passages of Woolf's diary he has chosen to set: for example, in serene memories of her parents, "How beautiful they were, those old people," the emotional anxiety to which she finally succumbed, "Why is life so tragic," her detailed but wary description of Thomas Hardy's funeral with its liturgical reference, "In sure and certain hope of immortality," and the fanciful suggestion of her early good times, "Why not invent a new kind of play."




Argento says he likes to compose music about water, and had originally planned to set several passages of Woolf's novel The Waves , describing phases of a sunrise over the sea: "Checking out her diary entries during that period," he explains, "I discovered I loved her personal writing more than her sunrise, so I abandoned that first idea about the sea and looked for evenly-spaced chronological diary excerpts. I decided on a sort of 20th century Frauenliebe und Leben (Schumann's cycle that chronicles a woman's love and life), and even my last song's return to the musical material of the first is Schumannesque."




Inspiring another composer, Hart Crane's poem Voyages uses the sea as a metaphor for life, love, and death. A portion of this long poem, dense, yet highly charged with energy, emotion and eroticism was given an ideal setting by Elliott Carter in 1945, a time in Carter's development when his pieces were eloquently lyrical, not presenting the thorny challenges of his later style. This album's title, Permit Me Voyage, is drawn from the last line of that song.




Though the texts in this album include works of established authors and poets, some of the composers have written their own words, and some have turned to the writing of family and friends. Henry Cowell's early How Old is Song uses a free-verse poem by his father Harry, which looks through the artist's eye at the same question that intrigues Argento: what the first music might have been. The unexpected timbre of Cowell's strummed and plucked "string piano" accompaniment is evocative of whispering winds, the sound of harps, and "wild prehistoric melodies." Cowell sets the domestic intimacy of Firelight and Lamp using parallel thirds in a manner reminiscent of the way Hugo Wolf used them in Nun wandre Maria to represent Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem. Maxwell Anderson's sensuous St. Agnes Morning , in Cowell's cool, folk-tinged setting, would not seem a domestic subject, yet that poem inspired Cowell while he was babysitting for the Andersons.




Trained as a journalist and critic, William Flanagan had a gift for language before he developed as a musician, and he would naturally have been attracted to the sweet charm of Gertrude Stein's Valentine to Sherwood Anderson and the madcap literacy of his friend Howard Moss in Horror Movie . Flanagan's songs were few in number, but each is a gem of craftsmanship. These two songs show an uncharacteristically light side of his composition. Put on a "Noo Yawk" accent and ask yourself: what New York composer could resist the rhyme, "so you took the gold to Transylvania where no one knew how insane you were."




At a concert of Richard Hundley's works produced by Joy in Singing, the organization's director Paul Sperry said, "There aren't very many singers who like to sing American songs who don't know Mr. Hundley's songs. The only problem is that most of us don't know nearly enough of them." Three are here in their first recorded version. ( Some Sheep are Loving was previously recorded by Mr. Sperry.)




The compelling invocation to the beloved, Arise My Love , was introduced at the Tanglewood Music Festival in 1981. The simplicity and lucidity with which Hundley sets the text reflects the influence of his very literary composition teachers Virgil Thomson and William Flanagan, but also what Hundley learned during the twelve years he spent as Zinka Milanov's studio pianist, and in particular, her statement that the singer's first notes must make a favorable impression: "These are your calling cardyou announce your arrival."




Moonlight's Watermelon (from the cycle Octaves and Sweet Sounds ) is a lighthearted setting of a Jose Garcia Villa poem. Hundley writes, "The chief source of inspiration are the words, and I try to recreate the emotion I experienced on first reading the poems." This playfully waltz-like song points up the poet's quirky delight in fiddling with the sense and sonority of the words. James Purdy's Straightway Beauty on Me Waits (also from Octaves and Sweet Sounds ) with its traditionally cast sweeping lyricism of the vocal line, the composer writes, is "one of my favorites a beautiful song that needs passion, beauty and 'line' from both the singer and the pianist."




According to Hundley, " Some Sheep are Loving was composed for the contralto Lili Chookasian, who requested a witty, humorous song in English with which to close her recitals. In the early 1960's there were few such concert songs for contralto. The text is Lesson 12 from Gertrude Stein's First Reader . It was my first experience at setting a long, wordy, abstract poem. Virgil Thomson (who had collaborated with Stein on two operas) suggested I set the words for clarity, and assured me that the meaning would take care of itself."




Ricky Ian Gordon says that his two songs, one to his own poem and one to Edna St. Vincent Millay, are related "in wide-eyed childishness and as a grownup looking back or thinking, 'I ran away from home and I can see it from here.'" The amiable melody of Once I Was (some of which is hummed by the singer) and its well-matched accompaniment are indicative of Gordon's experience writing for theater and film in his words, "the vernacular comes with the song." Much flashier is the setting of Millay's Afternoon on a Hill , with a busy, percussive piano part that the composer says reminds him of "a frantic little girl running up and down, her hair flying in the wind." Both songs are recorded here for the first time.




Mama Called was set to Barbara Campbell's words by Gary Schocker, whose flute playing has won him a Young Concert Artists award. Reviewing a performance of this song by Miss Hart, The New York Times described it as "Manhattan-in-the-80's neurotic". Light, funny and rueful, the song's easygoing pop style forms a perfect foil for the uneasy relationship between mother and daughter - a familiar bond which certainly transcends the borders of New York and the decade of the 80's. Recorded here for the first time, it too enhances the repertory that Lili Chookasian helped to extend when she commissioned Some Sheep are Loving . Leslie Kandell




A singer who loves song literature, mezzo soprano Mary Ann Hart has delighted audiences and critics alike with her performances. She has sung with the New York Philharmonic, the New York Chamber Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, the American Composers Orchestra, the San Antonio Symphony, Boston Baroque, and has been a guest artist with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Her festival appearances include the Marlboro, Basically Bach, San Luis Obispo Mozart, Winter Park Bach, and Connecticut Early Music Festivals.




Using the international competition as a showcase for her communicative powers, Miss Hart won First Prize in the Concert Artists Guild International Competition, Second Prize in the 1987 Carnegie Hall International Competition for American Music, top prizes in the Washington International and Robert Schumann International Competitions, and has been the recipient of a Recitalist Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Recital appearances have taken her to 26 American States, Canada, Austria, Germany, and Rumania. She is on the faculty of Vassar College.




Out of sight (but still in earshot) Miss Hart did voice characterizations for the Disney animated film Beauty and the Beast , and has made recordings under the auspices of the Eterna, Arabesque, Telefunken-Decca, Musical Heritage, Chandos, and Nonesuch labels, and is featured on the four-volume CD set of the complete songs of Charles Ives on Albany.




Dennis Helmrich graduated from Yale University with a bachelor's degree cum laude, a master's degree with honors, and prizes from the Lockwood and Ditson Foundations and the National Endowment for the Arts. After doctoral studies at Boston University under Bela Boszormenyi-Nagy, he joined the music faculty of Antioch College, and subsequently the faculties of the State University of New York campuses at Albany and Purchase, and the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Manhattan School of Music in New York City. Invited to Tanglewood in 1969 to aid in the musical preparation of Berg's Wozzeck under Erich Leinsdorf, in the following year he was appointed Vocal Coach of the Tanglewood Music Center, a post he has occupied ever since. Helmrich has concentrated on chamber music and the art song literature in addition to the solo repertoire. It is as a sonata partner and accompanist that he now makes most of his concert appearances in the US, Canada, Latin America, Europe and the far East, with artists such as Kathleen Battle, Phyllis Curtin, Richard Stilwell, D'Anna Fortunato, Eugenia Zukerman, and the late, legendary Charles Holland. A continuing interest in contemporary music has led him to first performances of many American compositions, and to recordings on Orion, Spectrum, and Nonesuch. With the flutist Gary Schocker he has recorded CD's on Musical Heritage and Chesky labels, and with Mary Ann Hart he is featured in the Complete Songs of Charles Ives on Albany.










The Diary


April, 1919




What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something . . . so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk . . . in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced, as such deposits so mysteriously do, into a mold, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life . . .








October, 1920




Why is life so tragic; so like a little strip of pavement over an abyss. I look down; I feel giddy; I wonder how I am ever to walk to the end. But why do I feel this: Now that I say it I don't feel it. The fire burns; we are going to hear the Beggar's Opera. Only it lies all about me; I can't keep my eyes shut . . . And with it all how happy I am if it weren't for my feeling that it's a strip of pavement over an abyss.








February, 1927




Why not invent a new kind of play; as for instance:


Woman thinks . . .


He does.


Organ plays.


She writes.


They say:


She sings.


Night speaks


They miss






Hardy's Funeral


January, 1928




Yesterday we went to Hardy's funeral. What did I think of? Of Max Beerbohm's letter . . . or a lecture . . . about women's writing. At intervals some emotion broke in. But I doubt the capacity of the human animal for being dignified in ceremony. One catches a bishop's frown and twitch; sees his polished shiny nose; suspects the rapt spectacled young priest, gazing at the cross he carries, of being a humbug . . . next here is the coffin, an overgrown one; like a stage coffin, covered with a white satin cloth; bearers elderly gentlemen rather red and stiff, holding to the corners; pigeons flying outside . . . procession to poets corner; dramatic "In sure and certain hope of immortality" perhaps melodramatic . . . Over all this broods for me some uneasy sense of change and mortality and how partings are deaths; and then a sense of my own fame . . . and a sense of the futility of it all.








May, 1935




Rome: tea. Tea in café. Ladies in bright coats and white hats. Music. Look out and see people like movies . . . Ices. Old man who haunts the Greco . . . Fierce large jowled old ladies . . . talking about Monaco. Talleyrand. Some very poor black wispy women. The effect of dowdiness produced by wispy hair. Sunday café . . . very cold. The Prime Minister's letter offering to recommend me for the Companion of Honour. No.








June, 1940




This, I thought yesterday, may be my last walk . . . the war our waiting while the knives sharpen for the operationhas taken away the outer wall of security. No echo comes back. I have no surroundings . . . Those familiar circumvolutionsthose standardswhich have for so many years given back an echo and so thickened my identity are all wide and wild as the desert now. I mean, there is no "autumn", no winter. We pour to the edge of a precipice . . . and then? I can't conceive that there will be a 27th June 1941.








December, 1940




How beautiful they were, those old peopleI mean father and motherhow simple, how clear, how untroubled. I have been dipping into old letters and father's memoirs. He loved her: oh and was so candid and reasonable and transparent . . . How serene and gay even, their life reads to me: no mud; no whirlpools. And so humanwith the children and the little hum and song of the nursery. But if I read as a contemporary I shall lose my child's vision and so must stop. Nothing turbulent; nothing involved; no introspection.






Last Entry


March, 1941




No: I intend no introspection. I mark Henry James' sentence: observe perpetually. Observe the oncome of age. Observe greed. Observe my own despondency. By that means It becomes serviceable. Or so I hope. I insist upon spending this time to the best advantage. I will go down with my colours flying . . . Occupation is essential. And now with some pleasure I find that it's seven; and must cook dinner. Haddock and sausage meat. I think it is true that one gains a certain hold on sausage and haddock by writing them down.




From: A WRITER'S DIARY, Being Extracts from the Diary of VIRGINIA WOOLF Edited by Leonard Woolf, Hogarth Press, London, ©1953, 1954 by Leonard Woolf. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.




Voyage (Elliott Carter)




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...




Hart Crane


From Complete Poems & Selected Letters


Anchor Books © 1966






How Old is Song (Henry Cowell)


Before a man had sung a note


Or a song bird warbled in its throat,


The winds were whisp'ring through the trees


Wild prehistoric melodies


Prophetic of the days to come


When man would make him harps to strum


The halls of heav'n with music rang


The morning stars together sang,


Prophetic of the voice of him


Who chants of choiring Seraphim


From chaos the orchestral seas


Were forming polyharmonies.


No song is new, man sings and rings


Times changes in eternal things;


His voice prophetic of a long


Lone silence to succeed his song.




Henry Cowell






Firelight and Lamp




Now we have closed the door against the cold,


shot home the bolt, drawn the curtains tight,


puffed on the kindling till the flame took hold,


we are prepared to know the winter night.




Outdoors, the ranting wind is in a rage


the shutters cry, the branches rap and creak;


We lift our heads from firegazing or the page;


our eyes meet; we have no need to speak.




Quickly, the hearth is warmed, iron and stone,


the fire has gone to embers from a spark.


The lamps we've lit, we'll snuff them, one by one,


and climb the stairs to winter and the dark.




Gene Baro


©The New Yorker vol. 38:104 February 24, 1962






St. Agnes' Morning




Between the dawn and the sun's rising


She could not sleep, so the blood stirred in her;


She could not sleep, and in the cold morning


Woke with the white curtains stir.




Between the dawn and the river's flowing (flaming)


She folded a curtain toward the sea,


And, bending, lifted silks together


In the cold light, dubiously.




In the cold air, pulsing the curtain,


She lifted silks; and let them fall.


In the wind she bent above them


Hearing their rustling musical.




Between the dawn and the silver morning


She could not sleep, so the blood dinned


With the river's silver and the sea's silence


And the wind.




Maxwell Anderson


From You Who Have Dreams Simon & Schuster © 1925






Horror Movie (William Flanagan)




Doctor Unlikely, we love you so,


You who made the double-headed rabbits grow


From a single hare. Mutation's friend,


Who could have prophesied the end


When the Spider Woman deftly snared the fly


And the monsters strangled in a monstrous kiss


And someone hissed, "You'll hang for this!"?




Dear Dracula, sleeping on your native soil,


(Any other kind makes you spoil),


How we clapped when you broke the French door down


And surprised the bride in the overwrought bed.


Perfectly dressed for lunar research,


Your evening cape added much,


Though the bride, inexplicably dressed in furs,


Was a study in jaded jugulars.




The Wolf Man knew when he prowled at dawn


Beginnings spin a web where endings spawn.


The bat who lived on shaving cream,


A household pet of Doctor Dream,


Unfortunately, maddened by the bedlam,


Turned on the Doc, bit the hand that fed him.




And you, Doctor X., who killed by moonlight,


We loved your scream in the laboratory


When the panel slid and the night was starry


And you threw the inventor in the crocodile pit


(An obscure point: Did he deserve it?)


And you took the gold to Transylvania


Where no one guessed how insane you were.




We thank you for the moral and the mood,


Dear Doctor Cliché, Nurse Platitude.


When we meet again by the Overturned Grave,


Near the Sunken City of the Twisted Mind,


(In The Son of the Son of Frankenstein),


Make the blood flow, make the motive muddy:


There's a little death in every body.




Howard Moss


From New Selected Poems Atheneum ©1985






Valentine to Sherwood Anderson




If you hear her snore


It is not before you love her


You love her so that to be her beau is very lovely


(She is sweetly here and I am very near and that is very lovely.)


She is sweetly there and her curly hair is very lovely


She is my tender sweet her little feet are stretched out which is a treat and very lovely.


Her little (tender) nose is between her little eyes which close and are very lovely.


She is very lovely and mine which is very lovely.




Gertrude Stein


From Useful Knowledge © 1928






Arise, My Love (Richard Hundley)




Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.


O my dove, that dwelleth in the clefts of the rock,


In the covert of a steep place.


Let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice


For sweet is thy voice and thy countenance is comely.


Arise, my love, my fair one.




Song of Solomon 2: 13-14






Moonlight's Watermelon




Moonlight's, watermelon, mellows, light,


Mellowly. Water, mellows, moon, lightly.


Water, mellows, melons, brightly.


Moonlight's mellow, to, water's, sight.


Yes, and, water, mellows, soon,


Quick, as, mellows, the, mellow, moon.


Water, mellows, as, mellows, melody,


Moon, has, its, mellow, secrecy.


Moonlight's, moon, has, the, mellow,


Secrecy, of, mellowing, water's water-


Melons, mellowly. Moonlight's, a, mellow,


Mellower, being, moon's, mellow, daughter.


Moonlight's, melody, alone, has, secrecy,


To, make, watermelons, sweet, and, juicy.




Jose Garcia Villa


From Volume II New Directions , © 1949






Straightway Beauty On Me Waits




Straightway beauty on me waits


rain in the morning or sunshine late


when, say the wind the airs can blow


the sun came up and down fell the snow.


The wind blows wet the sleet falls hard


Love waxes great


or dies, like the flower.




James Purdy


From Collected Poems Athenaeum-Polack & Van Gennep © 1990






Some Sheep are Loving




Some sheep are loving and some sheep are not.


What what.


Can canaries cry.


Not if four pansy buds can try


To be better and better.


Better than butter


Butter what


Butter cups


Buttercups are yellow


So can pansies be


Which make pansies come to see


That butterflies come sooner than a bee.


Butterflies butter cups


Butter butter nuts


Butter Butter


If sheep are loving


What does it matter,


Cows make butter


Sheep can try


But it makes them cry,


Butter butter,


So they stamp their feet,


Which are neat,


But not better than butter.


Oh butter oh butter,


A sheep can butt her


Yes she can yes she does


Loving as she is,


A sheep can butt her


Which she does


When a little dog is yellow


Yes she does


She does butt her.




For which we say any day butter is better.




Gertrude Stein


From First Reader Maurice Fredberg © 1946






Once I Was (Ricky Ian Gordon)




Once I was...I was...I was


There were ribbons in my hair,


There were leaves of streaming gold everywhere.


If a boy said, "Hello" I would hide trembling so,


Trembling so...


Now I barely know


What the meaning of "No" is.




Now I am...I am...I am


Past an audience I stare


What is gold is how the lights touch my hair.




All the boys turn to men,


All the leaves change again


Change again...change again...


Still I answer "Yes"


Though I know what will happen.




As these phases come and go,


Music tells me what I need to know.






Afternoon on a Hill




I will be the gladdest thing


Under the sun!


I will touch a hundred flowers


And not pick one.


I will look at cliffs and clouds


With quiet eyes,


Watch the wind bow down the grass,


And the grass rise.


And when the lights begin to show


Up from the town,


I will mark which must be mine,


And then start down!




Edna St. Vincent Millay


From Collected Poems


Harper & Row ©1975






Mama Called (Gary Schocker)




Mama called at half past ten.


Mama started in again.


It's not the first time,


She calls me every night.




She said, "Baby, I hate to see you alone.


Baby, you need a man of your own -


And for the first time,


I think she may be right.




Well, I could find myself a husband,


Husbands are fine.


I've had two of them before,


Well, they weren't exactly mine.




A husband,


I'm not ready for that,


I think I better start smaller.


I think I'll get a cat.




But if I got myself a husband,


I'd have a child.


I could hug it when it burped


And adore it when it smiled.




A baby -


Something wrinkled and fat,


Something needing attention always -


I better get the cat.




A cat is self-reliant, a cat is self controlled,


A comfortable companion while you watch TV.


Reserved but not uncaring, aloof but never cold,


A little shy, a little sly, a little bit like me...




So I'll find myself a feline, that's what I need.


Every night when I come home


There'll be someone there to feed.


Companion, now it's tuna for two,




Now it's two in the bathroom primping -


Just wait 'til I tell Mama, your baby isn't alone


Your baby's finally settled (sort of)


With a baby of her own.




Barbara Campbell




Cover Art: Time, 1992, Katherine Bowling (oil & spackle on wood). Courtesy private collection of Mr. & Mrs. Howard J. Rubenstein.




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© 1994 Mary Ann Hart




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