song cycle for soprano, tenor, and piano (2013)
- Premiere: 28 January 2013 / Academy of Vocal Arts, Philadelphia, PA / Lyric Fest / Justine Aronson, soprano / Joseph Gaines, tenor / Laura Ward, piano
- Instrumentation: soprano, tenor, and piano
- Duration: 20'
- Text: Bible (G) (E), Ruben Dario (S), Peter Handke (G), Seamus Heaney, Wilhelm Muller
- Dedication: "Commissioned by Lyric Fest of Philadelphia, 2011, and dedicated to my infant son Seamus"
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- Lied Vom Kindsein / Der Leiermann (Peter Handke / Wilhem Müller, adapted by the composer)
- An Artist (Seamus Heaney)
- Widgeon (Heaney)
- The Rain Stick (Heaney)
- Rimas (Ruben Dario, translated by Gilda Lyons)
- Da Ich ein Kind War (1 Corinthians, translations: Martin Luther (1534) and the King James Bible (1611)
Nothing should follow Schubert's monumental and haunting cycle Die Winterreise. And, of course, in concert, nothing ever does.
Nevertheless, commissioned by Lyric Fest in Philadelphia to compose a cycle "inspired in some way" by the Schubert cycle, I was drawn down entirely new compositional roads. In time, I found a space for this cycle to exist after Schubert, or life-or at least beside them; certainly it came to exist After Words.
I imagined a symposium led by two ethereal beings (one male, the other female) on the nature of art and love.
The first song finds the two observing a performance of the final Wilhelm Müller poem that Schubert set, Der Leiermann. For my song, I interwove Peter Handke's contemporary poem Lied Vom Kindsein (familiar to those who have seen Wim Wender's 1987 film Der Himmel über Berlin -- in English, Wings of Desire -- as the voice-over heard during the first reel) with the Müller, and little musical fragments of Schubert's setting.
The three songs that follow find the angels observing the living. Seamus Heaney's poetry, so vibrant and alive, served. The first, An Artist, finds the two observing a young artist at work. The second, Widgeon, is a coolly damning observation on where an artist's voice may or may not come from. The third, The Rain Stick, is a commentary on the nature of song itself.
Rubén Darío's exquisite Rimas, translated by my wife, provides the emotional core of this cycle: love is, after all, the thing that comes, like music both before and after words. (An earlier version of this setting for solo voice was first composed as a stand-alone song by Gilda Lyons and me for soprano Heidi Moss in 2002.)
To close the cycle, the two angels ruminate in interwoven settings of 1 Corinthians 11-13. Tunes and harmonic fragments from the previous songs return; a medley of recapitulated musical images underpin Martin Luther's 1534 version and the magisterial 1611 King James Version. As the angels sing the word "love," the piano returns to the music of The Rain Stick, ending with the notes that earlier accompanied the words "Listen now again," underlining the circular nature of all such meditations.
The cycle was commissioned by Lyric Fest of Philadelphia, and premiered by Justine Aronson, Joseph Gaines, and Laura Ward, in winter 2013 at the Academy of Vocal Arts, in Philadelphia.
— Daron Hagen, 2010
Hagen's After Words for soprano and tenor [is] deeply insinuating, Italianate in its vocal lines, and with a launch point that hooked you before the piece began: The six songs were dialogues between two angels, happily recalling Hindemith's cycle Das Marienleben for its poetic, personal, anti-iconographic contemplation of the sacred.
With their bird's-eye perspectives, the angels observed life and death (such as the hurdy-gurdy man described in Winterreise), asking existential questions that humans do when not too busy running around living. Playful at times, each song had inner emotional intensity, creating a world you didn't want to leave.
— David Patrick Sterns, Philadelphia Inquirer, 29 January 2013
(Banner photo: Justine Aronson, Joseph Gaines perform the NY premiere at the Tenri Cultural Institute, presented by the Brooklyn Art Song Society.)