The Heart of the Stranger
The Heart of the Stranger
song cycle for voice and piano (1999)
- Premiere: 11 June 1999 / Ham Concert Hall, Las Vegas, Nevada / Paul Kreider, baritone / Daron Hagen, piano
- Instrumentation: voice, piano
- Duration: 17'
- Text: Andrei Codrescu, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, William Blake, John Keats, Kim Roberts, A.E. Houseman, Gwen Hagen, Walt Whitman, Theodore Roethke (E)
1. Symmetry (Andre Codrescu)
2. Evening Twilight (Charles Baudelaire, trans. by the composer)
3. It Weeps in My Heart (Paul Verlaine, translated by the composer)
4. To Nobodaddy (William Blake)
5. Dawlish Fair (John Keats)
6. Under the Night Sky (Kim Roberts)
7. O, When I Was in Love With You (A.E. Houseman)
8. An Irony (Gwen Hagen)
9. Specimen Case (Walt Whitman)
10. Song (Theodore Roethke)
The Heart of the Stranger was compiled over the course of many years and first performed as a cycle by Paul Kreider, accompanied by the composer, on the Arsis CD Love in a Life (CD119) on 11 June 1999 in the Ham Concert Hall on the University of Nevada Las Vegas campus.
Symmetry sets the worldly, rueful, yet ardently romantic tone of the cycle as a whole. Like every song in the cycle, though they bridge hundreds of years and several continents, it tracks a man's struggle to find a balance between love as it is, and love as he might like it to be. The setting of Andre Codrescu's poem was composed in New York City on 16 April 1999 especially to begin the group.
Evening Twilight was composed on 23 February 1989 in a tiny sixth floor tenement on Saint Mark's Place in New York City. Baudelaire's poetry, in my translation, captures one lonely young man's romantic malaise at end of day as he surveys the Manhattan skyline. The words are adapted from the seventh and eigth paragraphs of the prose poem "Evening Twilight." It is dedicated to painter Rosamund Casey.
It Weeps in My Heart was composed as a gift to Robin Leebardt the day before I wrote the Baudelaire. It is drawn from thr "Romances Without Words." A line of Arthur Rimbaud is used as a subtitle: "It rains softly in the city." The translation of Paul Verlaine is my own.
The setting of William Blake's rueful poem To Nobodaddy was composed on 16 June 1999 in New York City as a musical greeting to my godson, Emerson Rhoads, on the day of his birth.
John Keats' Dawlish Fair, a quatrain that originates in a letter written to John Rice from Teignmouth on 25 March 1818, is earthy and, by contemporary standards, unsettling in its very male High Romanticism. I chose it for that reason when I set it on 8 August 1990, dedicating it to composer Paul Moravec.
For balance, the Keats is followed by a setting of Washington poet Kim Roberts' knowing, wise free verse poem, Under the Night Sky, which I composed at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts on 26 July 1991. It is dedicated to composer David Del Tredici, who accompanied me in its first performance the same evening for an audience of one -- the poet herself.
Among my brother Kevin Hagen's effects when he died was a (semi-serious) request that my tongue-in-cheek, penny-dreadful setting of A.E. Houseman's ditty O, When I Was in Love With You be performed at his funeral. Kevin and I premiered it together at the Morphy Recital Hall on the University of Wisconsin Campus, in Madison, Wisconsin, on 18 Januaru 1980, a few days after I confected it.
I counter-balanced Houseman's self-destructive juvenilia with Gwen Hagen's more seasoned rue by setting an entry in her journal from 1951. An Irony was composed on 16 May 1999 and is dedicated to tenor Barry Busse, who created the role of Louis Sullivan in my opera Shining Brow.
I first set the distanced, love-as-reportage of Walt Whitman's Specimen Case in the Barber-Menotti studio at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia on 27 September 1983. A decade later, I recycled the piano part as the accompaniment to Frank Lloyd Wright's searing final aria in Shining Brow. Whitman described his agape for a dying soldier; Wright grappled with his guilt for the deaths of his loved ones.
People, the poets assembled seem to say, all love on their own terms. The love of Pure Art is offered not as a solution, but as a question ("Live an Examined Life," in Theodore Roethke's enigmatic Song, which I composed expressly to close the cycle on 18 May 1999 in New York City.
(Banner photo: Charles Baudelaire)