Flight Music


Flight Music


song cycle for treble chorus & string quartet (or piano) on words of Amelia Earhart (2005)

  • Premiere: 20 November 2005  / Cathedral of Saint John, Milwaukee, WI  / Milwaukee Choral Artists / Present Music / Sharon Hansen
  • Instrumentation: SSAA. string quartet
  • Duration: 21'
  • Dedication: "Commissioned by the Milwaukee Choral Artists and Present Music, 2005."
  • Text: Amelia Earhart (E)
  • All orders are digital downloads. To order paper scores, visit our partner distributor, Theodore Front.
[Music of] ecstatic beauty, its meditative calm and its subtly propulsive rhythm. Earhart’s texts are lumpy on the page - she can be something of a flowery aesthete on the beauty of flight - but Hagen’s music ennobles them.
— Tom Strini, Milwaukee Journal Sentinal
  1. We Are Running North and South
  2. Courage
  3. Choice
  4. Paper Tigers
  5. Wait
  6. Why Flyers Fly

Program note

I have long had an intense recurring dream: in it I am flying through the air unaided, looking down at the world and feeling ecstatic. I fall. In the falling, I find liberation. I have always associated flying with creativity, with freedom, with exploration, with life, and with spirits (good and ill). As a pre-teen, I spoke and wrote about my identification with the mythological character of Icarus so frequently that my mother sculpted him for me. "He'll outlive us both," she laughed. "Despite himself. Such is the nature of art." Fifty years later, the statue is still with me. I wonder which, if either, of my sons will take him along for the flight after I am gone?

I began sketching ideas for Amelia, the opera that would eventually grow out of Flight Music, in early 2002. At that time, Kevin Stalheim asked me to write a piece for treble chorus and string quartet. My opera was to be about how life is like flight, how we have to let go of the things that keep us earthbound in order to soar. Amelia Earhart would serve as the female counterpart to Icarus. Both would end up being characters generated by the imagination of a young woman who viewed her father as an Icarus figure. I wanted to figure out what kind of musical language the opera would require. I wrote Flight Music partly to figure that out.

Conductor Sharon Hansen and Hagen at the world premiere in 2005.

Flight Music concerns itself with Amelia Earhart, lost in her airplane somewhere over the Pacific Ocean on July 2nd, 1937.  At 8:45 that final morning, Earhart reported over the radio, "We are running north and south." Nothing further was heard from her.

The mystery and poetry of early death or disappearance throws into sharp relief the things said by that person in life. I arranged Earhart's words for Flight Music into a song cycle that creates a similar effect: as listeners, we join Earhart in her plane for the first song, retreat into her past (perhaps as she did as she came to terms with her predicament) for the next three songs, and then return with her to her present for the penultimate song, closing with one of her more poetic comments about flight.  Flight Music was composed at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York, and in New York City, during August of 2005.

— Daron Hagen, 2014

GWEN HAGEN Icarus, My Son 1965. Terracotta, 11 x 6 x 9


'Flight' takes off beautifully
Earhart's words glow in performance
Daron Hagen balances aching dissonance and soothing consonance so delicately in his new "Flight Music" that its harmonies reach beyond the ears and cause the skin to tingle. These choral settings of quotations by aviatrix Amelia Earhart advance from chord to chord not so much in functional patterns of tension and release as through a spectrum of rich and subtly shifting color. "Flight Music" premiered Sunday at Present Music's Thanksgiving concert. The group's resident string quartet played the inaugural, along with Sharon Hansen's Milwaukee Choral Artists. The 17 women of this superb choir fine-tuned Hagen's sky-high columns of sound. They set the overtones aglow and lighted up the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist with purely musical electricity. The women sang and Hansen conducted this difficult work with utter technical command and great sympathy for its ecstatic beauty, its meditative calm and its subtly propulsive rhythm. Earhart's texts are lumpy on the page - she can be something of a flowery aesthete on the beauty of flight - but Hagen's music ennobles them. He even makes the deadpan communication of aviation sound poetic. Such a phrase as "We will repeat this message on six-two-one-zero kilocycles" becomes at once a meditative litany and an engine of rhythm. The glowing beauty of Hagen's new work contrasted sharply with...

— Tom Strini, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 11/20/05