Light Fantastic (Reduction)


Light Fantastic (Reduction)


cantata for tenor, treble chorus and mixed ensemble (1999)

download the choral score
  • Premiere: 26 November 1999 / Cable Recital Hall, Canton Museum of Art, Canton, Ohio / Barry Busse, tenor / Ohio Opera Theater Childrens' Chorus and Orchestra / Daron Hagen

  • Instrumentation: Tenor soloist, SA Treble choir (all girls, all boys, girls and boys, or women), 2 clarinets, 2 oboes, 2 violins, viola, cello, bass, and piano

  • Duration: 40'

  • Texts: William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Martin Harrison, Gordon Lord Byron, Tobias Schneebaum (E)

  • Dedication: "Commissioned by the Ohio Opera Theatre to Commemorate its Founding, 1999"

  1. Tutti: Hymn to Light (William Shakespeare

  2. Tenor Solo: Sundown Lights (Walt Whitman)

  3. First Meditation: Nightfall (Instrumental)

  4. Tenor Solo: Night's Paddock (Martin Harrison)

  5. Tenor Solo: Sun of the Sleepless (Gordon, Lord Byron)

  6. Second Meditation: the Light at Midnight (Instrumental)

  7. Life Among the Asmat (Tobias Schneebaum)

  8. Tutti: Final Hymn to Light (Shakespeare)

Program Note

Tenor Barry Busse premiered the work.

Tenor Barry Busse premiered the work.

Commissioned by the Ohio Opera Theater in 1999 to commemorate the founding of the company, the cantata was first performed 26 November 1999 at the Cable Recital Hall of the Canton Museum of Arts by the Ohio Opera Theater Children's Chorus and Orchestra, Barry Busse, tenor soloist, under the baton of the composer.

Portions of the cantata have been revisited by Hagen over the years: the second movement, revised and extended, became the finale of his Symphony No. 4; the third movement figures as the second movement of Piano Concerto; and the fifth movement figures in the chamber work Book of Days. 


Light Fantastic is a bold new piece commissioned from noted composer Daron Hagen. The 40-minute cantata also marks the opening of an exhibit at the Canton Museum of Art, "Visions into the 21st Century: The New Age of Holography."

Before beginning, Hagen explained to the capacity audience at Cable Recital Hall that the piece, set to poems about light, is also about the human life cycle of childhood, death and rebirth. The texts take the listener from evening through night to morning. Hagen wrote the piece for the forces at hand: a children's chorus, tenor soloist (sung by Barry Busse, the company's education director) and a 10-piece orchestra. The piece contains some beautiful lyric moments and is written in a harmonic style that is adventurous, but not harsh. 

The piece opens and closes with repetitions of the phrase "Light, seeking light, doth light of light beguile," from Shakespeare's Love's Labor's Lost. (The line means, roughly, that searching for truth can blind one to the truth. It makes more sense in the play's context than in isolation.) The children's chorus, prominent in this section, sounded tentative, as if the singers were waiting for someone else to take the lead. The standout was Hagen's orchestral line, whose music alternately soared and gently rocked underneath the vocalists' repeated lines. The real spine-tingling music came in the second section, a rhapsodic description of sunset by Walt Whitman that Hagen's music catches perfectly. Mysteriously, the music sounds at once dangerously intimate and impossibly distant, with yearning harmonies underlying a popular-sounding melody.

An orchestral interlude, "The Light at Midnight," sounded like no other night music you've ever heard, with forceful irregular rhythms and tense harmonies. Hagen explained afterward, "I'm an insomniac from way back. ... This is the existential crisis, the dark night of the soul."

The following movement depicting sunrise among the Asmat, however, could be mistaken for nothing else. As the children repeatedly hummed a falling interval, the orchestra added a vibrant but tranquil theme that easily could be imagined as light near the horizon, changing by the minute. The cantata concludes in much the same mood, as Hagen coaxed a gorgeous, dead-on unified crescendo out of his forces to end on an up note.

-- David Lewellen, Canton Repository, 11/27/99

Tobias Schneebaum with the Asmat.

Tobias Schneebaum with the Asmat.

The instrumental writing of "the Light at Midnight" dazzles; the tenderness of Hagen's setting of Tobias Schneebaum's recollection of "Life Among the Asmat," with Busse's mature tenor haloed by the massed voices of children, conjurs a Gaugin-like innocent rapture. Elsewhere, "Nightfall's" pensive clarinets exude intelligent reverie; Hagen wreathes Whitman's description of sunset with glowing chords in "Sundown Lights" and evokes the wide open spaces of the Australian outback in his plangent setting of Martin Harrison's haunting "Night's Paddock." Two chugging, post-minimal paens to light itself (based on a scrap of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost, scored for the entire ensemble) bookend the work with joyous, Handelian pomp.

-- David Pickett, Ear Magazine, 12/99

Cable Recital Hall, at the Canton Museum of Art, site of the premiere of  Light Fantastic.

Cable Recital Hall, at the Canton Museum of Art, site of the premiere of Light Fantastic.

Daron and Tobias Schneebaum at Yaddo in 1998.

Daron and Tobias Schneebaum at Yaddo in 1998.

Postcard from Tobias Schneebaum to Daron regarding the use of the remembrance, "Life Among the Asmat," which he wrote at Daron's request.