Movements (poem by)
|I.||That white peony||(Gyodai)|
|III.||Now that eyes of hawks||(Basho)|
|IV.||The snake departed||(Kyoshi)|
|V.||For a lovely bowl||(Basho)|
|VI.||But if I held it||(Buson|
|VII.||I have known lovers||(Anonymous)|
Selima, or Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes; This piece is a setting of a poem by 18th Century English poet Thomas Gray(1716-1771). The poem is a spoof - odes are generally serious, philosophical works - so I felt free to add musical spoofs of my own. The word "gold" triggers a short cadenza whenever it appears; the clarinet plays the cat, even to a purr; and the goldfish are surrounded by impressionistic "watermusic". As for any anti-female or anti-feline sentiments expressed I confess I viewed them as part of the spoof. Greed is not, and never has been sex-specific; however, humans as a species excel at it.
Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes by Thomas Gray
Twas on a lofty vase's side,
Where China's gayest art had dyed
The azure flowers that blow;
Demurest of the tabby kind,
The pensive Selima, reclined,
Gazed on the lake below.
Her conscious tail her joy declared;
The fair round face, the snowy beard,
The velvet of her paws,
Her coat, that with the tortoise vies,
Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,
She saw: and purred applause.
Still had she gazed; but 'midst the tide
Two angel forms were seen to glide,
The genii of the stream;
Their scaly armour's Tyrian hue
Thro' richest purple to the view
Betrayed a golden gleam.
The hapless nymph with wonder saw:
A whisker first and then a claw,
With many an ardent wish,
She stretched in vain to reach the prize.
What female heart can gold despise?
What cat's averse to fish?
Presumptuous maid! with looks intent
Again she stretched, again she bent,
Nor knew the gulf between.
(Malignant Fate sat by, and smiled)
The slippery verge her feet beguiled,
She tumbled headlong in.
Eight times emerging from the flood
She mewed to every watery god,
Some speedy aid to send.
No Dolphin came, no Nereid stirred;
Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard.
A favorite has no friend!
From hence, ye beauties, undeceived,
Know, one false step is ne'er retrieved,
And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wandering eyes
And heedless hearts is lawful prize,
Nor all that glisters gold.
Francois Villon (1431-1463?) was a major lyric poet, a scholar, and a man of great excess. He was imprisoned several times in his short life, and banished from Paris in 1463, shortly after he wrote The Testament. It is presumed that he died about this time. The full text of The Testament runs about 75 pages. Some of it is obscure, some scatological; all of it is fascinating. There are rage, sorrow, beauty, and a poignant regret, as well as a voracious appetite for life and an indomitable spirit. Last but not least, there is the poetic bravura of acrostics and word games woven through the serious and satiric ballades and chansons.- K. Hoover.
In choosing selections for this piece, I have tried to give a distilled picture of the main subjects in The Testament - revenge, sorrow, lust, love, and death. Villon's searing directness and sharp satirical bite are splendidly caught in this translation by the American poet Galway Kinnell.
|I.||The woman of Huipil°°||(by Celina Garcia from "The Word".)|
|II.||Remedies||(by Virginia Grutter translated by Janet Rodney.)|
|III.||Prayer for a son disappeared||(by Maria Perez Tzu; transcribed in Mayan & translated by Ambar Past)|
When I was asked to write some songs for this festival (Fourth Festival of Women Composers), my thoughts turned to a most unusual book titled 'IXOK AMAR • GO' (subtitled; Central American Woman's Poetry for Peace), edited by Zoe Anglesey. The book is printed in Spanish and English, with some poems, and the title, in Mayan. The title means; 'Women Going Forward with Love, not Bitterness'.
Many of the countries in Central America have the inherently unstable situation of a large population of 'peasants' - largely poor and Native American - and a very small group of extremely rich non-Indian landowners. The latter tends to control the government and army as well as the land and have traditionally cultivated close ties with the US government.
During the 1980' s, Nicaragua and El Salvador experience prolonged struggles that stemmed from these harsh disparities, and one is currently active in southern Mexico. In Guatemala, the military government has carried out systematic "actions" against the Mayans, a peaceful, artistic culture. These have included forced removal and massacres. Only in the last few years has the United States tried to discourage these acts, leaving many in the region very bitter indeed. (We still remain the major supplier of weapons to this brutal regime.) The award of a Nobel Peace Prize to a Guatemalan Mayan woman, Rigoberto Menchu, in 1992 focused international attention on the situation and helped curb the atrocities.
The poems come directly from these struggles for freedom and integrity, and reflect the lives of women caught up in these events.
Movement I, The Woman of the Huipil is based on "The Word" by Celina Garcia. Movement II, Remedies is based on a poem by Virginia Grutter ; translated by Janet Rodney. Movement III, Prayer for a son disappeared is based on a poem by Maria Perez Tzu ; transcribed from Mayan and translated by Ambar Past.
°°A huipil is a colorful and intricately embroidered vest that Mayan women traditionally wear. Until the current repressive climate began in the 1970' s, "America", or "Amerigo" were common names in central America.
Anna Wickham was a little known Australian poet who lived from 1884 to 1947. She trained as an opera singer, but spent most of her adult life in domestic pursuits in England. Some of her work was quite outspoken for its time, voicing frustration with the constraints on women's lives. She published two small books of poems. The American poet Sara Teasdale (1884 -1933) wrote primarily of nature, love, and love's disappointments, and was widely published and anthologized in her lifetime. She died tragically, a suicide.- K. Hoover.
These poems appealed to me for their directness, and for their portrayal of a variety of moods: from delight to despair, from love to contempt, from courage to a chilling look at the folly of war. Each of these poets let her heart speak out strongly in her work, and I chose the title to reflect that quality.
'Aria' was written in 1982 as the middle movement of a Serenade for clarinet and string quartet. This piece was originally intended for adult amateurs, and its simplicity and lyricism have proved perfect for the cello.