Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Words, Work, War and Song

I haven't made as much vocal music as I'd like, and the problem usually lies with finding the right text. And finding a text that welcomes a musical setting is often more a problem of managing abundance than of scarcity. There are simply too many words that invite a link to music, and music usually prefers a few excellent words to many good ones.

Blogger Patrick Swanson did me a great favor recently, suggesting that I set some of Virgil's Georgics. He did an even greater favor and selected a passage to get me started:

Scilicet et tempus veniet, cum finibus illis
agricola incurvo terram molitus aratro
exesa inveniet scabra robigine pila
aut gravibus rastris galeas pulsabit inanis
grandiaque effossis mirabitur ossa sepulchris.

(Be sure of this: the time will come when in those fields,
the farmer working the earth with curved plough,
will unearth rough weapons eaten by rust,
or strike the side of an empty helmet with his heavy hoe,
and wonder at the bones of great ones now untombed.)
This is clearly my kind of text -- with words that mean a lot in both the long and short-haul -- and finally a chance not to shy away from saying something about the war. Scanning the Latin meter was a pleasure and I set it right away as a little song (3'15" or so) for unison voices, harp, and optional percussion (bamboo clappers and metal things).

N.O. Brown, my teacher wrote his own Georgics, a text in praise of work, both earth- and handwork, as in Virgil's great poem about agriculture, and work of the imagination. I'd now like to do a couple more songs like this, a kind of cantata, if one can use that word anymore.

1 comment:

sfmike said...

Yes, you can use that word "cantata," and the poetry is perfect for music. I am certain, or at least hopeful, you will do it justice.