13 November 2018

Notes for a Triad concert

It Might Happen Today, Op.156

It's all right, you'll feel better soon.
I don't care if you get a little wound.
It's okay, I still love you,
Even if I don't care.

But it's a good thing to not care,
It's not our business.
But sometimes it is us.
I don't care but where I'm going,
It might be just a little trust.

I need to stay my own way,
When I find what I do,
And who might tell me to.

I need to go to my own way,
It might happen today.
I don't care what I do,
Who tells me to?

It is us who doesn't care,
And it's us who does care
If you give your business.

It's all right to share,
It's all right to share,
When we're tired,
It's all right to share.

-         Emma Wallingford

In an earlier life, I sang with the choir of the Cathedral Church of St Paul on Tremont Street, and one of my choir fellows was Mara Wallingford.  At about this time last year, Mara gleefully (I think it fair to employ this adverb) posted that her eight-year-old daughter Emma, in an effort to resist being sent to bed, improvised a song – and Mara posted the text.  Almost immediately, I sent to Mara, saying how much I enjoyed the text, and asking if Emma would permit me to set it to my own music.  Permission was secured almost immediately.

Also immediately, I knew that I wanted to write the piece for a Triad concert, and I wanted it to represent something of a break with the habitual Henning pieces which Triad has sung in the past:  much of the Henningmusick we have sung has been on sacred texts, for one thing;  and for another, my first thought was to set it for women's voices.  On the latter point, however, as the music came to me, it seemed that it was going to be so much fun to sing, that I wanted in – so I decided instead to set it for men's choir.  Musically, the piece is a fresh application (I think) of "all my usual tricks":  brain-cramping interlocking rhythmic games, a mellifluous homorhythmic cadential refrain, and nearly-canonic imitation.

  • Karl Henning

The Mystic Trumpeter, Op.113 № 1 (extracts)

HARK! some wild trumpeter—some strange musician,
Hovering unseen in air, vibrates capricious tunes to-night.
I hear thee, trumpeter—listening, alert, I catch thy notes,
Now pouring, whirling like a tempest round me,
Now low, subdued—now in the distance lost.
Come nearer, bodiless one—haply, in thee resounds
Some dead composer—haply thy pensive life
Was fill'd with aspirations high—unform'd ideals,
Waves, oceans musical, chaotically surging,
That now, ecstatic ghost, close to me bending, thy cornet echoing, pealing,
Gives out to no one's ears but mine—but freely gives to mine,
That I may thee translate.

Now, trumpeter, for thy close,
Vouchsafe a higher strain than any yet;
Sing to my soul—renew its languishing faith and hope;
Rouse up my slow belief—give me some vision of the future;
Give me, for once, its prophecy and joy.

O glad, exulting, culminating song!
A vigor more than earth's is in thy notes!
Marches of victory—man disenthrall'd—the conqueror at last!
Hymns to the universal God, from universal Man—all joy!
A reborn race appears—a perfect World, all joy!
Women and Men, in wisdom, innocence and health—all joy!
Riotous, laughing bacchanals, fill'd with joy!

War, sorrow, suffering gone—The rank earth purged—nothing but joy left!
The ocean fill'd with joy—the atmosphere all joy!
Joy! Joy! in freedom, worship, love! Joy in the ecstasy of life!
Enough to merely be! Enough to breathe!
Joy! Joy! all over Joy!

-         Walt Whitman

The word clarinet is a diminutive of clarino, a small trumpet.  It really refers only to the bright upper register of the modern clarinet;  and in any event, the tone color is entirely different than a brasswind.  So why I should elect to accompany my setting of this text with a clarinet is a mystery.  (Although I suppose a clarinet can 'vibrate capricious tunes' as well as or better than any other instrument.)  In general, The Mystic Trumpeter follows a line established by the Studies in Impermanence, The Mousetrap, and Thoreau in Concord Jail, as my latest essay in writing 20-plus-minute pieces for either clarinet unaccompanied, or clarinet plus one other single-line instrument – pieces which are apt to inspire either exasperation or enthusiasm in the listener.  (We present an abridgment of the opus this weekend, in order to fit it within the larger program.)

In its vigor and unflinchingly broad embrace, Whitman's poetry is a frequent inspiration to me, and I typically find it very apt material, so that the music flows readily.  Although I used the word "accompany" earlier, the clarinet here is practically a coequal soloist with the voice;  so that the singer is not speaking of some absent "strange musician," but engaged in a present musical exchange with the ecstatic ghost, chaotically surging.

  • Karl Henning

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