COMPOSER 1945–2013

Opus 90

Songs of Lightness and Angels (1990)

for Soprano, Horn, and Piano

Texts by Katri Vala; Eino Leino; Kirsi Kunnas [Finnish or English]

  • Maa (The Earth) (Katri Vala)
  • Rauha (Peace) (Eino Leino)
  • Aamulla (In the Morning) (Kirsi Kunnas)

Duration: 12 min.

Dedication: to Annukka and Michael

Recording: Albany TROY1353-54

Premiere: 1995; J. Andrews; P. Schmalz; N. Schmalz; Oshkosh, WI

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I was approached in 1989 by a student both of Slavic and Nordic languages AND of the French horn. He had heard my horn sonata and asked me to write songs for medium female voice, horn and piano, to help fill out a concert including Schubert’s Auf dem Strom, for the same combination. As his companion as singer and language teacher was Finnish, that was the language he requested. Of course I said words to the effect that I was very good indeed at writing pieces that never got performed, but such a project would “take the cake” and likely lie on the shelf perpetually. I wrote it anyway, and sure enough, the horn player and singer had parted ways by the time the work was completed, although they had helped me find good texts amongst Finnish poets, and to coach me as to phonetics and rhythm with, of course full translations.

One hears that there is a certain mysticism to the Finnish soul. I never quite heard that to any great extent in Sibelius—but it is there in Rautavaara and in Kokkonen and others, and there they are in the far north, with a language that does not relate to neighboring Sweden and Norway at all, but rather to the Finno-Ugric family including Hungarian and Turkish—none of which countries border upon one another. I wrote my piece double-texting for performance either in Finnish or English (Lauluja Kevedeista ja Enkeleista; Songs of Lightness and Angels) and trying to evoke this spirit and Nordic atmosphere in various technical ways—never having visited Finland myself. There is not one single bar in rhythm of 3, 4 or 6 or 9 throughout. The songs are in 5/4, 11/8 and 7/8 respectively. In the particularly spiritual third poem, the music moves fairly fast and I have attempted a textural/harmonic scheme which I do not believe has ever been used before. Each 7/8 bar has one main “tonic” pitch, throughout the bar, with no particular rules about how one connects to the next bar. Within each bar, however, there is plenty of texture for the pianist. The scheme is that any bar with a tonic “G” will have EXACTLY the same piano figuration. If the tonic is “B” the figuration is identical for each bar, but distinct from the one on “G”. Thus for each of the 12 possible pitches (and each one comes in at least once), there is one precise textural filling out of the 7/8 measure. I did not, of course, mean this as a technical game. Rather the idea was to give each harmony, even pitch, a certain color and fantasy-attitude of its own. Both horn and voice parts are not under similar restraint, so there is plenty of room for melody and variety, but one hopes the general texture will be atmospheric and hypnotic. (Notes by Arnold Rosner)