About this Recording
8.559731 - Vocal Recital: Faulkner, Julia - Between the Bliss and me… Songs to Poems by Emily Dickinson

Between the Bliss and Me…
Songs to Poems of Emily Dickinson


Emily Dickinson is widely considered one of the greatest poets in American literature, Her concise, sometimes quirky prose reveals a profound depth of feeling that stands in stark contrast to the apparent simplicity of her life. Born to a prominent lawyer and Treasurer of Amherst College in 1830, Emily Dickinson spent most of her life quietly secluded at home. She never married, and became increasingly reclusive in her later years. Reasons for her isolation have been exhaustively explored—disappointment in love, limitations imposed on women in her time, a difficult and restrictive father—but just as with the interpretation of her enigmatic works, no single argument is adequate. She wrote nearly 1800 poems, of which only a handful were published in her lifetime. Though Emily’s sister Lavinia actively promoted her work in the decades following Emily’s death in 1886, worldwide recognition eluded her until the first critical edition of her poems was published in 1955. Though her life and inner world have remained somewhat of a mystery, her work reveals a formidable artist of immense value and stature. Her short but inventive poems are regarded as some of the greatest achievements in the English language.

The language and depth of Emily Dickinson’s poetry have long intrigued and challenged composers, over one hundred of whom have set her words to music. The quirky rhythms, often bizarre imagery and eccentric grammatical structure of her poems create special demands for composers, eight of whom are represented on this recording. The daunting task of choosing the repertoire for this CD began first with sifting through hundreds of possible songs. In the face of so many fine musical statements I decided that the organizing force should be Dickinson’s words and ideas. Many of her works center strongly on the universal themes of Love, Death, Immortality, Identity and Man’s relationship with Nature. With these themes as a guideline I have simply chosen songs that I love, and that do justice to the profound ideas and delicious rhythm of Emily’s words.

Perhaps the most famous setting of Dickinson poetry is Aaron Copland’s (1900–1990) cycle Twelve Songs of Emily Dickinson. Now considered a part of the standard vocal repertoire, this wide ranging and evocative set of songs features Copland’s uniquely austere and “American” sound. Nine of these settings are featured on this recording. Nature, the gentlest Mother [1] is a sweet and wry depiction of Nature as a benign and loving maternal figure. When they come back [4] and Sleep is supposed to be [7] deal with the uncertainty of an afterlife. Dickinson uses the return of spring and the sunrise as metaphors for immortality. Heart, we will forget him [16], is a justifiably famous expression of lost love. The world feels dusty [17] is an affecting and clear-eyed look at the suffering and redemption of death. I felt a funeral in my brain [18] and the magnificent The Chariot [19] illustrate Dickinson’s fascination with the more macabre aspects of the rituals of death. The humorous Why do they shut me out of heaven? [20]; and the jubilant, and irreverent Going to heaven [22] offer a further glimpse into Dickinson’s hopeful yet ultimately questioning attitude to God and life after death.

John Duke (1899–1984) was one of America’s foremost composers of song. His Bee! I’m expecting you! [2] is a sprightly and virtuosic account of an imaginary correspondence between a bee and a fly. Asked why, as a pianist, his compositions included so few piano works and so many songs, Duke replied: “I think it is because of my belief that vocal utterance is the basis of music’s mystery.”

With an education beginning in German Romanticism and ending in the Second New England School, Arthur Farwell (1872–1952) eventually broke from these traditions to create his own distinctive style. The earliest composer represented here, Farwell championed Dickinson before she had widespread popularity, composing nearly forty settings of her poems. The five songs featured here, The Butterfly [3], Aristocracy [5], I’m nobody [10], Wild Nights! [15] and The Sabbath [21] are typical of Farwell; humorous, colorful and concise.

Ernst Bacon (1898–1990), a Chicago native, wrote more than seventy songs to texts of Emily Dickinson which are widely regarded as some of the finest of the genre. Bacon made extensive use of folk-song, jazz rhythms, and all types of indigenous music and folklore. To make a prairie [6] and And this of all my hopes [14] have a spare transparent texture, while It’s all I have to bring [8] is an opulent expression of love.

Scott Gendel (b. 1977) won the prestigious ASCAP/Lehmann prize for composition for his cycle Forgotten Light which was composed for and given its première by Julia Faulkner in 2006. His wide-ranging output includes numerous song cycles, choral works, opera and music theater. Two songs from Forgotten Light are included here, the elegiac Bring me the sunset [12], and one of the three versions of Wild Nights! [13] featured on this recording.

Lori Laitman (b. 1955) is an acclaimed American composer of art songs that are performed widely in the United States and abroad. The Journal of Singing called her “one of the finest art song composers on the scene today, for her uncommon sensitivity to text, her loving attention to the human voice and her extraordinary palette of musical colors and gesture.” I gained it so [9] is a perfect example of Dickinson’s sometimes inscrutable rhyme schemes and word juxtapositions. It contains the beautiful line, “I gained it so / by climbing slow / by catching on the twigs that grow between the bliss and me.”

Richard Pearson-Thomas (b. 1957) is recognized as a gifted composer of concert and theatre music. His songs have been sung in Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Merkin Concert Hall and Wigmore Hall by many of today’s finest artists. His exquisite song I never saw a moor [11] has become a classic of contemporary vocal repertoire.

Lee Hoiby (1926–2011) was a native of Madison, Wisconsin. His many beautiful and widely performed songs drew inspiration from various musical eras and cultures. His comments about songwriting: “What I learned from Schubert came from a long, deep and loving exposure to his song. What I think his songs taught me have to do primarily with the line, the phrasing, the tessitura, the accentuations of speech, the careful consideration of vowels, the breathing required and an extremely economical use of accompaniment material…” The Shining Place (1995) is given pride of place on this recording of Dickinson settings. My friendship and collaboration with Lee Hoiby remains one of the most rewarding and cherished experiences of my life. Recorded in 2007 with the composer at the piano, A Shining Place was intended for inclusion on the 2009 Naxos CD of Hoiby songs entitled A Pocket of Time (8.559375) but omitted owing to space constraints. It is sadly the last recording of Hoiby at the piano. The five songs of this cycle touch on each of the themes of this recording. The Shining Place [23] is an ecstatic statement of hope for the existence of immortality. Dickinson’s identity is described with great candor and humor in the setting of some of her correspondence – A Letter [24]. How the waters closed [25] is a bleak and heartbreaking depiction of the death of a young man. Wild Nights! [26] contains some of Dickinson’s most passionate expressions of love and desire. There came a wind like a bugle [27] ends this recording with Dickinson and Hoiby’s profoundly moving statement of Man’s endurance in the face of Nature’s brutality: “How much can come and much can go, and yet abide the world.”

Julia Faulkner

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