elizabeth vercoe composer

This is my letter to the World
for voice, flute & piano (2001, rev. 2017)
Composer Facsimile Edition, 15 minutes
Navona Recordings

"...almost like Georgia O'Keefe paintings set to music" (Midwest Record)

Talk about Dickinson
preceding the premiere
Available for purchase on Amazon

1. mp3

2. mp3

3. mp3

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This is my letter to the World is a dramatic cycle of six songs with optional spoken texts based on the poetry and letters of Emily Dickinson.  The titles of the songs are:  “This is my letter to the World,” “Bee!,” “Snow,” “Title Divine,” “A Spider sewed at Night,” and “I taste a liquor never brewed.”

Together with excerpts from her letters, the poems tell of Dickinson’s youth, her delight in nature, her first losses, her ambivalence about marriage, and finally both the intensity and exhilaration in her writing.  There are two instances where the performers are asked to play percussion:  one moment for rainstick and several for finger cymbals.

The music for the opening title song is for just two of the three performers, voice and flute, and is full of trills and flourishes in the flute over a tuneful and legato vocal part.  In contrast, the humorous text of Bee! is set to music that is rapid, staccato, and over in moments.  Snow provides yet another change as the poet mourns the death of a young friend.  Like the title song, the music here is just for voice and flute, but this time the pace is slow and somber, introduced by the gentle trickling of a rain stick that calls to mind the hush of falling snow.  Title Divine is the longest and most dramatic piece in the cycle opening with clusters of fortissimo chords in the piano before subsiding to a quieter but still intense central section followed by a return of the opening gestures and an explosive finale.  A Spider Sewed at Night, evoking Dickinson's quiet and secret industry of stitching her poems together alone at night, opens simply and softly with piano and finger cymbals.  As the piano continues to oscillate, the voice enters with subdued commentary carried further by a cadenza-like flute passage, and concluding with voice and flute in duet over spare piano chords.   An exuberant piano and flute open the final song, I taste a liquor never brewed.  Swirling, repeated and continuous waves of piano sound underlay soaring lines in flute and voice.  This is the only poem treated largely as strophic with recurring, though varied, music for each verse, drifting off into silence as the piano's waves of sound fade away.

Commissioned by flutist Patricia Harper for premiere on the Fifth Annual Women in Music concert series at Connecticut College, the piece was completed in October, 2001, just before the first performance by Phred Mileski, soprano, Pat Harper, flute and Laura McEwan, piano.  Further support was provided by residencies at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Umbertide, Italy, and by the Virginia Center of the Creative Arts in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The piece was revised in 2017 for the many additional performances of the songs by mezzo soprano D'Anna Fortunato with the flute and piano duo "2," Peter Bloom and Mary Jane Rupert, at Goucher and Washington Colleges in Maryland, Dickinson College, and elsewhere. A recording with D'Anna Fortunata and "2" is scheduled for release in 2018.

See texts and score sample below.

To order the score: elizvercoe@yahoo.com

To order the CD: Amazon

Emily Dickinson

score of #2,  "Bee!"


D'Anna Fortunato


                     This is my letter to the World
                  from poems and letters by Emily Dickinson

c. 1862                                #441
                        This is my letter to the World
                        That never wrote to Me—
                        The simple News that Nature told—
                        With tender Majesty

                        Her Message is commited
                        To Hands I cannot see—
                        For love of Her—Sweet—countrymen—
                        Judge tenderly—of Me

1862                I...am small, like the Wren, and my Hair is bold, like the Chestnut Bur—and my eyes, like the Sherry in the Glass, that the Guest leaves— ...my Companions Hills—and the Sundown—and a Dog—large as myself—They are better than Beings—because they know—but do not tell...  I have a Brother [Austin} and Sister [Lavinia]—My Mother does not care for thought—and Father, too busy with his Briefs—to notice what we do—He buys me many Books—but begs me not to read them—because he fears they joggle the Mind.  They are religious—except me—and address an Eclipse, every morning—whom they call their "Father."

1870                My father only reads on Sunday—he reads lonely and rigorous books.  If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry.

1851               We do not have much poetry [now], father having made up his mind that its pretty much all real life.  Fathers real life and mine sometimes come into collision...

186?                I have been at work, scaring the timorous dust, and being obedient and kind.  Mother is still an invalid...  Father and Austin still clamor for food...  God keep me from what they call households...

1859                ...remember, dear, you are one of the ones from whom I do not run away!
1865               My letter as a bee, goes laden.

c. 1865                              #1035
                        Bee!  I'm expecting you!
                        Was saying Yesterday
                        To Somebody you know
                        That you were due—

                        The Frogs got Home last Week—
                        Are settled, and at work—
                        Birds, mostly back—
                        The Clover warm and thick—

                        You'll get my Letter by
                        The seventeenth; Reply
                        Or better, be with me—
                        Yours, Fly

1858?              Dear Friends,  I hope your cups are full.  I hope your vintage is untouched.  In such a porcelain life, one likes to be sure that all is well, lest one stumble upon one's hopes in a pile of crockery.

1859                Vinnie is sick tonight...  It is only a headache, but when the head aches next to you, it becomes important...   I feel the oddest fright at parting with her for an hour, lest a storm arise, and I go unsheltered.  Sisters are brittle things.  God was penurious with me which makes me shrewd with Him.

1853                 Oh Austin.  Newton is dead.  The first of my own friends.
1862                 (aside)  When a little Girl, [he] taught me Immortality but venturing too near himself—he never returned.  [Dying he] told me that he would like to live till I had been a poet...

1860                  Of such have been the friends with vanquished faces—sown plant by plant the churchyard plats and occasioned angels.
1860                  This world is just a little place, just the red in the sky, before the sun rises, so let us keep fast hold of hands, that when the birds begin, none of us be missing.

c. 1864                            #942
                        Snow beneath whose chilly softness
                        Some that never lay
                        Make their first Repose this Winter
                        I admonish Thee

                        Blanket Wealthier the Neighbor
                        We so new bestow
                        Than thine acclimated Creature
                        Wilt Thou, Austere Snow?

1852               Those unions by which two lives are one...how it can fill the heart, and make it gang wildly beating, how it will take us one day, and make us all its own, and we shall not run away from it, but lie still and be happy!  We must speak of these things.  How dull our lives must seem to the bride, whose days are fed with gold; but to the wife, sometimes the wife forgotten, our lives perhaps seem dearer than all others in the world...  Oh, Susie, it is dangerous!  It does so rend me that I tremble lest at sometime I, too, am yielded up.

c. 1862                          #1072
                        Title divine—is mine!
                        The Wife—without the Sign!
                        Acute Degree—conferred on me—
                        Empress of Calvary/
                        Royal—all but the Crown—
                        Betrothed—without the swoon
                        God sends us Women—
                        When you—hold—Garnet to Garnet—
                        Gold—to Gold—
                        In a Day—
                        Tri Victory
                        "My Husband"—women say—
                        Stroking the Melody—
                        Is this—the way?

1862                Mr. Higginson, Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?  The Mind is so near itself—it cannot see, distinctly—and I have none to ask.

I made no verse—but one or two—until this winter—Sir—I had a terror— since September—
I could tell to none—and so I sing as the Boy does by the Burying Ground—because I am afraid—

Your second letter surprised me, and for a moment swung—I had not supposed it.  I think you called me "Wayward."  Will you help me improve?  You think my gait "spasmodic"—I am in danger—Sir—  You think me "uncontrolled"—I have no Tribunal.

Perhaps you smile at me.  I could not stop for that—My Business is Circumference—An ignorance, not of  Customs, but if caught with the Dawn—or the Sunset see me—Myself the only Kangaroo among the Beauty...

c. 1869                             #1138
                        A Spider sewed at Night
                        Without a Light
                        Upon an Arc of White.

                        If Ruff it was of Dame
                        Or Shroud of Gnome
                        Himself himself inform.

                        Of Immortality
                        His Strategy
                        Was Physiognomy.

c. 1860                            #214
                        I taste a liquor never brewed,
                        From tankards scooped in pearl;
                        Not all the vats upon the Rhine
                        Yield such an alcohol!

                        Inebriate of air am I
                        And debauchee of dew,
                        Reeling through endless summer days,
                        From inns of molten blue.

                        When landlords turn the drunken bee
                        Out of the foxglove's door,
                        When butterflies renounce their drams
                        I shall but drink the more!

                        Till seraphs swing their snowy hats,
                        And Saints to windows run,
                        To see the little tippler
                        Leaning against the sun!