is my letter to the World
for voice, flute & piano (2001, rev. 2017)
"...almost like Georgia O'Keefe paintings set to music" (Midwest Record)
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
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
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
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,
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,
Washington Colleges in
Maryland, Dickinson College, and elsewhere. A recording with D'Anna Fortunata and "2" is scheduled for release in 2018.
and score sample below.
To order the
the CD: Amazon
is my letter to the World
poems and letters by Emily Dickinson
c. 1862 #441
is my letter to the World
never wrote to Me—
simple News that Nature told—
Message is commited
Hands I cannot see—
love of Her—Sweet—countrymen—
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."
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.
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...
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...
dear, you are one of the ones from whom I do not run away!
letter as a bee, goes laden.
c. 1865 #1035
Somebody you know
you were due—
Frogs got Home last Week—
settled, and at work—
Clover warm and thick—
get my Letter by
better, be with me—
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.
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
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...
such have been the friends with vanquished faces—sown
plant by plant the churchyard plats and occasioned angels.
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
c. 1864 #942
beneath whose chilly softness
that never lay
their first Repose this Winter
Wealthier the Neighbor
so new bestow
thine acclimated Creature
Thou, Austere Snow?
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
c. 1862 #1072
Wife—without the Sign!
Degree—conferred on me—
but the Crown—
sends us Women—
you—hold—Garnet to Garnet—
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
c. 1869 #1138
Spider sewed at Night
an Arc of White.
Ruff it was of Dame
Shroud of Gnome
c. 1860 #214
taste a liquor never brewed,
tankards scooped in pearl;
all the vats upon the Rhine
such an alcohol!
of air am I
debauchee of dew,
endless summer days,
inns of molten blue.
When landlords turn
the drunken bee
of the foxglove's door,
butterflies renounce their drams
shall but drink the more!
seraphs swing their snowy hats,
Saints to windows run,
see the little tippler
against the sun!