This is my letter to the World for mezzo or soprano, flute & piano

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)

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” was released in 2018.

To order the score: