• 3perc
  • Mezzo Soprano [=Soprano]
  • 12 min

Programme Note

Composer’s Note:

Composing for voice is my first passion in life, and as a result the largest part of my catalogue is music for voice: solo voice, small groups of voices, small or large choirs, with and without orchestral or other kinds of accompaniments. For me, the human voice — possibly the most subtle, complex, and fragile yet forceful, flexible, seductive, and persuasive carrier of musical ideas and meanings — has always been an inspiration for and influence upon my entire musical thinking. I sing when I compose. I adore reading poems, and cherish the opportunity to set them to music; and I believe that text plus music (1+1) must equal at least 24. If 1+1=2, there is no need, for me, to set the text to music. Emily Dickinson's poems are intensely personal, intellectual, introspective, and offer a meditation on life, death, and poetic creation; her poems share a close observation of nature as well as consideration of religious and philosophical issues.

If there's one thing Emily Dickinson knew for sure, it was what a good poem should do. "If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry," she wrote. Dickinson was attempting to describe for her sister-in-law the power of poetry to envelop and even to devastate the reader (or listener). Her physical description was an effort to convey that successful poems are not weakling, tiny delightful breezes or passages or bookish exercises; they are chillingly annihilating.

Poems have the power to alter us irrevocably.

Poetry, the Belle of Amherst knew, is that form of communication in which words are never simple equivalents of experience or perception. The words themselves, the words as words, have a life as sounds, as images, as the means for generating a series of associations, and as such are very inspiring to me. As a composer, I am interested in the simultaneous life of language as symbol and as non-referential but it is poets who most seem to insist on seeing and hearing words as if each is a multi-faceted gem that has, in the hands of the skillful artist, the capacity to resonate and to go in multiple directions at once.

Sun Songs was commissioned by DePauw University School of Music. Amy Barber and her colleagues presented the world premiere performance on 26 February, 2006. The three songs, all setting poems about the sun of Emily Dickinson, are colorful, varied, and last about 10 minutes.

— Augusta Read Thomas