Songs of Up and Down
A song cycle with texts by Christina Rossetti, for two sopranos, tenor and piano.
Composer's program notes:
The genesis of Songs of Up and Down began shortly after the events of 9/11/2001 with the composition of the solo song “Tune me, O Lord”: the prayerful words of the poet Christina Rossetti providing a response to that day of violence and destruction. In the following weeks, other Rossetti texts caught my eye, providing images of hope and solace. I began to realize they were all tied together by images of up and down, of ascents and descents, physical and spiritual. An upcoming benefit concert by the voice faculty at Marylhurst University provided impetus to pull these texts together into a single work.
The resultant seven-piece cycle is constructed in arch-form that reflects a descent and ascent: 1. Quartet (4); 2. Duet (2); 3. Solo (1); 4. Trio (3); 5. Solo (1); 6. Duet (2); 7. Quartet (4). Anchoring the set in the middle is the trio “Give me the lowest place” for two sopranos and piano. Each of the two verses of Rossetti’s poem about sacrificial love is accompanied by slow descending chords in the piano, a conscious attempt to transform the horrific images of the collapse of the twin towers into a memorial for those who gave their lives that day so others might live. This middle piece is surrounded by two solos, both setting the text “Jesus alone”. These, in turn, are bounded by two duos for soprano and piano, “Tune me, O Lord” and “We know not when”. The first is a plea for harmony in time of dissonance; the second a statement of faith in time of uncertainty. The outside movements are quartets that are both built upon the concept of ascent. The first song of the set (“Oh what is earth?”) asks the uncomfortable question why we build houses and acquire wealth when death is our end. The final text (“Up-hill”) is in the form of a catechism, a series of questions (up) and answers (down) that challenge us to stay the course in the face of difficulties we encounter. The final two lines (“Will there be beds for me and all who seek? / Yea, beds for all who come.”) express a grace-filled inclusivity that is as timely today as they were when Rossetti penned them.