Remembrances (for voice and piano)

When I was a student at the Eastman School of Music I liked to haunt used book stores. (I still find them interesting.) One of the very good ones in Rochester at that time was across the street from the main public library and had three (four?) floors of books. It's no longer in existence. Sometime before I went home to Meadville for Christmas break at the end of 1954 I bought at this store a very small book by Walter de la Mare called Ding Dong Bell. It consisted of several stories about people visiting cemeteries in England. It seemed to me that these were just excuses for containing his verse epitaphs. During Christmas break I selected nine of these and wrote in pencil, above the words, small indications of what I thought should be the rhythms to use for setting these to music. When I returned to Eastman I wrote the nine songs (surprisingly enough, the rhythms of the songs followed my pencil indications for the most part). Theodore Chanler had set a number of de la Mare's epitaphs and they were popular with singers at Eastman at that time. He called his collections (I believe there were two), Epitaphs. I felt I should find a different name for mine, hence Remembrances. None of the texts he used were in my set, although many years later I found a separate song of his that set the same words as one of my songs.

I composed Remembrances for a contralto, Mary Barbara Williamson, a friend of mine at Eastman. She was about 4' 11" tall and weighed around 100 pounds. In spite of this small stature she had a big and deep voice. She also had a large range, from the F below middle C to high C above the treble staff—which she showed off at her Town Hall recital a couple of years later. After she graduated she sang for several years with the Robert Shaw Chorale as well as for several churches in New York City. After that she married, lived in upstate New York, and taught at a college.

She sang the songs as part of a student composers forum at Eastman in spring 1955. The pianist was Richard Woitach, another friend of mine, who later became an assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera. I sometimes heard him on the opera broadcasts.

The recordings given here are from a recital of my works I presented in Ford Chapel, Allegheny College, on 18 July 1955, after I received my Bachelor of Music from Eastman. I thought I ought to show my parents what they had spent all that money for. Remembrances was the last work on the program. The pianist was another friend from Eastman, Helen V. Ininger, a fine pianist and organist, who taught at a college in Louisiana for several years, and for many more at James Madison University in Virginia. She and Willie came from Rochester to do this performance. Unhappily, both Willie and Helen died several years ago.

See the notes to Little Suite for more information about this recording.

Remembrances and Little Suite are my most-often performed pieces. (Surprisingly, Remembrances has been performed more often by sopranos, rather than contraltos or mezzo-sopranos.)

I fear the entire cycle as one file will take a longtime to download, especially if you don't have a fast DSL connection; but I give it as: Remembrances (complete). I also give each song separately. This way you'll be able to download each song separately or pick only the ones you may wish to hear without having to go through the rest. Song 7 is supposed to go into song 8 without a pause—which explains the rather indefinite ending for 7—and I have combined them into one track.

Song 6, "Here lies a strangely serious child. . .", has an instruction asking the performer to inform the audience that this one was composed "with apologies to Erik Satie". I added this because in this song I borrowed the kind of music he wrote for his Gymnopédies.

A further comment about Remembrances. When Willie and I were going over them shortly after they were composed I told her that at one spot it should sound like a thousand cellos. She wrote into her score: "gushy". I was rather shocked. That wasn't what I meant at all, but if it gave her the idea I guess it was okay.

Hearing these songs after all these years made me realize that they were some of my better pieces. I'm surprised they came so early in my career.

I hope that you will be able to understand the words. I can't give them; they're still under copyright. I secured the right to set the poems to music but not to publish them.

The nine songs are:

1. Finger on lip . . .
2. Stranger a light, I pray . . .
3. Here rests in peace . . .
4. A Shepherd . . .
5. Sleep sound . . .
6. Here lies a strangely serious child . . .
7. Here lies my husbands . . .
8. Blessed Mary . . .
9. Alas! Alack! . . .

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