Private Menagerie (2002)

Performance:  Carol Lundergan, soprano; Ed Lundergan, tenor; Susan Seligman, cello; James Fitzwilliam, piano

The Tyger  (by William Blake (1757-1827))

 TheTyger.mp3  2:29

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?                   
What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

And what shoulder, and what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart,
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? and what dread feet?
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

The Panther
(by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1927))

ThePanther.mp3  3:20

His tired gaze- from passing endless bars-
has turned into a vacant stare which nothing holds.
To him there seems to be a thousand bars,
and out beyond those bars exists no world.

His supple gait, the smoothness of long strides
that gently turn in ever smaller circles
perform a dance of strength, centered deep within
a will, stunned, but untamed, indomitable.

But sometimes the curtains of his eyelids part,
the pupils of his eyes dilate as images
of past encounters enter while through his limbs
a tension strains in silence
only to cease to be, to die within his heart.

Translation of text © 1983, 1985 from Rainer Marie Rilke: Selected Poems, translated by Albert Ernest Flemming.  Reproduced by permission of Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

The Moth’s Serenade
(by Paul Fleischman (b. 1953))

TheMothsSerenade.mp3  1:26

Porch                                                    Porch

light,                                                     light,

hear my plight!                                      hear my plight!

I drink your light

like nectar                                             like nectar

                                                            Dream of you

by day                                                  by day

Gaze in your eyes

all  night                                                all night

Porch light!                                            Porch light!

                                                            Bright paradise!

I am                                                     I am

your seeking

circling                                                  seeking

sighing                                                  circling

lovesick                                                 sighing


You are                                                 You are           

                                                            my soul’s

my soul’s                                              desire

desire                                                   my prize

my prize                                               my eye’s


Porch light!                                            Porch light!

My shining star!

                                                            My compass needle’s North!

“Keep back,” they say                            “Keep back,” they say

I can’t!

“Don’t touch,” they say                           “Don’t touch,” they say                        

                                                            I must!

Porch light!                                            Porch light!

Let’s clasp                                             Let’s kiss

Let’s kiss                                               Let’s clasp

Let’s marry for a trice!                            Let’s marry for a trice!

Porch light!                                            Porch light!

Let’s meet                                             Let’s merge

Let’s merge                                           Let’s meet

Let’s live for love!

For light!                                                For light!

(Used by permission of the author)

The three songs in “Private Menagerie” are scored for two voices, cello and piano.  I chose to write for two voices because I enjoy the complexities of harmony and counterpoint that are possible with multiple voices.  The cello adds a rich layer of sonority that is not possible with just voice and piano. The three songs have no particular connection to one another, other than their scoring and the fact that they are all about animals.

In “The Tyger,” I have attempted to represent the awe and ambivalence with which Blake views the coexistence of innocence and experience in the world.  The pizzicato cello summons the heart of the dread beast; tentatively, the voices join.  With the piano’s entry, the piece grows in sonority. There are actually two climaxes.  In the first, the singers, supported by a soaring cello line, wonder “What dread grasp dare its deadly terrors clasp?”  The second climax, the emotional pivot of the song, arrives with the answer to the question, “Did he who make the lamb make thee?”: the key changes, suddenly and without warning. The question is repeated, as in the beginning: what kind of being could frame this “fearful symmetry”? The pizzicato cello, now playing double stops, once again beats as a heart.  The piano calls softly... tyger...tyger...

“Panther” is about another sort of animal; this is a captive, whose life is spent in pacing a small cage. There is no fearful symmetry here, only boredom and broken hopes. An ostinato cello is joined by a nervously pacing piano. Except for the center section, when the cello abandons the ostinato to join the voices in celebrating the supple movements of the panther, the instruments play essentially the same line throughout, outlining and embellishing the changing chords. The music fades quietly, along with any hope that might linger in the panther’s heart.

“The Moth’s Serenade” is from Paul Fleischman’s excellent book, Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices.  Marketed as a children’s book (but widely appreciated by adults) these poems, all about insects, are written to be read by two people at once, sometimes in unison, sometimes by one voice alone, sometimes with two different lines read simultaneously. “The Moth’s Serenade” portrays the ecstasy of a moth’s fatal attraction to a porch light.  With a few exceptions I have remained true to the original shape of the poem, as to solos and simultaneous exclamations. The cello and piano flit about nervously as the voices describe the moth’s devotion to the light. As the moth’s attraction grows in intensity, so does the music. The ecstatic declarations reach an emotional climax sure to end in tragedy.

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