In Praise of Songs that Die

Text by Nicholas Vachel Lindsay
Performed by Caroline Dunigan, soprano and Leah Kosch, piano

In Praise of Songs that Die was written at the Brevard Music Center in the summer of 2011. Each of the composers were assigned the same text, and had five days to set it to music. The wonderful oceanic imagery in this poem called for an undulating and repetitive motive in the accompaniment. Along with its watery themes, there is a strong element of nostalgia and temporality in this text. The narrator exalts the beauty of song while also mourning its brevity. I tried to match this mood with lush triadic and linear melodies that stayed grounded in minor and melancholy harmonies.

Ah, they are passing, passing by,
Wonderful songs, but born to die!
Cries from the infinite human seas,
Waves thrice-winged with harmonies.

Here I stand on a pier in the foam
Seeing the songs to the beach go home,
Dying in sand while the tide flows back,
As it flowed of old in its fated track.

Oh, hurrying tide that will not hear
Your own foam children dying near
Is there no refuge-house of song,
No home, no haven where songs belong?

Oh, precious hymns that come and go!
You perish, and I love you so!