World Premiere, 21 Years Later

My early music continues going through an odd renaissance lately. A week ago Sunday, the Bard flute ensemble – with no prodding from me – played my 1979 work Siren for five flutes, which hadn’t been heard publicly since the year it was written. And tonight, at Bard, student vocalist Liz Przybylski and accompanist Sharon Bjorndal are giving the world premiere of a song I wrote in 1985, “Mr. Eliot’s Sunday Morning Service,” on a poem by T.S. Eliot. I once wanted to write a whole T.S. Eliot song cycle, but I read that his estate disallows musical settings of his poems, so I assume that the song can’t be performed in any for-profit occasion, and I discontinued the cycle. Still, it’s the best, most ambitious song I ever wrote, and it’s been a blast to hear it coming from outside my head for the first time in 21 years. I guess the damn poem will go into public domain someday.

UPDATE: At the risk of representing the song badly, here’s the recording. Liz was having vocal problems that day and had been warned by her teacher not to sing, but she did anyway to avoid disappointing me. Given that, I thought it was a charming world premiere performance. And, since the poem’s in public domain after all (see comments), here it is, made-up words and all:

Polyphiloprogenitive

The sapient sutlers of the Lord

Drift across the window-panes.

In the beginning was the Word.

In the beginning was the Word.

Superfetation of to en,

And at the mensual turn of time

Produced enervate Origen.

A painter of the Umbrian school

Designed upon a gesso ground

The nimbus of the Baptized God.

The wilderness is cracked and browned

But through the water pale and thin

Still shine the unoffending feet

And there above the painter set

The Father and the Paraclete.

The sable presbyters approach

The avenue of penitence;

The young are red and pustular

Clutching piaculative pence.

Under the penitential gates

Sustained by staring Seraphim

Where the souls of the devout

Burn invisible and dim.

Along the garden-wall the bees

With hairy bellies pass between

The staminate and pistilate,

Blest office of the epicene.

Sweeney shifts from ham to ham

Stirring the water in his bath.

The masters of the subtle schools

Are controversial, polymath.

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Comments

  1. says

    Good for you, Kyle. I’ve found it of interest to “rediscover” some of my old compositions as well, a few of which I had actually forgot I ever wrote. Some I have no interest in ever having the music performed; others I’m very interested in, even though my music bears little relation to what I once wrote. I was listening to a 12-tone work I wrote in the early 80′s tonight, my last 12-tone work, actually. I still like it, and would love to have it played by a real pianist (although the MIDI realization isn’t half bad). But I’m glad my musical style has evolved—I’d hate to be writing the same stuff now.

  2. Jun-Dai says

    Kyle,
    I’m not entirely clear on copyright law, but I believe the Gutenberg Project only deals with stuff that are pretty clearly in the public domain. They have “Mr. Eliot’s Sunday Morning Service” is in a collection of poems (originally published in 1920). You can find that collection here: http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext98/tsepm11.txt, and you can find a selection of his other public-domain works here: http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/e#a599.
    Cornell’s copyright site claims that any works published before 1923 are public domain, which would include everything before Wasteland.
    Perhaps you should consider finishing the cycle someday?
    KG replies: Ah! You’re right about the 1923 cutoff. I didn’t realize the poem was that early. Thanks for the good news! I had also set “The Hippopotamus” to music, which is also included. Maybe I’ll finish that cycle after all.

  3. Henry Lowengard says

    but I read that his [T.S. Eliot's] estate disallows musical settings of his poems,… and then of course, there is CATS!
    KG replies: Yeah, well, I figure with enough money you can get the musical rights to Paris Hilton’s private diary.