Poems of Stephen Berg

Network for New Music commissioned these songs in 2000, and the premiere was 26 Jan 2001 with Martha Elliot, soprano, Arne Running, clarinet, and Linda Reichert, piano. Latonia Moore performed them the following year at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, with Joseph Smith, clarinet, and Richard Raub, piano.

The rhythm of the words of “Ibycus” were the starting-point for my setting of these two poems. The rhythm, and the self-styled fragmentary nature of the phrasing, suggested to me a setting that would sound improvisatory. Normally I don’t repeat text when setting it to music, but here I felt that it would be in keeping with the character of the poem. Once the beginnings of the vocal line occurred to me, I realized that what I was hearing with it was a progression of 13th chords: a jazz progression, really. I decided to stay with that, and I chose the clarinet and piano, together with the voice, as an appropriate instrumentation.

If I had composed “Always” first it would be a different song than it is. As it stands, though, “Ibycus” came first, and the style of that informed the composing of “Always.” It became a slow, inward ballad, instead of an expressionistic cry from the heart, which is what I was hearing when I first read the poem. The weight of the setting, then, shifted from the last line to the seventh, or, from “outloud” to “the simple phrase.”

1. Ibycus: Fragments 2, 3, 4 (B.C. 536), excerpt

2. Always, excerpt

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