For Lyric Fest’s opening concert of the 2016/17 season, titled I Hear America Singing, I was commissioned to set a poem of Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his 1841 first series of Essays. The poem sometimes carries the title of “The Informing Spirit.” I composed this song for mezzo-soprano Suzanne DuPlantis and pianist Laura Ward, the co-directors of Lyric Fest.
The premiere performances took place in Philadelphia: Saturday, October 8th, 2016 at 7:30 at Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church, and Sunday, October 9th, 2016 at 3:00 at The Academy of Vocal Arts. The song is a little over three minutes long.
There is no great and no small
To the Soul that maketh all:
And where it cometh, all things are;
And it cometh everywhere.
I am owner of the sphere,
Of the seven stars and the solar year,
Of Cæsar’s hand, and Plato’s brain,
Of Lord Christ’s heart, and Shakespeare’s strain.
I read somewhere that the elemental vibration of the universe is a B-flat. I have no idea what that means, or even how such a thing is calculated, but it’s something that gets your attention. These words connected me to that concept, so the song is in B-flat, but the small/great dichotomy suggested a twist. So instead of a big, fat B-flat major or a dark minor, I twisted it into one of my favorite modes, the lydian. I hope you like the entrance of the first E as much as I do. There is a simplistic, almost silly spinning of 8th-notes, which work into a two-part counterpoint of different small phrases. These I repeat at different scale degrees and in different orders, and that is a fair description of what goes on in the song. The words, as the words always will do, tell me where to stretch, to lay back, and to land.
I Hear America Singing featured an all-American program of Stephen Foster, George Crumb, Elliot Carter, Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Marc Blitzstein, and along with There Is No Great and No Small there was a commissioned new arrangement by John Conahan and a premiere finale by Daron Hagen.