Hower-Glass

for 6-part choir and piano; 6′ (2009)
poetry: Philip Pain
(commissioned by Dr. Bruce Gladstone)

performed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Chorale and pianist Susan Gaeddert, dir. Bruce Gladstone:

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text:

Alas, what is the World? a Sea of Glass.
Alas, what’s Earth? it’s but an Hower-glass.
The Sea dissolves; the Glass is quickly run;
Behold, with speed man’s Life is quickly done.
Let me so swim in this Sea, that I may
With thee live happy in another day.

composer’s note:

Wooden_hourglass_3Philip Pain’s brief “Meditation #10” is one of those poems that I can’t remember how I found, but it stuck with me for many years before I finally found the opportunity to set it to music. It’s almost shocking how much intensity this “meditation” packs into its 6 lines, basically summing up all of life and death in a poem that takes about 20 seconds to read. Somehow its slight awkwardness (rhyming “glass” with “glass,” for instance) makes it feel even more effective to me, as if Philip Pain was channeling some deep power, and couldn’t be bothered to make it look “nicer.” My setting of this poem goes after those same life-and-death stakes, pairing huge loud chords with aleatoric textures that seethe with energy, and following all my hyper-Romantic impulses wherever they might lead. The choir and pianist singing this piece are basically required by these textures to commit in a big way, to sing with huge energy and high stakes, just as the poem suggests.

sample page:
Hower-Glass