song cycle for high voice and piano; 20′ (2006)
poetry: Wendell Berry
(commissioned by the Lotte Lehmann Foundation)
1. The Peace of Wild Things
2. Whatever Happens
3. A Song of Thanks
4. In This World
5. Hate Has No World
6. We Will Not Leave
7. At Last
When I received a commission from the Lotte Lehmann Foundation in 2005 to write a song cycle, I decided to make the new work a sort of mission statement, a declaration of both my personal philosophy and my musical passions. Immediately I thought to set the poetry of Wendell Berry, whose poems so wonderfully articulate the peace and beauty of life on this Earth, as well as the constant onslaught of threats to that life. The specific poems that I assembled for “The Space Between” are in some ways grandiose. They are concerned with the most large-scale and elevated of subjects: the meaning of love, the fate of the world, and the future of humanity. But at the same time, the poems approach those subjects with the simplest and lightest of touches. Berry employs direct, lovely words to express himself. When he chooses to depict the wonder of nature, he does not drift toward the metaphysical, but instead describes the slowness of cows, the blooming of clover, and the calm of sitting on a hilltop.
The songs of “The Space Between” echo this co-existence of the extravagant and the modest. They are hugely extroverted in their overall dramatic gestures, but simple and straightforward in their details. The totality of this cycle creates an almost operatic arch over its twenty minutes, but each song also works as an individual entity unto itself. What kind of personal mission statement does the cycle make, then? When reading Berry’s poetry, I find myself deeply moved by the combination of the monumentally large and the intimately small, the globally important concept and the locally inspiring detail. There is such overarching chaos and turmoil in the world, yet each individual person’s simple love can resist that tide. Wendell Berry’s poetry beautifully articulates that struggle; The Space Between seeks to animate his words with a rich musical life that both echoes and extends the sentiments behind them.