To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence


for SATB choir, a cappella (2010)

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SKU: T82-C2010-1 Category:


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4 min.

4 November 2010
Plainfield Central High School, IL
ISU Madrigal Singers 2010 Fall Tour
Illinois State University Madrigal Singers
Karyl Carlson, director

James Elroy Flecker

Dr. Karyl Carlson and the Illinois State University Madrigal Singers, and the ISU College of Fine Arts

to Dr. Karyl Carlson and the Illinois State University Madrigal Singers in honor of the 55th Annual Madrigal Dinners and the 40th Anniversary of the founding of the Illinois State University College of Fine Arts



To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence was commissioned by Dr. Karyl Carlson, the Director of Choral Activities and of the Madrigal Singers at Illinois State University for the dual occasion of the 55th Annual ISU Madrigal Dinners and the 40th Anniversary of the founding of the ISU College of Fine Arts. The piece has been written over a matter of days from October 4-16, 2010, and will be premiered on December 8, 2010 on the ISU Madrigal Dinners.

As with much of my choral output, I took a largely intuitive approach to the compositional process, letting the poem guide me in my musical decisions. The piece alternates between two basic musical ideas: clean, clear triadic sections, and material based on diatonic clusters. I use the clusters to symbolize the idea of the poet speaking from “beyond the grave”; and the triadic sections occur during what I perceive to be the most passionate questions and statements of the poet “dead a thousand years”.

This juxtaposition of cluster and triad makes interesting use of my traditional approach to choral writing. I often add a non-chord tone to a triad or layer triads to create a sense of tension and release, which in this context sounds more as though the diffuseness of the “ethereal” cluster idea is encroaching on the clarity and passion of the pure triads, creating an almost ghostly effect for the voice of the long-dead poet. The poet seems to gain focus, then retreat back into an otherworldly haze.

The text for this piece was suggested by Karyl Carlson during my search for poetry, and I immediately felt a kinship to the poem. I often find myself drawn to poetry about poetry, music about music, books about books. In other words, I appreciate art that admits its faults, conceits, anxieties, stumbling blocks, etc. Because I know little of James Flecker’s body of work, I hesitate to label him as the poet speaking in the poem; however, his poem resonates with me the same way that similar poems-about-poetry by Billy Collins, Mark Doty, Mark Statman, etc resonate with me.

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