the dramatic language of Shakespeare’s 30th sonnet describes the loss of a friend and the painful sorrow and emptiness that accompanies the separation from a loved one who has died. But the poem closes with words of hope and encouragement; “but if the while I think on thee, dear friend, all losses are restor’d and sorrows end.”
The unusual combination of a high, lyric soprano and a deep, powerful tuba provided some technical challenges as well as some interesting musical opportunities. The piano acts as a mediator and support for both, providing the harmonic backdrop which gives the text and piece as a whole more dimension and color.
The harmonic language is intended to be slightly ambiguous, beginning with B-flats in the piano and tuba, the music seems to gradually find its center only to be unsettled by arpeggiated B-major triads in the upper register of the piano and then in the voice and tuba. The intent is to underline the bitter-sweet nature of the text which is at once sad and longing and then suddenly encouraged by happy memories. The middle of the song abandons the repeated pedal point and moves to a plaintive chord progression that underscores the heartache expressed by the voice; “then can I drown an eye (un-us’d to flow) for precious friends hid in death’s dateless night.” The B-flat pedal returns for the poignant ending but the ambiguity of the juxtaposed B-major arpeggios is replaced by the plaintive chord progression from before which builds to a registral and dynamic climax before fading to a peaceful and contented conclusion.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste;
Then can I drown an eye (unus’d to flow)
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan th’ expense of many a vanish’d sight;
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before:
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d, and sorrows end.
PREMIEREApril 26, 2013
Rock Hall, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA
Kelly Leibensperger (sop.), John Leibensperger (tuba), Paul S. Jones (pno.)