WINTER SONGS (Upcoming)

for bass-baritone and Piano

Written: Upcoming
Duration: 20'
Instrumentation: bass-baritone and piano. Note: version for bass-baritone and chamber ensemble also available.
Commissioned by David Neal.
Upcoming World PremiereDavid Neal, Bass-Baritone, Grace & Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, Cortland, NY, October 16, 2016.
PublisherBill Holab Music

Sheet music available November 1, 2016.

PROGRAM NOTE

Short Version (For Programs)

The idea for Winter Songs occurred to me after I wrote a short song based on the sixth poem from Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens for a group composition project at Cornell University. The original idea was to have each student in the department set a different poem in this work, culminating in an evening long song cycle. There are many compelling settings ofThirteen Ways, so instead of trying to contribute yet another, I decided to compose a song cycle using winter-themed poems by a variety of poets. David Neal, the bass-baritone who sang my initial song, Icicles Filled the Long Window, liked the idea so much that he asked me for a complete cycle. I spent months collecting and reading as many poems about winter as I could find. Winter-themed poems seem to fall into two categories: those that are playful and fun, and those that are quite serious. I chose to set six serious poems, including another one by Wallace Stevens, and one each by Robert Creeley, Richard Wilbur, A.R. Ammons and Billy Collins.

Winter Songs was commissioned by David Neal and The Arts at Grace through the New York State Music Fund and was premiered by David Neal and the Society for New Music in April 2008.

Long Version

The idea for Winter Songs occurred to me after I wrote a short song based on the sixth poem from Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens for a group composition project initiated by Steven Stucky at Cornell University. The original idea was to have each student in the department set a different poem in this work, culminating in an evening long song cycle. There are many compelling settings of Thirteen Ways, so instead of trying to contribute yet another, I decided to compose a song cycle using winter-themed poems by a variety of poets. David Neal, the bass-baritone who sang my initial song, Icicles Filled the Long Window, liked the idea so much that he asked me for a complete cycle. I spent months collecting and reading as many poems about winter as I could find. Winter-themed poems seem to fall into two distinct categories: those that are playful and fun, and those that are quite serious. I chose to set six serious poems, including another one by Wallace Stevens, and one each by Robert Creeley, Richard Wilbur, A. R. Ammons and Billy Collins.

As I studied the poems, I tried finding ways of connecting them, either by subject or theme—all poems about snow and ice or death and loss, for example—or by something frivolous, such as poets who wrote about winter with the first name of Robert: Frost, Pack, Bly, Creeley and Hayden. I also considered interspersing funny poems in-between serious ones, but that seemed to break the flow.Ultimately, I decided to set poems by contemporary poets that resonated most strongly with me; emotional quality and listener comprehension—whether a poem would be understood when set to music—became more important to be than subject matter. By coincidence, these poems are all by poets having ties to the American Northeast. Perhaps my growing up in snowy Buffalo, NY made me feel these particular poems more than the others I read.

The poems are also meaningful to me on a personal level. The first one, Icicles Filled the Long Window by Wallace Stevens, is the poem that initiated this commission. The second, Dark Day, Warm and Windy by A. R. Ammons, reminds me of the walks I took while a doctoral student at Cornell. Although I never met Ammons while at Cornell, I like to think that we shared the experience of taking similar walks in and around Ithaca. I included the third poem, The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens, because I feel that since the first poem is quite short and Stevens wrote so many wonderful poems about winter, it seemed right to include another. The fourth poem, Boy at The Window by Richard Wilbur, is dedicated to my son Dylan who was two years old when I wrote this movement. It seems to perfectly capture the all-encompassing fear of pain and loss that every child goes through at a young age. (The entire cycle is also split in half with two poems about "snow men.") The fifth poem, Old Story by Robert Creeley, is special to me because I grew up in Buffalo, NY, and Creeley taught for a while at the State University of New York at Buffalo, the same school where my father taught for over thirty years. The last poem, Neither Snow by Billy Collins, was originally published in The Cortland Review, an online literary audio magazine located in the same town where Winter Songs was premiered. Collins describes a cab ride down the Avenue of the Americas during a snowstorm. I have lived in New York City for many years, and I know first-hand what that feels like. Since this poem not only has ties to Cortland and New York, and since it is also the fastest movement, and since Billy Collins himself gave me permission to set it, it seemed like a good idea to end with this one.

Winter Songs was commissioned by David Neal and The Arts at Grace through the New York State Music Fund.

Subtle and intricate musical settings that truly define the words “art songs”... intricate, idiomatic to the text, very colorful, and brilliantly wedded to the subtle nuances of vocal expression. [Winter Songs] remains my favorite, as few cycles I have heard describe the season in all its vicissitudes as deeply—and that includes Winterreise, of which this piece is a perfect antidote. A fine release (4 Stars).
— Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition
As the season for Schubert’s “Winterreise” approaches, Robert Paterson offers a new alternative... Paterson’s text painting and orchestration vibrantly convey scenes of wind, ice, fear and sorrow. The American Modern Ensemble and bass-baritone David Neal do justice to the composer’s thoughtful work.
— New Jersey Star Ledger
finely crafted... an artful setting of six selected poems inspired by the coldest season...
— Broadway World
strong vocal lines… absolutely lovely... the lyrical, clear vocal line stands out so that one can hear and understand the text, while the musical settings vary, like different forms of poetry.
— SoundWordsSight Arts Magazine
Paterson focuses on the serious nature of the cold months, such as “Boy At The Window”... an ominous number featuring swirling flutes and violin. The orchestral accompaniment on this part feels like a flurry, coming in waves and rampant trills. “Icicles filled the long window” is a meditative and mesmerizing introduction, opening with a tinny bell and water falling into a woodwind-heavy section that graces these words, “The shadow of the blackbird/ crossed it, to and fro./ The mood traced in the shadow/ an indecipherable cause.” Just as there are several ways to describe a blackbird, Paterson explores this theme in many ways to touch at the desperation and feeling of loneliness that winter can bring.
— Buffalblog