Vincent Millay Cycle (2010) for soprano and piano. Studio Recording @ CUNY: Mary Hubbell

Thomas Oboe Lee

About this work:

Mary Hubbell, soprano

Brent Funderburk, piano

Program note:

Mary Hubbell was a student of mine at Boston College, a graduate of 1997. Mary had an active performing career at BC in theater and in music. After graduation she worked in the administrative offices of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Eventually she decided to take the next step in her singing career: she applied to graduate school. After completing her Master’s at University of California at Santa Barbara, she went to Holland to study at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague. She did a lot of contemporary music in the Netherlands, including opportunities to work with Louis Andriessen and Steve Reich. After four years in Europe she came back to the States, returning to her hometown in Charleston, SC. She had an active studio teaching voice and was quite content. I told her she should not get too settled into her comfortable Southern life, that she should move to New York City. She did and is now finishing her DMA in vocal performance at CUNY Graduate Center.

When she told me she was planning a recital for her doctorate degree, I offered to write her a song cycle. Mary was thrilled. We had email exchanges about what text or poems to choose for the cycle. After dropping a few names, we decided on Edna St. Vincent Millay. For my research I read two biographies of the poet, one by Nancy Milford and the other by Daniel Epstein. The readings helped me decide on the six poems I chose from the mind-boggling amount of material Miss Millay had amassed from childhood until her death in 1950.

Six poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

1. Song of the Nations

Out of

Night and alarm

Out of

Darkness and dread,

Out of old hate,

Grudge and distrust,

Sin and remorse,

Passion and blindness;

Shall come

Dawn and the birds,

Shall come

Slacking of greed,

Snapping of fear-------

Love shall fold warm like a cloak

Round the shuddering earth

Till the sound of its woe cease.


Terrible dreams,


crying in sleep,

Grief beyond thought,

Twisting of hands,

Tears from shut lids

Wetting the pillow;

Shall come

Sun on the wall,

Shall come sounds from the street,

Children at play---

Bubbles too big blown, and dreams

Filled too heavy with horror

Will burst and in mist fall.

Sing then,

You who were dumb,

Shout then

Into the dark;

Are we not one?

Are not our hearts

Hot from one fire,

And in one mold cast?

Out of

Night and alarm,

Out of

Terrible dreams,

Reach me your hand,

This is the meaning of all that we

Suffered in sleep, ---the white peace

Of the waking.


2. Daphne

Why do you follow me?

Any moment I can be

Nothing but a laurel-tree.

Any moment of the chase

I can leave you in my place

A pink bough for your embrace.

Yet if over hill and hollow

Still it is your will to follow,

I am off; ---to heel, Apollo!


3. Never May the Fruit Be Plucked

Never, never may the fruit be plucked from the bough

And gathered into barrels.

He that would eat of love must eat where it hangs.

Though the branches bend like reeds,

Though the ripe fruit splash in the grass or wrinkle on the tree,

He that would eat of love may bear away from him

Only what his belly can hold,

Nothing in the apron,

Nothing in the pockets.

Never, never may the fruit be gathered from the bough

And harvested in barrels.

The winter of love is the cellar of empty bins,

In an orchard soft with rot.


4. Hyacinth

I am in love with him to whom the hyacinth is dearer

Than I shall ever be dear.

On nights when the field-mice are abroad he cannot sleep;

He hears their narrow teeth at the bulbs of his hyacinths,

But the gnawing at my heart he does not hear.


5. Justice Denied in Massachusetts

Let us abandon then our gardens and go home

And sit in the sitting-room.

Shall the larkspur blossom or the corn grow under this cloud?

Sour to the fruitful seed

Is the cold earth under this cloud,

Fostering quack and weed, we have marched upon but cannot conquer;

We have bent the blades of our hoes against the stalks of them.

Let us go home, and sit in the sitting-room.

Not in our day

Shall the cloud go over and the sun rise as before,

Beneficent upon us

Out of the glittering bay,

And the warm winds be blown inward from the sea

Moving the blades of corn

With a peaceful sound.

Forlorn, forlorn,

Stands the blue hay-rack by the empty mow.

And the petals drop to the ground,

Leaving the tree unfruited.

The sun that warmed our stooping backs and withered the weed uprooted---

We shall not feel it again.

We shall die in darkness, and be buried in the rain.

What from the splendid dead

We have inherited---

Furrows sweet to the grain, and the weed subdued---

See now the slug and the mildew plunder.

Evil does overwhelm

The larkspur and the corn;

We have seen them go under.

Let us sit here, sit still,

Here in the sitting-room until we die;

At the step of Death on the walk, rise and go;

Leaving to our children’s children this beautiful doorway,

And this elm,

And a blighted earth to till

With a broken hoe.


6. This Dusky Faith

Why, then, weep not,

Since naught’s to weep.

Too wild, too hot

For a dead thing,

Altered and cold,

Are these long tears:


To the sovereign force

Of the pulling past

What you cannot hold

Is reason’s course.

Wherefore, sleep.

Or sleep to the rocking

Rather, of this:

The silver knocking

Of the moon’s knuckles

At the door of the night;

Death here becomes

Being, nor truckles

To the sun, assumes

Light as its light.

So, too, this dusky faith

In Man, transcends its death,

Shines out, gains emphasis;

Shorn of the tangled past,

Shows its fine skull at last,

Cold, lovely satellite. 

Year composed: 2010
Duration: 00:20:00
Ensemble type: Unknown:unknown 1
Instrumentation: 1 Piano, 1 Soprano

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