Four Songs from the Pessimist’s Diary (2021) for High Voice and Piano [8'30'']
Philipp Mainländer (1841-1876) is an obscure pessimist philosopher who, as a young man, kept a diary of poems. I’ve chosen four shorter entries from his 1858-1863 volume to translate and set to music. In the first song, the speaker is struggling to express an intense feeling of joy—if the speaker were gifted with music, perhaps they would be able to express it in music. So unspeakable is this emotion that they are “left only with tears” and sink into melancholy. The second song is a single image: the speaker’s soul hovers over the “black flower of death” similarly to how a bee hovers over spring flowers, illustrated by repeated hovering triplets in the accompaniment.
The next song is framed as a lullaby with gently-rocking chords, with the text comparing the many scents of a Persian garden to the many thoughts that go into writing a poem or song. The final song is a dirge-like octatonic melody that is accompanied at the fifth and octave in the piano which gradually builds up into a more melodic strain which again builds up into a dissonant major chord and a defiant statement: “I defy you, O pain! But pain will say: I feel it.”
This piece has not yet been recorded or performed. Lyrics are in English, translated by the composer from the original German by Philipp Mainländer. This piece exists in versions for Soprano and Tenor.
Miłość i Melancholia: Cykl Pieśni na głos i fortepian (2018) [26']
Love and Melancholy: A song cycle for voice and piano
Miłość i Melancholia is a song cycle in six movements for baritone, contralto, or mezzo-soprano on an original text. It follows the narrator from the darkest abyss of depression to convalescence through the narrator’s love for another.
In the first song, “Liminalność” (Liminality), describes the narrator’s feelings as he has stepped back from the brink of (or survived) a suicide attempt; the narrator is profoundly ambivalent towards being alive. In the second song, “Do torby” (Into a Bag), the narrator uses an inane metaphor to describe the compartmentalization he feels necessary for him to function. He asks, “If you knew this chaos, would you say, ‘I love you?’” This transitions immediately into the third song, “Nie zasługuję” (I Don’t Deserve), in which the narrator, out of loving concern, assures his lover that the answer should be no.
In the fourth song, “Gdy umiera się mój obłęd” (When My Madness Dies), the narrator vividly describes how he can’t separate his own personality from his mental illness. The final strophe ends as if the narrator is once again descending into a suicidal spiral. In the final song, “Ta chmura” (This Cloud), the narrator thrice entreats his lover for help, each time more emphatic than the last. In recalling his previous ambivalence, the narrator stops fixating on his lover’s love for him and confesses his own love:
When my sadness dies
When my madness dies
Will you say, “I love you?”
Because I will say, “I love you.”
This piece has not yet been recorded or performed. Currently exists in Polish and English versions by the composer. This piece exists in versions for Contralto and Baritone.
Four Nonsense Songs (2013) [3']
A bizarre and very brief cycle of three twelve-tone serial songs for voice and viola, with a short, nonsensical skit after each song.
Two movements were premiered by Julius Miller III, Voice, and Julia Beebe, Viola on April 27, 2015 at the Joshi Performance Hall at Indiana University South Bend. Text is in English by the composer.
La Belle Dame sans Merci (2013) [15']
A one-movement vocal fantasy for high voice and piano adapted from La Belle Dame sans Merci by John Keats.
Premiered at a private performance by Lauren Desrosiers, Soprano and Geoffrey Duce, Piano. This piece exists in versions for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, and Baritone. Text is in English by John Keats.