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A Question of Light.

A QUESTION OF LIGHT (Gene Scheer). Six Songs for Baritone and Piano. Bent Pen Music, Inc., 2011. Tonal; [B[flat].sub.2]-[G[flat].sub.4]; Tess: M-H; regular meters with changes; varied tempos; V/mD-D, P/mE-D; 38 pages. Baritone.

1. "The Light of Coincidences" (Magritte). Bitonal; [C.sub.3]-[F.sub.4]; Tess: H; 2/4, 3/4, 6/8, 4/4, Quickly, with energy and light [crotchet] = ca. 112; V/mD, P/M-mD; 7 pages.

2. "Eccentric Flint." Eb centered; [C.sub.3]-[G[flat].sub.4]; Tess: H; 5/4, 4/4, 12/8, Vigorously [crotchet] = ca. 144; V/D, P/ mD-D; 8 pages.

3. "Yellow Roses in a Vase" (Caillebotte). Tonal; [C#.sub.3]-[E.sub.4]; Tess: M; 4/4, 6/4, 6/8, 3/4, Soft and reflective--not slow [crotchet] = ca. 62; V/mD, P/ mD; 6 pages.

4. "Place de la Concorde" (Mondrian). [E.sub.b] centered; [B[flat].sub.2]-[E.sub.4]; Tess: mH; 4/4, 3/4, Brightly [crotchet] = ca. 92; V/D, P/D; 6 pages.

5. "El Hombre" (Tamayo). Tonal; [D.sub.3] [E.sub.4]; Tess: mH-H; 3/4, 4/4, Heavy--with longing [crotchet] = ca. 69; V/mD, P/ mE; 6 pages.

6. "Watch" (Murphy). Tonal/bitonal; [D[flat].sub.3]-[E[flat].sub.4]; Tess: M; 2/2, 3/2, 3/4, 6/8, 9/8, Anxiously [micron] = 56; V/D, P/mD; 5 pages.

Commissioned by The Dallas Opera for baritone Nathan Gunn, the poems for these songs are based on art works in the permanent collection of The Dallas Museum of Art. As with the poems of Rise and Fall, these are responses to the art works, but more philosophic and less personal. A Question of Light provides a connection between the works that center on aural and visual art and those that center on light.

The question at the beginning of the first poem, "The Light of Coincidences"--a painting by the Belgian surrealist artist Rene Magritte--relates directly to the implied philosophic question of the poems that deal with light: "Who are you?" The painting shows a marble torso in the shadows and a lighted candle on a table to the side, which "touches everything it can find/ with a question of light. Who are you?" The musical setting, quick and energetic, creates the feeling of shimmering light with a repeated major third pattern in sixteenths in the right hand over melody in the left. The vocal line is generally long and sustained near the top of the staff with two slow melismas.

"Eccentric Flint" is an early Mayan work (600-900 C.E.) depicting a crocodile canoe with passengers. This depiction is one of the elements of the Mayan creation myth. This canoe is racing toward the underworld through the "waves of the Milky Way," carrying the First Father, who will become the Maize God, giving the people the precious gift of maize. The music is full of the motion of rowing the canoe, while the voice sings lines that paint the text, especially the idea of great distance.

"Yellow Roses in a Vase" (Caillebotte) shows a heavy vase of roses sitting on a table, the petals losing their color and falling around the vase. The poem is a story of a man who sits alone looking at the roses. It is five days after the funeral of his father, and he sits remembering--what? Suddenly he speaks aloud his secret: how afraid he was in the war when he had to surrender. He remembers all his comrades, the two hundred who surrendered and the fourteen who survived. The piano features an octave figure that reflects the passing of time and repeated falling half and whole step intervals that give the feeling of anguish. The voice sings the text simply in rhythms that match the word stress.

"Place de la Concorde" by Mondrian is a series of lines that form squares. "It's a map, a grid, where nothing's been plotted" but where there is great energy. Something is about to happen. The music is bright and energetic, full of light and movement.

"El Hombre" by Tamayo elicits a poem that is full of longing. The poet asks fundamental questions about love, and touch, and death. The piano texture is spare, and the vocal line has melismas at beginning and end, framing the straightforward lines in between.

"Watch" (Gerald Murphy) shows the insides, the working parts of a large watch. The poet has made up a story about time--bedtime for a small child. Just because the watch has stopped doesn't mean time has stopped. No one knows where time comes from or where it goes, but it is always there in the morning. The music paints the ticking of the watch at first and then becomes smooth and fluid for the passing of unrecorded time. The vocal line has some written out ornamentation. This cycle has much variety and would be an excellent choice for an advanced singer who has some interest in visual art.

ABBREVIATION KEY: Diff = difficulty level; V = voice; P = piano; E = easy; mE = moderately easy; M = medium; mD = moderately difficult; D = difficult; DD = very difficult; Tess = tessitura; LL = very low; L = low; mL = moderately low; M = medium; mH = moderately high; H = high; HH = very high; CR = covers range; CS = covers staff; X = no clear key center.
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Article Details
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Author:Carman, Judith
Publication:Journal of Singing
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2013
Words:896
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