Composition Department

In the Country of Last Things

Indiana University New Music Ensemble

Available on Eugene O'Brien The Clouds of Magellan (from the IU Marketplace and online retailers)

I. Mareas 

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II. Tierra, devuelveme 

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The title (with thanks to Paul Auster) of these two Pablo Neruda settings implies a work solely about finality and endings. A clumsier but more accurate title might include the word first as well as last, since the initial poem, Mareas , is a metaphor for beginnings, while only the second, Tierra, devuélveme, concerns ultimate things. 

Although the poems were written decades apart (1964 and 1935, respectively) and span several radical changes in Neruda's style, to my mind they form a complementary pair. Both are celebratory, with Neruda praising the mortal error of birth and death, to borrow Dylan Thomas's words. And in each, as in many of his other poems, Neruda becomes an introspective observer of natural phenomena, passionately examining the living forms around him as if they alone could explain the meaning of his own existence. 

Both songs are sung in the original Spanish. The melodic writing in most of Mareas (Tides) is recitative- and even chant-like, with instrumental solos and interludes extending and developing the vocal line. The vocal fioriture and their enveloping harmonies grow more elaborate over the course of the song, much as the text itself suggests, like a gradual encrustation of coral. The setting ofTierra, devuélveme (Earth, give me back) is texturally dense, largely fast, metrically and rhythmically complex, and speeds the work to a quick, abrupt ending. 

The work as a whole is a memorial to personal first and last things. Mareas is dedicated to the memory of Robert Beadell, my first composition teacher and mentor; and Tierra, devuélveme to the memory of my aunt Margaret Stanley Hall, who gave me my first glimpse into the music of Stravinsky, Ives and Varèse when I was a child.

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