Opus number: 42

Title: A Cry Against the Twilight (text by Wallace Stevens)

Instrumentation: five solo voices SSATB

Date written: 1996, Boston

Length: fifteen minutes

Commissioner and dedicatee: Modus Novus, San Francisco

Premiere performance: Modus Novus, San Francisco, California, St. Gregory’s Church, May 19, 1996; Cheryl Keller, soprano; Marcia Gronewold, mezzo soprano; Lynne Morrow, mezzo soprano; Sanford Dole, tenor; and John Corry, bass-baritone.

Program notes:  Following performances in the fall of 1995 of the madrigal Domination of Black, the members of Modus Novus in San Francisco asked Bell to write a set of companion pieces. The result is this group of eight songs on poems of Wallace Stevens that deal with light and dark, death and life. The works were arranged for brass quintet. See op. 48.

1. Valley Candle
My candle burned alone in an immense valley.
Beams of the huge night converged upon it,
Until the wind blew.
Then beams of the huge night
Converged upon its image,
Until the wind blew.

2. Tattoo
The light is like a spider.
It crowds over the water.
It crawls over the edges of the snow.
It crawls under your eyelids
And spreads its webs there–
Its two webs.

The webs of your eyes
Are fastened
To the flesh and bones of you
As to rafters or grass.
There are filaments of your eyes
On the surface of the water
And in the edges of the snow.

3. Tea

When the elephants-ear in the park
Shriveled in frost,
And the leaves on the paths
Ran like rats,
Your lamp-light fell
On shining pillows,
Of sea-shades and sky-shades,
Like umbrellas in Java.

4. Infanta Marina
Her terrace was the sand
And the palms and the twilight.
She made of the motions of her wrist
The grandiose gestures
Of her thought.
The rumpling of the plumes
Of this creature of the evening
Came to be sleights of sails
Over the sea.
And thus she roamed
In the roamings of her fan,
Partaking of the sea,
And of the evening
As they flowed around
And uttered their subsiding sound.

5. Domination of Black

At night, by the fire,
The colors of the bushes
And of the fallen leaves,
Repeating themselves,
Turned in the room,
Like the leaves themselves
Turning n the wind
Yes: but the color of the heavy hemlocks
Came striding
And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.

The colors of their tails
Were like the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind,
In the twilight wind
They swept over the room,
Just as they flew from the boughs of the
Down to the ground.

I heard them cry–the peacocks.
Was it a cry against the twlight
Or against the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind,
Turned in the fire,
Turning as the tails fo the peacocks
Turned in the loud fire,
Loud as the hemlocks
Full of the cry of the peacocks?
Or was it a cry against the hemlocks?

Out of the window,
I saw how the planets gathered
Like the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind.
I saw how the night came,
Came striding like the color of the heavy
I felt afraid.
And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.

6. The Death of a Soldier

Life contracts and death is expected,
As in a season of autumn.
The soldier falls.
He does ot become a three-days personage,
Imposing his spearation,
Calling for pomp.
Death is absolute and without memorial,
As in a season of autumn,
When the wind stops,
When the wind stops and,
over the heavens,
The closes go, nevertheless
In their direction.

7. Lunar Paraphrase

The moon is the mother of pathos and pity.
When, at the wearier end of November,
Her old light moves along the branches,
Feebly, slowly, depending upon them;
When the body of Jesus hangs in a pallor
Humanly near, and the figure of Mary,
Touched on by hoar-frost,
shrinks in a shelter
Made by the leaves, that have rotted
and fallen’
When over the houses, a golden illusion
Brings back an earlier season of quiet
And quieting dreams in the sleepers
in darkness–
The mother is the mother of pathos
and pity.

8. Sonatina to Hans Christian

If any duck in any brook,
Fluttering the water
For your crumb,
Seemed the helpless daughter
Of a mother
Regretful that she bore her;
Or of another,
Barren and longing for her;
What of the dove,
Or thrush or any singing mysteries?
What of the trees
And intonations of the trees?
What of the night
That lights and dims the stars?
Do you know, Hans Christian,
Now that you see the night?