Opus number: op. 86

Title: Fall: Autumnal Raptures, a song cycle for Tenor and Harp

Instrumentation: tenor and harp

Text: Elizabeth Kirschner

Texts: click here

The somber river flows under
the wooden bridge I stand upon—
the railing is stained with green-
gold mold, as is my heart. One
small opening can lift a lifetime
out of stillborn currents: see
how I tip up my face to gaze
at the forest canopy—pendants
of perfumed light fall upon me.
I scatter them like seed, like
fertile tears while the resounding
river continues its ancient conversation.
Right now it says: the autumnal
raptures have begun. Even loss
can be full of rapture: each dear being
is an ember we keep in our remembering
hearts while the shades carry
death in its ghostly, godly body as
we age. Autumnal, the homespun apples.
Autumnal, the gourds that vibrate
with a secret music. Autumnal,
my life—its waning is unwavering.
Still the spiced air is enough for
the last butterflies to get drunk
upon—it is that sweet with nectar.
I breathe in, I breathe out.
I twirl around, I kneel down, then
twirl around again, knowing
that prayer is the luxurious mood
love motions into us: wave
after wave, day after day.

The autumn rain is a beaded curtain
I walk through while plunging myself
into the decrescendo of this voluptuous
season. Love blossoms in that decrescendo—
it sings when we are deafened
by death and darkness. This music makes
the moments thirst for more: it has a sheen
like blue satin stained by the tears of a god
who is always drawing his last breath.
The deeply veined leaves are deepening
as are mine. Flow in me, I cry
to you, o my beloved. Even the trees
are tipsy with autumnal succor—
there’s solace in what dies, every
leaf, every seed, every last kiss
is rimmed with a hymn. Those
who suffer know all the words for grief:
it is the master of our making. My love,
carve in me a crèche, light the votive candles which, hard as you blow,
never will go out.

I listen to the moon’s sonata—
partake, it sings, of the buried riches.
Each of us is a resurrected song
answering and being answered at once.
Vintage, autumn is all about vintage—
my veins are full of murmuring wine.
My blessings intoxicate me as I
work deep in my scarlet root. I live
like the unearthly glow surrounding dying
flowers—my spiritual being deems
it so. Besotted with shameless light,
I touch the sky’s blue hem while
skirting death as though it were
a wildfire. Today I cast a shadow,
tomorrow I may not. If so, let
my music muse out of the cello’s
body long before the bow
touches its trembling strings.

I linger in loitering light, knowing
it is my life-blood. All around are the
voices that say: numb yourself to sleep,
but my awakening eyes, awakening heart
are ripe berries ready to burst
like bubbles of champagne. I
crush the dying leaves in my hands—
everything I cherish will perish.
How to go on? I do so by remembering
that each living thing is an exiled deity.
Therefore the wood thrushes offer their
mortal voices: their rhythm is my rhythm.
Soon they will flock to flee the lessening
days, lengthening nights while I
cup my hands to my lips and cry:
cull me into the falling grace notes,
pregnant pauses and the wind that stutters
as it says: be the least of all—shattered
feather, splintered ray—to be the most of all in the haunted church we call the world.

Exotic spices spice the air while I
learn to travel up to the lowest circle
of heaven which gazes upon these
undulating hills. If I could climb
higher I would. If I could touch
God, fingertip-to-fingertip, all
my shattered dreams would slowly
weave themselves into a gold-meshed
veil while I become sleep’s sweet
child during this, the waning
season. Beneath autumn’s dirge,
there is a love song I long to hear.
Every word hangs in the air like
a perfume I would douse upon
my bare throat. Kiss me there,
my love, and all my long-lost
losses will turn into the glossy
wheel that surrounds the sun.
How little we are. How big we are.
Lie with me and our deeply
carnal bodies will vibrate like
antique instruments that still
know how to play the ripe
notes, the resounding notes, the yes-
notes that will live beyond
our star-studded existence.

Date written: 2006

Length: nineteen minutes

Premiere performance: May 19, 2010, Thomas Gregg, tenor; Emily Laurance, harpist, Brown Hall at New England Conservatory

Subsequent performances: Thomas Gregg, tenor; Ina Zdorovetch, harpist. January 16, 2012, First Church Boston

Program Notes: These song cycles represent my four-part work called The Seasons, op. 101. Each of the four song cycles contains five songs and can be performed on its own. Fall: Autumnal Raptures, written in 2006 for tenor and harp, was especially conceived for Thomas Gregg and Emily Laurance. Winter: Exaltations of Snowy Stars is for mezzo-soprano and piano and was written for and first performed by D’Anna Fortunato and myself in January of 2008; here it is sung by Bethany Tammaro Condon. Spring: In a Garden of Dreamers, was written for Phillip Lima in the fall of 2009 and is scored for baritone and harpsichord. The final set Summer: The Fragrant Pathway of Eternity, is scored for soprano and guitar.
The most important element uniting these works is their common poet, Elizabeth Kirschner. Elizabeth’s poetry inspired each song in ways that I cannot consciously explain–nor would I wish to if I could. The poems are profoundly intimate, refreshingly free of pessimism, and vividly imagistic. Most importantly, perhaps, is that they clearly originate from a determining artistic personality that feels perfectly suited to my own.

Recording: Thomas Gregg and Emily Laurance, Larry Bell: In a Garden of Dreamers, Albany Records (Troy 1308/09)