Texts by Stephen Dunn. Used by permission of the author.
While considering a setting for Dunn’s “The house was quiet,” I explored the relationship of that poem to the one that Dunn references—a poem beginning with the same text by Wallace Stevens. Dunn’s represents the polar opposite of Stevens’s: the latter is concerned with a search for meaning and truth, evidenced by the “reader…[who] wanted much most to be/The scholar to whom his book is true,” while the former speaks of the destructive, external forces of the world that seek to prevent such a search. The texts of both poems reminded me of Schubert’s song “Der Dopplegänger” (text by Heinrich Heine), with its evocation of an eerie, pregnant stillness. I decided, as Dunn referenced Stevens, to reference Schubert’s music in the use of a nearly ubiquitous F-sharp pedal, and the pitches B/A-sharp/D/C-sharp, which sound as the first motive in the piano, and serve as a generator of melodic and harmonic ideas throughout. In the same way that Dunn reverses the Stevens, I attempted to turn the Schubert on its head, resulting in the eventual destruction of the music’s elements.
“Circular” represents a more positive, though no less difficult, life path. In its closing lines—“night rose up/earth to sky, pagan and unknowable”—I sense an affirmation of the beauty of our confused and often concealed world. As the poem speaks to the inability of dogmatic thinking to apprehend the world, and instead promotes a view which both recognizes and embraces life’s many gray areas, I attempted to write music which was at once both harmonically clear and yet somehow obscured, as a musical representation of the realistic thinker who aims to find his or her own meaning and truth in a cloudy and internally contradicted, and contradicting, world.