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~ Silvie Jensen

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Price: $22.18

Product Notes

In the years 2005 through 2010, I set many of Samuel Menashe's poems to music, usually for solo voice accompanied by guitar or piano. Eventually, I accumulated almost forty Menashe songs. Samuel attended every performance of these songs, and was generous in his praise of them. He wrote: "Yarmolinsky takes note of my poems. His settings make each word a note." One of my prized souvenirs of our friendship is a printed card of his poem "Hallelujah" underneath which he wrote "For Ben Yarmolinsky who set my poems to music, lifted me to his level. De la musique avant toute chose." I cannot claim to have known Samuel as well as many of his other friends, but I do have a knowledge of his work unlike anyone else's. To set a poem to music for me is to find it's inherent tempo and rhythm, to uncover it's inner phraseology, to trace it's intrinsic rise and fall, and to clothe it in it's own implicit harmonies. It's almost as if I'm painting the poem's portrait. That is why I know the poems so well; I have examined them very closely. I thought I might take this opportunity to say a few words about how I went about setting Samuel's poems to music. Some choices seemed obvious from the outset: it seemed to me that the mostly Anglo-Saxon diction of the poems would best be served by a setting of one note per syllable; the simplicity of language seemed to call for a mostly diatonic harmonic vocabulary, and the occasional colloquialisms of the poems called for corresponding musical colloquialisms. All of that seemed obvious. The problem in setting Samuel's poems as songs is that they are so short. A song may be short and still be effective, but if a song is beautiful one wants it to last for a while. If the music is pleasing it seems a shame not to sustain it's mood. One could do as Samuel himself often did at his readings and simply repeat the poem several times. That is an acceptable procedure at a reading where the listeners must try to assimilate the whole poem through their ears at one go, but too much literal repetition in music can become annoying. One method I developed for prolonging Samuel's poems was to treat the whole poem as a musical theme, which I then subjected to musical techniques such as modulation, sequencing, fragmentation and recapitulation. The effect, I think, is that the listener feels that the repetition of the words is justified by the harmonic journey they take. When one hears "My angels are dark/ They are slaves in the market/ But I see how beautiful they are" it is hard to imagine how these eighteen words could be sustained for more than ten or fifteen seconds. In my setting, at the indicated tempo, the song lasts for more than a minute and a half and, if I may say so, is not boring at all, in spite of it's repetitions. Likewise, with the even shorter seven-word poem "A pot poured out fulfills it's spout." Here the song's repetitions of the text are couched in a call and response pattern, which sets up a pleasing symmetry. The predictability of this symmetry is mitigated by the asymmetry of the musical meter and the breaking of the pattern after the fourth repetition. The power or potency of the "pot poured out" is made manifest in a song that extracts every bit of music it can from one short but potent phrase, while sticking to familiar harmonies. Another technique of prolongation is the one that Samuel would use when reciting "Promised Land." The first time through he would read the whole poem from start to finish. The second time he would stop at the end of each line and go back to the beginning, adding another line at each repetition. I used this device not only in my setting of "Promised Land" but also with "Autumn" where I break the lines into fragments with which I gradually build the song: I walk outside/ the stone wall Looking into the park/ at night As armed trees frisk/ a windfall Down paths that lampposts light With several poems I simply repeat the words twice to the same melody, slightly varying the ending so that the first time it ends with an open cadence and the second time it ends with a perfect cadence-twice as much bang for the buck, so to speak. This occurs in "The Sprite of Delight," "I left my seed" and "A-round my neck," among others. Another useful technique was to reprise the first couple of lines of the poem at the end of the song, making what musicologists call a "rounded form." All of the above techniques notwithstanding (not to mention the addition of preludes, interludes and postludes), only a few of the Menashe songs exceed two minutes in length. This is perhaps fitting; they are, after all, very short poems.

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Release Date: 11/20/2013
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This product is a special order