“A Catskill Eagle”

I’ve finished a short song for baritone and piano, setting a Melville text. I’m calling the piece A Catskill Eagle, and the words are taken from chapter 96 of Moby-Dick:

And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.

I must say that while I find much of the chapter is obscure, this is a fine passage, speaking of idealism and the need to soar above sorrow. I can’t claim to have remembered this bit from sophomore American Literature class in high school; rather I came upon it in a handsomely illustrated children’s book that I shared with my children.

My setting is for baritone and piano. The piece is set for a premiere at SongFest on May 25, a program honoring SongFest composers-in-residence William Bolcom and John Harbison. This will take place at 7 pm in Zipper Hall at The Colburn School in Los Angeles. I will accompany baritone Kyle Ferrill; it’s a nice coincidence that Kyle tried out a song of mine several years ago when he was a student at SongFest, and now he is returning as faculty. I’m afraid I’ve given myself a lot of rapid scale passages in the piece, reflecting the soaring eagle – I better post this and get back to practicing!

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