Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Songs Of Innocence And Experience

William Bolcom(1938- ), American composer set the entire cycle of William Blake's "Songs Of Innocence And OF Experience" to music, in a choral form, in the 1970s. 2004 marked the twentieth anniversary of this opus, and a masterful edition was released last year, featuring the University Of Michigan orchestra and choirs, besides guest singers. Mr Bolsom has taught at the University since 1973, and the work saw it's United States premiere in 1984 at Ann Arbor.

The poems express the Blake world-vision of contraries - "Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence." This also describes the musical work by Mr Bolsom. In the liner notes, he says,
"The apparent disharmony of each clash and juxtaposition eventually produces a deeper and more unusual harmony, once the whole cycle is absorbed. All I did was to use the same stylistic point of departure as Blake in my musical settings.
...
My fascination with the synthesis of the most unlikely stylistic elements dates from my knowledge and application of Blake's principle of contraries, and I have spent most of my artistic life in pursuit of this higher synthesis. In this work, through my settings, I have tried my best to make everything clear; I have used music in the same way Blake used line and colour, in order to illuminate the poems."


William Blake's poetry might seem archaic, racist and highflown in today's world, but he depicted an era of rapid and violent social change, not unlike our own. The challenges of the industrial revolution, it's effects on society, spiritual understanding in the Age of Machines, and the beauty of human life are all expounded in elegant poems.

My personal favorite as a child, done often in school competitions was the classic "The Tyger", as it is spelled herein.

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?


With experience, not enough, one has come to appreciate pieces like "London", "The Human Abstract" and "A Divine Image", done excellently on this CD, in a modern note.

Cruelty has a Human Heart,
And Jealousy a Human Face;
Terror the Human Form Divine,
And Secrecy the Human Dress.

The Human Dress is forged Iron,
The Human Form a fiery Forge,
The Human Face a Furnance seal'd,
The Human Heart a Hungry Gorge


Musically, the compositions range from using sopranos like Christine Brewer and Measha Brueggergosman to baritones like Nmon Ford. Tommy Morgan appears with his lucid harmonica playing, and Leonard Slatkin conducts with delicacy at times, gusto and verve at others. The CD is on the Naxos label.




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Time traveler, world traveler, book reader