I. Ecce Puer
Syzygy, Two Songs for Two Groups, was commissioned by the Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress and dedicated to the memory of Serge and Natalie Koussevitzky. The setting of two poems by James Joyce was written in 1966 at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. The composer has supplied the following information:
The first is a short, rather cryptic, setting of a not dissimilar poem, Ecce Puer. The music has the perhaps-or-perhaps-not interesting feature of going exactly backwards from its midpoint (but in a reorchestrated form).
The second, a much longer, very elaborate setting of Night piece, is an attempt musically to suggest great distances and the space between: A sort of music of the spheres, an outer space where pale stars wave in gloom, ghost-fires faint illume, Seraphim awaken and a tolling starknell soars.
And what does the word "syzygy" mean? Through astronomy, zoology and mathematics, the word is used, and the common point of definition can perhaps be summed up as the strong union or opposition of elements that had hitherto been in no such juxtaposition. In my musical extension of the definition, I had in mind the varying contrasts made between the solo group (soprano, French horn and chimes) and the chamber orchestra.
A fanciful footnote to the word: It always looked to me like some other, uncreated word run backwards, mirror fashion—a device not infrequently used throughout the piece.
— David Del Tredici
This program note may be reproduced free of charge in concert programs with a credit to the composer.