Quick Center for the Arts, Fairfield University, Fairfield, Connecticut
Kurt Ollmann, baritone / Scott Dunn, piano /
Lincoln Center, New York, New York
Kurt Ollmann, bar / Scott Dunn, pft /
When Jim Holmes died on January 9, 1999, the world instantly took a new meaning—or rather, a new lack of meaning. Nothing mattered now, neither life nor death. He was nearly sixteen years younger than I; we had lived together since 1967.
But the world goes on turning, and I’m supposed to be a composer. So I’ve sewn together a memorial for Jim, nineteen songs based on texts (prose and poetry) by fourteen authors. Three of the songs were written over a half-century ago: Mongolian Idiot in January 1947 when I was twenty-three; and, two years later the lines from Julien Green’s brief memoir, L’Autre Sommeil, translated as "Another Sleep." The others date mostly from the past few months in Nantucket and at Yaddo.
The overall theme stresses nostalgia and loss, but also frustration and anger, and finally renewal, albeit renewal through defiance of death. I’d like to think that the juxtaposition of unrelated writers contains a certain logic, a certain balance. For instance, the fierce cries of Cavafy and Pollitt are, as I hear them, two sides of one coin; likewise Shakespeare’s famous sonnet and Green’s wistful souvenirs; Ashbery and Sappho, Borges and Goodman. But composers can explain too much; their music should speak for itself.
Let me add only that the cycle is divided into three sections, less from a change of content, or to stress echoes among the words, than from a need to breathe. Otherwise the songs within each group should follow each other with hardly a pause. Their order is not writ in stone, nor will it be until after the first performances. Nor have I objections to this or that song being extracted and sung alone.
Ned Rorem, August 2000
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer