Two Madrigals on the Theme of Love

I. Love’s Philosophy

The fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the Ocean,
The winds of Heaven mix for ever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle.
Why not I with thine? —

See the mountains kiss high Heaven
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister-flower would be forgiven
If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth
And the moonbeams kiss the sea:
What are all these kissings worth
If thou kiss not me?

– Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792—1822)

I composed Love’s Philosophy during the artist residency of acclaimed soprano Lucy Shelton at the University of Oregon in Winter 2010. I am indebted to Ms. Shelton for our invaluable coaching sessions in which her keen insights into vocal writing and technique gave my piece added refinement and greater depth of expression. Regarding the text, I first read Love’s Philosophy as an amorous young teenager, and was drawn in immediately by the poignant yearning of a love unrequited. I recently rediscovered the poem while wandering the stacks of Knight library, and have found new meaning within it as a husband and father.

 

II. Love’s Question

Because love’s sigh is but a sigh,
Doth it the less love’s heart disclose?
Because the rose must fade and die,
Is it the less the lovely rose?
Because black night must shroud the day,
Shall the brave sun no more be gay?

Because chill autumn frights the birds,
Shall we distrust that spring will come?
Because sweet words are only words,
Shall love for evermore be dumb?
Because our bliss is fleeting bliss,
Shall we who love forbear to kiss?

Because those eyes of gentle mirth
Must some time cease my heart to thrill,
Because the sweetest voice on earth
Sooner or later must be still,
Because its idol is unsure,
Shall my strong love the less endure?

Ah no! let lovers breathe their sighs,
And roses bloom, and music sound,
And passion burn on lips and eyes,
And pleasure’s merry world go round:
Let golden sunshine flood the sky,
And let me love, or let me die!

– William Winter (1836—1917)

Love’s Question was composed for the acclaimed Convergence Vocal Ensemble on the occasion of their residency at the University of Oregon during the 2011 Music Today Festival. After much searching for a compelling text, I discovered these verses in an old anthology of American poetry. The poet’s audacious commitment to love freely and fearlessly in the face of death seemed to cry out from the dusty pages for music.

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