“For This Is Love”, a choral piece for SATB chorus & piano, was the result of a 2016 commission from Sam Gladding as a surprise gift to his wife, Claire, on the occasion of their 30th wedding anniversary, May 24, 2016. The parents of three boys, both Sam and Claire Gladding are educators by profession, she being a middle school librarian and he a Professor of Counseling in the Department of Counseling at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Although Sam is a native southerner, Claire was born and raised in New England. That connection gave added meaning to the choice of poetry for this anniversary commission by America’s celebrated New England poet, Robert Frost (1874-1963).
The recipient of four Pulitzer Prizes for poetry, many of Robert Frost poems invoke rural New England, and this is certainly the case with the poem that I have set in “For This Is Love.” With the title of the composition being words from the poem itself, “For This Is Love” is a choral setting of Mr. Frost’s poem entitled, A Prayer in Spring. Taken from Robert Frost’s first publication of poetry, this autobiographical collection is entitled, A Boy’s Will. First published in London by David Nutt in 1913, the collection was published two years later in America by Henry Holt and Company. Mr. Frost dedicated A Boy’s Will to his wife, Elinor.
As A Prayer in Spring celebrates spring, creation and, ultimately, the love that comes from God, my setting of the poem – created in the Spring of 2016 – contains an omnipresent melodic line symbolic of love. This theme is heard immediately in the piano introduction, supported by a wordless chorus that adds richness to the texture. The opening textual statement by the chorus, “OH, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;…” also presents this theme and it permeates the remainder of the composition. Although the first three stanzas are primarily based on “F” (reflecting the tonality that Beethoven chose for his “Pastoral” Symphony No. 6), further symbolism in the piece is heard in the fourth stanza as the climax point is reached on the tonalities of “C” (i.e. Claire) and “Eb” (i.e. Sam). “For This Is Love” concludes in the tonality of “G.”
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Duration: ca. 3’ 0”
A Prayer in Spring
Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.
from A Boy’s Will (1915)