On Cats (1978)
(A Cycle of Five Songs for SATB and piano)
On Cats, a five-movement choral cycle, was composed in Binghamton, New York in 1978. It is dedicated “to Debussy and Poppy, two grand cats of the family.” The Gregg Smith Singers gave the piece its World Premiere on 11 August 1981 at The Charles Ives Center for American Music in New Milford, Connecticut.
Movement 1, entitled The Lion, opens the cycle and is a setting of a short Vachel Lindsay poem that playfully observes the category of “kingly” cats known as “the lion”. Movement 2, simply entitled Cat, is for soprano and bass soloists with piano accompaniment. Its poetry, by the British poet and writer, J.R.R. Tolkien, speculates on the highly likely dreams (and catatonic states?) of the domestic “fat cat on the mat”. Movement 3, The Mysterious Cat, is based on another poem by the American poet, Vachel Lindsay. For SATB chorus and prepared piano, it gently muses (mewes?) upon cat pride. Movement 4, the only movement for a cappella choir, is entitled December Cats. Its poignant words are by the American poet, Mark Van Doren, and observe that, even with cats, eventually “curiosity comes in” and that “even he the ranger rests.” Movement 5 returns to the big rip-roaring ancestral cats that opened the cycle. It is a setting of American poet John Ciardi’s delightful poem that carefully (and wisely!) instructs us all on How to tell a Tiger.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina