The Lilacs Bloomed
A Choral Triptych for SATB Chorus and Piano
(based on Walt Whitman’s When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d)
Based on the first three stanzas of Walt Whitman’s lengthy 1865 poem mourning the death of American President Abraham Lincoln, The Lilacs Bloomed (A Choral Triptych for SATB Chorus and Piano) was composed in January 2009. It is dedicated to the Wake Forest University Concert Choir (2009), Dr. Brian Gorelick, Conductor, and Dr. Joanne Inkman, Accompanist.
Just as lilacs link the first and third stanzas of Walt Whitman’s poem, so, too, are movements 1. “…I mourned” and 3. “…a miracle” musically linked. Further, in the piano of the third movement, a chaconne (i.e. a recurring group of chords) provides the harmonic foundation of the movement as it symbolizes the enduring lilac bush. The chaconne reaches its climax at the breaking of the lilac sprig that the poet will place on Lincoln’s coffin. Even as the first and third movements are essentially gentle and lyrical in their expression of grief, the contrasting second movement, “…fallen star”, sets Mr. Whitman’s agonizing and almost uncontrollable verses of grief and despair in a visceral and dramatic manner. Throughout this second movement a well-known tune associated with the Civil War is quoted. Originally known as “John Brown’s Body”, Julia Ward Howe wrote her now famous 1861 hymn, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory (“The Battle Hymn of the Republic”), specifically to fit this tune. Even as this melody (in G Major) is richly harmonized in the piano throughout the second movement, the tune is also the basis for the choral material, but there it is cast in Aeolian mode and in the style of early parallel organum. Organum, the earliest polyphonic texture, was truly a “…powerful western…star” to the history of music. Here open harmonies in fifths, with its harmonic contrast in the piano, help express the grief – even the anger of grief – that Mr. Whitman’s second stanza so vividly expresses.
Duration = ca. 8 minutes
(1. ca. 2’ 30”; 2. ca. 3’; 3. ca. 2’30”)
When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d
(from Memories of President Lincoln) by
When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
O powerful western fallen star!
O shades of night – O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear’d – O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless – O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul.
In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle – and from this bush in the dooryard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break.