Four Wilde Aphorisms (1991) by James Carr
for mezzo-soprano and clarinet
West Coast premiere

I. To Look Wise
  To look wise is quite as good as understanding a thing,
  and very much easier.

II. One's Real Life
  One's real life is so often the life that one does not lead.
III. Anybody
  Anybody can be good, in the country.
IV. I Couldn't Help It
  I couldn't help it. I can resist everything.
  Everything! Except temptation.

[Texts: Oscar Wilde]

My Four Wilde Aphorisms are four short songs for mezzo soprano voice and Bb clarinet on texts of Oscar Wilde. They were composed at the request of Patricia Lane in 1991 while I was a doctoral candidate at Columbia. Mrs. Lane planned to present her daughter (my wife), mezzo Jennifer Lane, and clarinetist Robert Klein in concert at a fund raising event for the Illinois Valley Symphony Orchestra in Danville, Illinois. Jennifer was unhappy with most of the works she had located for voice and clarinet duo, and suggested to her Mother that I might supply something on commission, and Mrs. Lane agreed.

Little time remained, so the four songs were composed very quickly in a period of about 3 days. I found the texts in an illustrated book of Wilde's aphorisms entitled The Importance of Being Oscar. The illustrator had selected quotations that applied to her cat, Oscar, who was the subject of the illustrations. We had joked about this book for sometime, because my little grey cat, Moskar, very much resembled the grey cat in the illustrations, and Jennifer had artfully altered the book's cover title to The Importance of Being Moskar before giving it to me as a birthday gift. I recall these songs were partially composed by extravagantly expanding a few filched 3 or 4 note licks from Alban Berg's Vier Stücke für Klarinette und Klavier, Op. 5. The basic musical ideas endeavor to support the wit of the text. There is even a section in One's Real Life where the mezzo is instructed to insert a brief excerpt of an opera aria of her choice, in effect, "performing" the aphorism's text on several levels. These little pieces hold a few other silly turns and quotes, the thing I enjoy most about them is that although a couple of my grumpy old teachers have scolded me about this or that textual or expressive failure in the work, audiences usually chuckle. Four Wilde Aphorisms has probably been my most performed composition.

— J. H. C.    

[from program for March 12, 2007 concert]