Creature Songs (2007) by Martha Callison Horst
for soprano, violin, viola, and cello
World premiere; Earplay commission

In this song cycle Creature Songs, I attempted to pair poems from different writers that explore the spiritual connections between living things and man. The poems I chose are by Whitman (19th century American poet), Amergin (1500 BCE Irish poet), and Sassoon (20th century British poet). This song cycle was commissioned by Earplay and was written during the summer of 2007 at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, NH.

In A Noiseless Patient Spider from his famous poetry collection Leaves of Grass, Whitman uses the spider's endless attempts to launch filaments into its vast surrounding as an allegory of man's struggle to find spiritual connections with powers greater than himself. As in much of his transcendentalist poetry, Whitman is turning to objects of nature as a way of understanding the mystic dimensions of life.

The Song of Amergin is an ancient Druid incantation from approximately 1530 BCE. According to Milesian mythology, when the first Gaelic settlers came to Ireland, they went to battle with the Tuatha Dé Danaan, who prevented them from entering Ireland with a magical storm. Amergin sang this invocation, calling upon the spirit of all living things of Ireland to part the storm and allow them onto land.

Both poets are turning to nature's inner spiritual powers, but to different ends. Whereas Whitman turns to a lowly spider's struggle to understand the workings of his inner Soul, Amergin evokes the power of all living creatures in order to capture the physical universe around him.

The final song of the set is the beautiful poem by Siegfried Sassoon called Everyone Sang. This poem was written as a celebration of the signing of the Armistice on November, 11, 1918, which brought World War I to an end. Sassoon images a joyous song emerging from all of humanity. During the poem, the poet at first speaks of feeling a delight "as prison birds must find in freedom." By the end of the poem, the song and joy is so all consuming that, in fact, birds and man merge together: "Everyone was a bird and the song was wordless." This wonderful depiction of man and bird unifying in song through a celebration of peace is another vision of the connections between all living things that I wished to explore through this musical work.

Click here for texts of the poems.

— M. C. H.    

[from program for February 11, 2008 concert]