Live Performance: Sarah Tannehill Anderson, Soprano; Véronique Mathieu, Violin; Ellen Sommer, Piano
By Emily Pauline Johnson
(INSCRIBED TO ONE BEYOND SEAS)
Know by the thread of music woven through
This fragile web of cadences I spin,
That I have only caught these songs since you
Voiced them upon your haunting violin.
October's orchestra plays softly on
The northern forest with its thousand strings,
And Autumn, the conductor wields anon
The Golden-rod - The baton that he swings.
There is a lonely minor chord that sings
Faintly and far along the forest ways,
When the firs finger faintly on the strings
Of that rare violin the night wind plays,
Beneath the English pines beyond the sea.
The lost wind wandering, forever grieves
Above grey mosses whispering of leaves
Fallen and dead.
And through the lonely night sweeps their refrain
Like Chopin's prelude, sobbing 'neath the rain.
The wild grape mantling the trail and tree,
Festoons in graceful veils its drapery,
Its tendrils cling, as clings the memory stirred
By some evasive haunting tune, twice heard.
It is the blood-hued maple straight and strong,
Voicing abroad its patriotic song.
Its daring colours bravely flinging forth
The ensign of the Nation of the North.
Elfin bell in azure dress,
Chiming all day long,
Ringing through the wilderness
Dulcet notes of song.
Daintiest of forest flowers
Weaving like a spell -
Music through the Autumn hours,
Little Elfin bell.
THE GIANT OAK
And then the sound of marching armies 'woke
Amid the branches of the soldier oak,
And tempests ceased their warring cry, and dumb
The lashing storms that muttered, overcome,
Choked by the heralding of battle smoke,
When these gnarled branches beat their martial drum.
A sweet high treble threads its silvery song,
Voice of the restless aspen, fine and thin
It trills its pure soprano, light and long -
Like the vibretto of a mandolin.
The cedar trees have sung their vesper hymn,
And now the music sleeps -
Its benediction falling where the dim
Dusk of the forest creeps.
Mute grows the great concerto - and the light
Of day is darkening, Good-night, Good-night.
But through the night time I shall hear within
The murmur of these trees,
The calling of your distant violin
Sobbing across the seas,
And waking wind, and star-reflected light
Shall voice my answering. Good-night, Good-night.
When I first encountered the poetry of Mohawk-Canadian poet Emily Pauline Johnson (1861–1913), also known in Mohawk as Tekahionwake, I was moved by her unique and strong poetic voice. “Autumn’s Orchestra,” a suite of ten short verses, is a powerful mediation on nature and life. Throughout the poem, Johnson uses vivid visual and auditory imagery as well as symbolism, which inspired my own musical imagination and became a driving force behind my setting. “To One Beyond Seas” was commissioned by NAVO.