Jarrett Ott, baritone and Susan Nowicki, piano. Tony Solitro, composer.
Jarrett's website: www.jarrettott.com
Tony's website: www.tonysolitro.com
The songs of War Wedding chronicle the sensuous wedding night of two young lovers set against the backdrop of a savage and vicious war. After they part at daybreak, the young soldier dies from his wounds, and his bride is left alone.
The cycle was commissioned by, and is lovingly dedicated to, Justin Vickers. During his doctoral dissertation research on Michael Tippett’s The Heart’s Assurance, Justin encountered the poetry of Alun Lewis, which he describes as “saturated in war, and rich with grief.” When he introduced me to the text, I knew immediately that it would translate perfectly into a song cycle.
Alun Lewis (1915-1944) was one of the great British writers of the Second World War. Born in industrial South Wales he went to university and became a teacher before enlisting in the army despite pacifist misgivings about the war. Already published, becoming a soldier galvanized Lewis’s writing and he published a story collection, The Last Inspection, and two poetry collections, Raiders’ Dawn and Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets. The latter was published posthumously, following his death in a shooting accident on active service in Burma. By this time his critical and popular reputation were established and Lewis’s writing has continued to fascinate for almost seventy years. War Wedding is presented here with the kind permission of Mr. Lewis’ estate.
I. The Vigil: She tarries, far-off, in a strange anguish
Salted and pierced sucked-in side
Of a martyr ripped to sea-weed shreds,
Your fanged blue tongue and bulging eyes
Remain as witness of your broken gesture.
They wanted only to break your gesture.
But all your gentle seed they took
And all your manly symmetry,
The soft ways of your speech
And all your laughter.
All life was active in your gesture.
But I refused you, threw you farther
Than heart’s reach, nerves’ tether....
Oh! Had I only slid my nails
Into your gaping cicatrice
And sucked you with my lips’ leech-kisses
And been your pagan lover,
I would not shudder now the farmyard wakens
And cockcrow rips the lie out of my brain.
II. He gives her Botticelli’s Birth of Venus as a Wedding Gift
Sweet Florentine, sea-spawned
Medusa of the jetty where
The coast wise traders ply,
When the wind lifts the plaited rays
Of your serpentine gold hair
The wind is caught and sung
In the vortex of heaven.
Whorled periwinkle, breathless wave
Kissing the sighing pebble green,
Deep rock-pools trembling lucency
Through which the sunburnt Tyrian dives
For the pearl in its dark yolk,
Your sad and wistful smile is glad
To know the Tyrian sleeps at last
In the sea-anemone that sways
Beneath the surface of the tide
And feels its silken veins.
III. The Marriage Bed
Draw a green cedar over the peeping sky,
Latch the grey sash across the glancing sea,
Close the dark door and lie within the rose,
Beloved, lie with me.
My heavy boots stand sentinel
Against this hired bed-room under-neath the eaves,
Where Beauty slips the green leash of her Spring
And flowers blossom from a ring of leaves.
And in her white magnetic fields
My tense prismatic fingers move
In patterns of attraction and release;
The parallels tend unswervingly
Toward the pole of peace.
The fragile universe of self in all its fine integrity
Becomes a cosmic curve, a thrust of natural fertility;
And Gods who shivered in the dust
Have found their lost divinity.
And if tonight it chance we weep,
None shall know of our distress;
We are the bread and wine who share the feast;
The elements are in our nakedness.
Black cedar, hide the peeping day;
Sun, lie awhile beneath the sea;
And rose, within your velvet heart
Keep her, and me.
- art song