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Three Reminiscences (1993)

for baritone and piano

texts by W.S. Merwin

Approximate duration: ca. 15 minutes

See also the version for voice and orchestra

Premiere: April, 1993

American Opera Projects
New York City


Keith Spencer, baritone

Elaine Rinaldi, pianist

Rain Travel (A3 - F#4)

Turning (A3 - Eb4)

A Summer Night (B3 - Db4)


Of the many vistas The New Yorker magazine has opened for me over the years, probably none has had greater impact on me than the array of poetry to which I’ve been introduced. Top of the list would be the work of W.S. Merwin, whose "Turning" first came to my attention in the September 1991 edition of the magazine. The opening lines instantly inspired in me the music as it still stands, in all its schwärmerie, up to measure 20 or so.

This proved handy when I was approached a year later by baritone Keith Spencer to provide him with songs to use in the Chloe Owens vocal competition, which required that he sing English or American texts set by living English or American composers. I was hoping to use forthright, if not provocatively, romantic homosexual poems, but in the short time frame I could find only militantly political pieces or graphic rhapsodies on body parts or erotic paraphenalia, none of which suited my purpose. Nor was I interested in the already well-trod territory of Whitman, et. al.

"Turning" therefore seemed a good launching point for a cycle, even if the hyper-romantic treatment reduced the participants to giggles on the first read-through.  But faced with Keith’s imminent deadline, I plunged further into Merwin's work, being very struck with the volume Travels which included "Turning", and decided to make this the centerpiece of a triptych of song. To contrast the hyper-purple style of "Turning", the book-ending songs "Rain Travel" and "A Summer Night" deliberately aim for either a sparer or more pungent harmonic style.

The songs received their first hearing at a private reading in June of 1993 with renowned vocal coach and conductor  Neil Goren. They subsequently received their first public performance at American Opera Projects in New York City in the fall of 1998.

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