Conserted Consort: George on my Mind


I have yet to read a huge percent of the written works of George MacDonald. In addition to the poignant and mysterious fairy tales for which he is most remembered, he wrote several serious novels, religious essays, sermons, and scads of poetry. His works strike very near to my core; I feel that I require just the right circumstances and repose of heart to read him, and then just the right interval between readings for digestion and heartening enjoyment and thanksgiving. These aren't your fast-paced thrillers. These are a literary Well-Tempered Clavier of edifying enjoyment.
True to the name of this blog, I found myself counterpointing my favorite author yesterday. Boxes need to be packed and background music is crucial. After exhausting my taste for Celtic (it has just the right amount of toe-tapping energy and ethnomusicological fascination) I searched on Naxos for something more soothing. Walt Whitman (and his volcanic, reaching limbs pontifical) was formerly familiar to me only through R.V. William's Sea Symphony and Emily Dickinson's succinct and succulent verses are prime for lieder or art song setting. I decided to find any songs set by my buddy G.M. and found one piece entitled Baby No. 1 (from 2 Mother Songs, Op. 69) composed by Amy Beach. (You can find the whole text in At the Back of the North Wind at the Gutenberg Project or my previous post.) Beautiful, simple lullaby; tender piano accompaniment; an odd shift to minor in the second line that finds justification in the hovering fermata-ed fourth line; ABA twice with a minor twist in B; gorgeous.

The only other G.M. setting that I've found so far is by contemporary composer M. Ryan Taylor. (Perhaps the M stands for Mervin or Mickey?) On his website he features a song cycle called Leafs from the Diary of an Old Soul. The texts of these songs are taken from a lengthy collection of verse called A Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul. Three hundred and sixty-five ABABBCC stanzas daily reflect on the poet's soul being reconciled to God. Melvin Taylor has set five of these "days" with piano accompaniment. His sight provides a free PDF file of the sheet music and sound files of the first two songs. The voice seems to provide the sustaining thread to the sporadic and disjunct accompaniment: long melismatic passages, held notes. He seems to like the neighbor tone ornament and the piano punctuating the offbeat of the voice declaiming a list. I don't trust Mercutio Taylor's accompaniment. It's like a tightrope ready to snap with its dissonances and then these lengths of silence with a naked voice powering its way through tonal silences. It's the sound of an old soul, full of strife and conviction. I'd love to hear all of it and get a feel for the cycle as a whole. Very interesting.

It makes me want to set MacDonald poetry myself. His words lend themselves so easily to a bunting imagination. I've imagined a tone poem to The Shadows, an opera to Photogen and Nycteris, and a piano suite to The Light Princess. The latter has actually come nearly to fruition. Hopefully I'll be able to post my own recording of The Light Princess Suite, Op. 1 on this blog soon.

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