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Peter Lieberson

Publisher: AMP

The Coming of Light (2009)
Commissioned in honor of the 2009 centennial of the dedication of Unity Temple, Frank Lloyd Wright's modern masterpiece, by Unity Temple Restoration Foundation and The Chicago Chamber Musicians together with Winsor Music, Inc.
Text Writer
John Ashbery, William Shakespeare, Mark Strand
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Solo Voice(s) and up to 6 players
Year Composed
20 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Alternate Orchestration
baritone; piano
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Programme Note
Peter Lieberson The Coming of Light (2009)
September 26, 27 2009
John Michael Moore, baritone
Chicago Chamber Musicians
Unity Temple
Chicago, IL

I. Rain Moving In (John Ashbery)
II. Forgiveness (John Ashbery)
III. When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes (Shakespeare)
IV. O, never say that I was false of heart (Shakespeare)
V. The Coming of Light (Mark Strand)
VI. Poem After the Last Seven Words (Mark Strand)

Excerpted from an interview with Peter Lieberson

I didn’t think it would be very easy to write a piece that would specifically commemorate Frank Lloyd Wright or his work, so from a more general, evocative view, I took inspiration from two themes that most of us understand very easily: impermanence and love. We create structures all the time to shield ourselves from impermanence–not only for shelter and comfort but also as edifices built to celebrate our stay here on earth. Architecture by its very nature is constructed out of materials that are impermanent. We make structures that we think are beautiful and interiors that are inviting, and the very fact that these edifices may point to something noble expresses a kind of sacredness about what we as human beings do. That we do these things at all is itself an opportunity to reflect on their impermanent nature, to appreciate how fleeting and precious all of life really is. And love of course is love. It’s simple to understand and be touched by the impermanence of all of that we love. So from that perspective and from my own personal experience of having been ill over the last three years, I thought about how life provides many opportunities—love returns, one’s life changes… sometimes in positive ways, sometimes negative.

As I read about Frank Lloyd Wright a little bit and saw interviews with him he began to strike me as a dignified and thoughtful person. I don’t know if he was an easy person to get along with but he seemed to manifest a strong presence and he clearly took care not only with the environment around the buildings that he created but also with the interiors as well. He thought a lot about what it would be like to live within the structures that he built and even designed furniture that would be most suitable for them. This tending to all kinds of details struck me as a gift of love, if you like. Once that became clear, poems about these issues of home, impermanence, and love began to suggest themselves.
I chose two poems by John Ashbery, one of which is about home, the other about the value of human relationships and forgiveness. Then I set two sonnets of Shakespeare that are about the transformation of difficult emotions into positive ones based on love. And then the last two poems are by Mark Strand, one of which is called The Coming of Light. There are two lines in this poem that mean a lot to me: Even this late it happens, the coming of light, the coming of love. I thought that was a wonderful kind of motto or emblem for how human life really can be.
The last lines of the last poem in this cycle (Poem After the Last Seven Words) beautifully indicates how mysterious life is, and that perhaps it is our ability to dedicate ourselves to this wonderment that makes us human:

“And beyond, as always, the sea of endless transparence. Of utmost
Calm, a place of constant beginning that has within it
What no eye has ever seen, what no ear has heard, what no hand has touched,
What has not arisen in the human heart.
To that place, to the keeper of that place, I commit myself.”

I. Rain Moving In (John Ashbery)
II. Forgiveness (John Ashbery)
III. When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes (Shakespeare)
IV. O, never say that I was false of heart (Shakespeare)
V. The Coming of Light (Mark Strand)
VI. Poem After the Last Seven Words (Mark Strand)

I. Rain Moving In, John Ashbery

The blackboard is erased in the attic
And the wind turns up the light of the stars,
Sinewy now. Someone will find out, someone will know.
And if somewhere in this great planet
The truth is discovered, a patch of it, dried, glazed by the sun,
It will just hang on, in its own infamy, humility. No one
Will be better for it, but things can’t get any worse.
Just keep playing, mastering as you do the step
Into disorder this one meant. Don’t you see
It’s all we can do? Meanwhile, great fires
Arise, as of haystacks aflame. The dial had been set
And that’s ominous, but all your graciousness in living
Conspires with it, now that this is our home:
A place to be from, and have people ask about.

II. Forgiveness, John Ashbery

It all seems like dirt now.
There is a film of dust on the lucid morning
Of an autumn landscape, that must be worse, where it’s tightening up,
Where not everything has its own two feet to stand on.
It gets more and more simplistic:
Good and bad, evil and bad, what else do we know?
Flavors that keep us from caring too long.
But there was that train of thought
That satisfies one nicely: how one was going to climb down
Out of here, hopefully
To arrive on a perfectly flat spit of sand level with the water.
And everything would look new and work again.
Suddenly a shout, a convincing one.
People in twos and threes turn up and there’s more there more to it than that.
But for all you I
Have neglected, ignored,
Left to stew in your own juices,
Not been that friend that is approaching,
I ask forgiveness, a song new like rain.
Please sing it to me.

III. Sonnet 29 (When, in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes), William Shakespeare

When, in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

IV. Sonnet 109 (O, never say that I was false of heart), William Shakespeare

O, never say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seemed my flame to qualify;
As easy might I from myself depart
As from my soul, which in thy breast doth lie.
That is my home of love: if I have ranged,
Like him that travels I return again,
Just to the time, not with the time exchanged,
So that myself bring water for my stain.
Never believe, though in my nature reigned
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stained
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good;
For nothing this wide universe I call
Save thou, my rose; in it thou art my all.

V. The Coming of Light, Mark Strand

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow's dust flares into breath.

VI. Poem After the Seven Last Words (seventh stanza), Mark Strand

Back down these stairs to the same scene,
to the moon, the stars, the night wind. Hours pass
and only the harp off in the distance and the wind
moving through it. And soon the sun’s gray disk,
darkened by clouds, sailing above. And beyond,
as always, the sea of endless transparence, of utmost
calm, a place of constant beginning that has within it
what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, what no hand
has touched, what has not arisen in the human heart.
To that place, to the keeper of that place, I commit myself.

  • Ensemble
    Chicago Chamber Musicians
    ohn Michael [Baritone Vocal] Moore (), Li-Kuo Chang (Viola), Michael Henoch (Oboe), Joseph Genualdi (Violin), Jasmine Lin (Violin), Clancy Newman (Cello)
    Summit Records:
  • 08 JUN 2011
    Taliesin, Spring Green, Wisconsin
    Chicago Chamber Musicians
    John Michael Moore, baritone
  • 12 FEB 2011
    Ithaca, NY
    Ensemble X
    Brad Hougham, baritone
  • 01 AUG 2010
    Marlboro, VT
    Marlboro Music Festival
    John Moore, baritone; Frank Rosenwein, oboe; Soovin Kim, violin; Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu, violin; Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, viola; Matthew Zalkind, cello
  • 25 APR 2010
    St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Brookline, MA
    Winsor Music
    Sumner Thompson, baritone
  • 25 APR 2010
    Brookline, MA
    Winsor Music
  • 26 SEP 2009
    The Coming of Light World Premiere
    Unity Temple, Chicago, IL
    Chicago Chamber Musicians
    John Michael Moore, baritone

    Other Dates:
    27 September - Unity Temple, Chicago, IL

The piece set two poems each by John Ashbery, Shakespeare, and Mark Strand for baritone, oboe, and string quartet. The settings, consistently oriented towards an ultra-conservative harmonic language, displayed an undeniably exceptional level of craft, sense of continuity, and at times, imagination. Sumner Thomson’s voice fit the ensemble and the composition perfectly. The most effective setting was the second Ashbery text, Forgiveness. The song grew out of unison between the strings, into elastic iterations of a serene melodic line that managed to be both emotional and cerebral.
Peter Van Zandt Lane , Boston Musical Intelligencer,27/04/2010
On Sunday evening, the chamber musicians offered rarefied sensitivity to dynamics in this superb world premiere. Lieberson’s long-standing affinity for musical theater comes through in these six songs set to poetry by Shakespeare, John Ashbery and Mark Strand. The stanzas are set fluidly in motion with a minimalist’s energy even when they can be generally characterized as unsettlingly plaintive. Baritone John Michael Moore sang with fortitude and grace, yielding the right amount of playfulness when called for. He fleshed out a grave beauty in the fourth song, set to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 109 (”O, Never say that I was false of heart”), that was surely the cycle’s vertex. There’s no reason more prominent American baritones like Thomas Hampson or Nathan Gunn shouldn’t have this cycle on their radar in the future. The composer was in attendance and received a frenetic round of applause.
Bryant Manning, Chicago Classical Review,28/09/2009
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