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Matthew Aucoin

Publisher: AMP

This Earth (for voice and piano) (2015)
Work Notes
Creation of 'This Earth' was made possible through the support of the Peabody Essex Museum.
Text Writer
Dante
Publisher
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Category
Solo Voice(s) and up to 6 players
Year Composed
2015
Duration
8 Minutes
Language
Italian
Availability
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Programme Note
Matthew Aucoin This Earth (for voice and piano) (2015)
Related works:
   This Earth (for voice and piano)
   This Earth (for voice and ensemble)

Composer note:
The text of This Earth is a passage from the beginning of Dante’s Purgatorio. Dante and Virgil have just finished traversing the circles of Hell to arrive in Purgatory — which, in Dante, is a real, physical place on our planet. They have emerged from the bowels of the earth to breathe fresh air.

After walking across a barren plain, they reach a little oasis, where Virgil wets his hands with dew and washes the soot of Hell off of Dante’s face. He then picks some rushes to clothe Dante, who sees to his amazement that the plant instantly grows back to replace what was plucked from it. He knows now that they have left the land of eternal death behind, and made their first steps into a world of rebirth.

It is a subtly erotic moment — Virgil renders “tutto discoverto” (“all uncovered”) the pure color of Dante’s skin, then dresses him. The final image is of a plant springing up with a surge of mysterious energy.

What follows is my translation of the passage.
Dawn was driving off the brown hour’s air
which fled before it, so that in the distance
I could sense the trembling of the sea.

We made our way across the lonely plain
like one who returns to find a road he’s lost
and, till he finds it, thinks he walks in vain.

When we came to where the dew
resists the sun, and, being partly sheltered
by shade, does not evaporate,

my master gently laid
his outspread hands on the grass:
I, knowing his intention,

offered up my tear-stained cheeks:
and he wholly uncovered
the color Hell had hidden.

We came then to that desert shore
that never yet had seen man sail its waters
who afterwards knew how to make it home.

There he clothed me as the angel wished:
o wonder! for when he picked
the humble plant, it sprang forth anew
in an instant, there where he had plucked it.
— Matthew Aucoin

Performances
Date
Title
Reviews
…for the premiere of “This Earth,” Aucoin’s setting of a literal and spiritual dawn from the “Purgatorio” section of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” (Aucoin’s recently premiered opera, Crossing, also made its Civil War-hospital setting an explicitly Dantesque locale.) Arpeggios delicately glimmer before day breaks on a surge of hammered piano chords. Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo’s lines resourcefully wove in and out of harmonic agreement with the accompaniment — but that background was often structurally static, giving the piece the feel of a windup to a sweeping catharsis that never arrived. (The music didn’t so much conclude as dramatically cease.)

The piece has extroverted flair, though, and the pair made stirring work of it, with a big, high-contrast performance, Costanzo’s strong, steady voice soaring above Aucoin’s unabashedly grand piano.
Matthew Guerrieri, Boston Globe,29/06/2015
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