Pianist Michael Borowitz has collaborated in the premières of all of my vocal works to date, so when he commissioned a song cycle for himself and soprano Tina Selvaggio, I searched diligently for the poems that would inspire the perfect vehicle for this talented team. I knew that I especially wanted work by a female poet, preferably American (as the performers are), and preferably something with a sense of emotional “sweep” to highlight the communicative gifts of both musicians.
My search ended when I discovered the work of the American poet Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885). A contemporary of Emily Dickinson, Jackson was considered by Emerson, among others, to be one of the best women poets of her time. She turned to poetry after the death of her first husband in 1863; her early work (much of which was published anonymously or under pseudonyms, as was still common for women poets at the time) attracted an unusual amount of attention, and she soon became self-supporting — no small feat for any poet of any age. Later in life, she published under her own name, and many more of her poems were collected and published posthumously.
The three poems in this cycle all reflect upon the richness of a life now shadowed by the spectre of death. In each, Jackson’s simple, declarative style gives room to tremendous emotional breadth, reaffirming the joy and exhilaration of the present moment, and finding solace in the knowledge of a life well-lived.
Danika Lorèn (soprano) and Steven Philcox (piano). From the Canadian Art Song Project album Found Frozen.