Every Night and Every Morn: A Performance Study of the Song Cycle by Jeffrey Wood from the Poetry of William Blake

By Rike, Gregory B. | Journal of Singing, January/February 2008 | Go to article overview

Every Night and Every Morn: A Performance Study of the Song Cycle by Jeffrey Wood from the Poetry of William Blake


Rike, Gregory B., Journal of Singing


INTRODUCTION

THIS DOCUMENT INTRODUCES Every Night and Every Morn, a song cycle by American composer Jeffrey Wood, from the poetry of William Blake. Emphasis is given to the poetic and musical analysis of the cycle. This study provides insight into not only the music, but also the text, and how the composer has intertwined the two. The musical analysis elucidates the creative process of the composer.

Twentieth century contemporary vocal music, particularly that of me 1960s and 1970s, often required that performers present strange sounds with whatever means were available; for example, the voice howling, shrieking, or yelling; the piano being used as a harp with mallets or fists; the pounding of the keyboard with no particular chord structure; and electronically modifying traditional sounds into nontraditional noises. Acceptance of contemporary music was not something that came easily for me.

I first met Dr. Jeffrey Wood when he lectured to one of my doctoral classes at The Ohio State University. His brief lecture opened a world of contemporary music that I did not know existed. Upon further investigation of Woods music, I found his compositional style to be of a traditional nature, in that his music enhances the texts, and he utilizes the voice and piano in traditional ways. Additionally, I was greatly moved by the intensity and passion that I found in the text and musical setting; not only did the music have meaning but also the enhancement of the texts was emotionally appealing.

Every Night and Every Morn premiered on February 11, 2001, at Ohio Dominican College with Jeffrey Wood, piano, and Patrick Woliver, tenor. The work is dedicated to Woliver for his suggestion of the text. Subsequent performances include those by Ian Hominick, piano, and Gregory B. Rike, tenor, on March 17, 2003 at the University of Mississippi; and May 30, 2003 at The Ohio State University. In preparation for my performance at the University of Mississippi, I studied Every Night and Every Morn during the winter of 2003, which resulted in the March and May performances. This paper elaborates on that study.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF WILLIAM BLAKE AND A POETIC ANALYSIS OF AUGURIES OF INNOCENCE

William Blake's (1757-1827) poem, "Auguries of Innocence," was written around 1803 during the time he was staying in Felpham, Sussex, and being accused of sedition. This was a particularly frustrating time for him; his works were not recognized and his personal life was under attack. "Auguries of Innocence" seems to correspond to his mood, and to the struggle between good and evil and the loss of innocence, not only experienced by Blake, but also influenced by happenings in the world around him. The poem is part of the Pickering Manuscript published in 1868, a work associated with Blake's attempt to create a primal mythology, as well as with his elucidation of the biblical narrative in his watercolors.1

The poem is 132 lines long. Wood used 66 lines from the original, with a couple of modified repeats of the most famous part of Blake's words:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand,

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

And Eternity in an hour.

These opening four lines are the keystone of the entire work. Not only are they a quatrain, when most of the work is in couplets, but they also set up the lexicon for the rest of the work.

We have the lexical sets of cosmology (world, heaven, infinity), time (eternity, hour), nature (grain, sand, wild flower), humanity (palm of your hand), and prophecy (to see). Then we go into the focus of the poem, one of emotion (rage), rage against humanity and rage against nature. The lexicons in this section range from rage, fright, grief, jealousy, passion, and misery to joy and sweet delight. The poem focuses on the crime of insensitivity from human to animal, animal to insect, insect to nature, etc. We are all part of this crime and need to stop and care for each other. …

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