Remembering Our Fathers



For for two solo sopranos, one mezzo soprano and orchestra.
*2*222 – 4231 – t+2 – hp – str



Remembering Our Fathers (2009) Bi-Centennial celebration of Joseph Haydn, Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln

for two solo sopranos, one mezzo soprano and orchestra
duration: 14’

Commissioned by a consortium led by Edward Benyas, Music Director, Southern Illinois Symphony Orchestra. Other participating ensembles include Baylor University and Gardner-Webb University

“Remembering Our Fathers” honors the bicentennial celebrations of Joseph Haydn’s death and the births of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln (both born Feb. 12, 1809). There have been many works written to honor great figures, and most use a narrator to read words relating to the celebrated subject. This new work (2009) uses three female voices to sing about these three great men.

The Premise:
The obvious choice would have been to sing their praises and be done with it. However, the composer states: “I wanted to have a new look at these three historical figures, looking beyond their contributions to their nations and to the world and to figure out what else they might have in common. My discovery took on a tragic and personal note. All three men suffered terrible loss during their march toward destiny. Darwin and Lincoln both lost ‘favorite children’ – aged 10 and 11, respectively; Darwin while he was working on his important theory and Lincoln while in the White House. Haydn was never able to have children with his wife (whom he abhorred) but did have a son out of wedlock. Because of his devout faith, he was never allowed to acknowledge the son and be his ‘real’ father.”

The three women then sing to their children about their fathers’ love and human greatness they were never able to know, either due to their untimely deaths or due to forced separation.

The roles of the three singers in the work are as follows (in order of appearance):

Luigia Polzelli (soprano): Haydn’s secret lover – by all accounts a very average soprano employed at Ezterhazy’ court under Haydn’s direction. The unnamed son in the text is Antonio.

Emma Wedgewood Darwin (mezzo-soprano): Darwin’s wife, who was also his cousin. Their marriage was without turmoil, and was a very happy one. Their daughter, Anne, not mentioned by name in the text, died at age 10.

Mary Todd Lincoln (soprano): Lincoln’s wife, and First Lady of the United States. She was rather temperamental and was deeply disturbed over the deaths of her children and husband—which is understandable! Their son, Willie, again unnamed herein, died at age 11.

The Text:
(Click on the links at the top to listen and to see the text.)
All of the text used has been extrapolated from actual quotes made by, or about, the three men. No editorial summaries were made. The words come from famous contemporaries or from letters and speeches made by the men themselves. Minor changes were made on occasion to execute rhymes where appropriate. The poetic scheme used for each vocalist matches the poetic scheme that would have been in use at that time period. (Late 18th century for Haydn, and mid-19th century for Darwin and Lincoln).
The text of the final trio, where the women each sing different poems, allows a chance for them to sing directly about the men themselves. The texts come from:
Polzelli (Haydn): The Spirit’s Song, a poem by Anne Hunter. She was a contemporary of Haydn, and he often set her poems to music, including his own setting of The Spirit’s Song.
Emma (Darwin): very famous text from In Memoriam A.H.H,. by Charles Darwin’s contemporary, Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Darwin’s writings caused quite a stir (and still do!) with regard to Evolution vs. Creation, and so Tennyson’s words are most pertinent.
Mary Todd (Lincoln): last stanza of Walt Whitman’s O Captain! My Captain! penned shortly after Lincoln’s assassination.

The Music:
(Click on the links at the top to listen and to see the text.)
The setting of each vocal solo is meant to complement the time period and man about whom she is singing. Most of the music is original, with some exceptions as referenced below:
Polzelli (Haydn) – soprano: Composed and orchestrated in a late 18th century style. Luigia was herself an “average” singer, so the vocal line is similar to what Haydn may have composed for her, knowing her abilities. Whenever the text quotes Haydn himself, music is borrowed from his extensive output to support the quote (as if he himself is speaking to us!). When she sings specifically about his symphonies, each one is referenced in the score. The end of her solo appropriately summons his ‘Farewell’ Symphony.
Emma (Darwin) – mezzo-soprano: Composed in a style similar to mid 19th century England (like Elgar, for example). The music, except for some of the stormy Beagle section, is relatively simple and pleasant, as was their relationship.

Mary Todd (Lincoln) – soprano: She was very emotionally disturbed, and the music reflects that fact. Incorporated into the accompanying orchestration (though pretty well disguised) are the famous slavery song ‘Wade in the Water’ and the Civil War fiddle song ‘Billy in the Low Ground.’

The final trio borrows from Haydn’s exquisite Adagio from his Symphony No.44. Haydn had wanted this music played at his own funeral, but an invasion by Napoleon shortly after his death pre-empted that wish and Mozart’s Requiem was played instead. States Stephenson: “I figured that for the 200th anniversary of his death, it was time to honor Haydn’s request!”

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