Songs Without Words for flute & harp


"Jeremy Beck's quiet, beautiful, and lyrical Songs Without Words ... unfolds in three charming movements[.] ... Maybe it's the instrumentation, but there's something unmistakably French (particularly Debussy, Ravel, Satie) in all of this, plus perhaps a little Francophiled Stravinsky in the stately Orpheus-like second song, ...mists of brightness..."

- Bryce Rankin
21st Century Music
(May 2000)

Songs Without Words is in three movements, each of which reflects the tone and structural effect of an individual poem.   The first is Irresistible Death (“La poderosa muerte”), after the fourth canto of Pablo Neruda’s “Alturas de Macchu Picchu” (“The Heights of Macchu Picchu”).  Neruda’s poem is a complex meditation on life and death, in which the protagonist’s thoughts rapidly fly through a kaleidoscope of fragmented images and emotions.  This is followed by “…mists of brightness…,” a phrase which is taken from the interior of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Sonnet XVIII, from “Second April” – this movement is dedicated to the artist Jane Duncan Marsching:

When I too long have looked upon your face,
Wherein for me a brightness unobscured
Save by the mists of brightness has its place,
And terrible beauty not to be endured,
I turn away reluctant from your light,
And stand irresolute, a mind undone,
A silly, dazzled thing deprived of sight
From having looked too long upon the sun.
Then is my daily life a narrow room
In which a little while, uncertainly,
Surrounded by impenetrable gloom,
Among familiar things grown strange to me
Making my way, I pause, and feel, and hark,
Till I become accustomed to the dark.

The last movement is entitled Night Watch, after a 1987 poem by Vikram Seth:

Awake for hours and staring at the ceiling
Through the unsettled stillness of the night
He grows possessed of the obsessive feeling
That dawn has come and gone and brought no light.

While there is no direct or literal connection between these poems or the music which reflects them, they are linked by common images, and a story of sorts may be seen to emerge through the progression of these shared images.

Songs Without Words was composed for Elizabeth Sadilek, flute, and Gretchen Johnson, harp, and was premiered by them at Iowa State University on 1 February 1998.  Recorded by these performers in 1999 and originally released on a Capstone Records CD [CPS-8660], this recording is now included on my 2006 Innova CD, pause and feel and hark (innova 650).

flute, harp
Date completed:
ca. 9:30

1. Irresistible Death

2. ...mists of brightness...

3. Night Watch

Featured Recording

pause and feel and hark

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