Texts by Walt Whitman.
3 Whitman Settings is a selection of three songs from my Whitman Portrait. I composed Whitman Portrait in 2013–14, while I was a fellow of the American Opera Projects’ Composers & the Voice workshops. In 2019, Rachel Calloway (for whom I originally composed “Hark Close and Still What I Now Whisper)” asked me to transpose two other songs from Whitman Portait, originally composed for six different voice types, to make her a solo set for mezzo-soprano and piano.
One aspect of Whitman’s poetic persona that has always compelled me is his breadth of vision and all-inclusivity (he himself famously remarked: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”) I read the complete poetry and prose of Whitman to find six texts that most clearly revealed to me this great variety.
“Fine, Clear, Dazzling Morning” excerpts some lines from Whitman’s Specimen Days, a kind of diary and his major prose work. It shows Whitman as a solitary lover of nature, following the flight and song of a meadowlark one spring morning, and presents a marked contrast to the previous song.
“Hark Close and Still What I Now Whisper” is Whitman at his most erotic, coming from the long love poem “From Pent-up Aching Rivers.” Here, I have excerpted only the parenthetical lines that occur in this poem with an aim toward discovering Whitman’s most private thoughts and feelings, and the generally hushed tone and sparse texture of this song add to its erotic tension.
“Darest Thou Now O Soul” is from “Whispers of Heavenly Death,” a later addition to Leaves of Grass. In it, the elder Whitman muses on the line between life and death, and ends with an ecstatic vision of the beyond, where the soul and the body are united on the same plane (Whitman asserts often throughout Leaves of Grass that the body is the soul, and here their unity is made explicit).