Updated: Sep 25, 2021
Songs in Air (Yone Noguchi 1875-1947) Jodi Goble (b. 1974)
Song in Air
In the Fog
My song is sung
Songs in Air, a song cycle by Jodi Goble, was composed in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. The cycle includes 6 songs set to poems of the Japanese poet Yone Noguchi. As is common in the song cycle tradition, the songs are linked through musical key relationships and thematic elements of the poetry. The entire song cycle is available for purchase at jodigoble.com.
Notes from the composer, reprinted with permission:
Yone Noguchi (1875-1947) was born near Nagoya, Japan, and emigrated to San Francisco in 1893, with hopes of becoming a writer. The relationships he established with the Bohemian community of writers and artists in the Bay Area- and the favorable reception of his first two published books of poetry- led to further opportunities and travel, first to Chicago and then on to New York City, where he wrote his best-known work, a semi-autobiographical novel called The American Diary of a Japanese Girl. Noguchi returned to Japan in 1904 to take a position as a professor of English at Keio University, but never achieved the same level of literary success in Japan that he had enjoyed in the United States. Most of his published books are written in English.
Noguchi's writing style was idiosyncratic and revolutionary for his time: meterless, rhymeless free verse, combining the English language with formal structures common to Japanese lyric poetry and fearlessly coining new, evocative, image-rich English words and phrases ('ghostily', 'moon-night', 'heart-sea', 'deep deepless deepness'). His works was enormously influential to Imagism, a movement of poetry that flourished in the United States and England in the 1920s and counted among its members the poets Sara Teasdale, Amy Lowell, Ezra Pound, and Edna St. Vincent Millay.
While many of the Imagists are household names today, Noguchi fell into relative obscurity in the decades following his return to Japan and is only now beginning to receive credit for the movement he inspired. His scandalous private life (open bisexuality, secret marriage to an American woman, an illegitimate child) caused public opinion to turn against him; the xenophobia and anti-Asian/ anti-Socialist sentiment that was rampant in America in the early twentieth century also contributed to his erasure from the canon. Scholars of queer history, transnational literature, and Asian studies have begun in the last few decades to resurrect his work and legacy, but he is still best known today as the father of mid-century sculptor Isamu Noguchi, designer of the iconic Noguchi Table.
These six poems are chosen from across three volumes of Noguchi's work (From the Eastern Seas, From East to West, The Pilgrimage), and were set in late summer 2020, after it was clear that we would not return in the fall to life and art as we knew it to exist pre-COVID. It did not occur to me at the time that the texts were linked in any particularly meaningful way, but taken as a whole, it's fairly clear that they form a love letter to live music, and a lament for its (temporary) loss.
Song in Air
Like a rainbow,
All the color,
All the music,
And all the touch, -
She suddenly rises
Over the breast of shadow.
How the world turns to a song!
She is liberation and life,
Hers is a nerve-thrill,
Not a thought or truth.
Mystically she breathes in and out
Art (let me call it so):
And when she more suddenly falls,
What a song-lost world!
Under the Moon
There is nothing
Like the moon-night when the rich noble stars
And maiden roses interchange their long looks of love.
There is nothing like the moon-night
When I raise my face from the land of loss
Unto the golden air, and calmly learn
How perfect it is to grow still as a star.
There is nothing like the moon-night
When I walk upon the freshest dews,
And amid the warmest breezes,
With all the thought of God
And all the bliss of man, as Adam
Not yet driven from Eden, and to whom
Eve was not yet born. What a bird
Dreams in the moonlight is my dream;
What a rose sings is my song.
In the Fog
When I am lost
In the deep body of the mist on a hill,
The universe seems built
With me as its pillar.
Am I the god upon the face
Of the deep, nay, deepness
Deepness in the beginning?
At night the Universe grows lean,
Sober-faced with intoxication.
The shadow of the half-sphere
Curtains down closely against my world
Like a doorless cage.
Listen, frogs in the pond,
(The world is a pond itself)
Cry out for the light, for the truth!
The curtains rattle ghostily along,
Bloodily biting my soul,
The winds knocking on my cabin door
With their shadowy hands.
My Song is Sung
My song is sung, but a moment...
The song of voice is merely the body, (the body dies).
And the real part of the song, its soul, remains after it is sung;
Yea, it remains in the vibration of thy waves of heart-sea
Echoing still my song,
And through my soul thou soarest out of thy dust and griefs.
A laughing butterfly,
Angel of a moment.
The little shadow of my lover perfumed.
The golden shadow,
With all the charm.
Naughty sweet Spring:
A proud coquette,
Born to laugh but not to live.
A beautiful runaway,
Leaves me in tears,
But my soul follows after,
Till I catch her
Changing Light (Rabbi Jules Harlow b. 1931) Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952)
Changing Light by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, exists in editions for soprano and violin (premiered in 2002) or soprano and flute (premiered in 2005). The text comes from the Jewish prayer book Siddur Sim Shalom (or Grant us Peace) edited by Rabbi Jules Harlow and published in 1985. Rabbi Harlow has ties to Midwest as a native of Sioux City, IA. The text speaks to the mysteries and marvels of the universe, using juxtapositions such as light and darkness, night and day, moon and sky, sand and sea, flesh and bone, steel and stone. Of her composition, Saariaho writes “The intimate nature and fragile sound world of the duo mirror the fragility of our uncertain existence.”
To read the text, please visit Kaija Saariaho's Works: Changing Light
Lonh, Kaija Saariaho
Lonh, translated from Occitan as ‘distant’ or ‘far away’, is set to a famous poem attributed to the medieval troubadour Jaufré Rudel. Saariaho set the poem in 9 connected musical sections, using Occitan (an old provincial French language, and the language of the original poem), French, and English text. She set the text using the original Occitan (an old provincial French language), French, and English. The concrete sounds of birds, winds, and rain are heard in the electronics. These sounds, along with recordings of spoken and sung voice, were processed using a variety of audio transformation programs, such as resonant filters, cross-synthesis and stretching with the phase-vocoder.
To read the text and the composer's notes, please visit Kaija Saariaho's Works: Lonh
To view Professor VanNordstrand's short concert lecture please visit Kaija Saariaho's setting of Jaufré Rudel's L'amore de Lonh