Copyright © 2019 by Crystal A. Frost

Invocation

Op. 54 | Soprano & Piano | 2006

Invocation is a song cycle of four songs that exists in two versions: the original piano and voice version, and the new orchestral version, which will receive its recording debut in spring 2020.

 

Listen to Excerpt:
Invocation Part 1 (excerpt) - Ian Krouse
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Program Notes:

 

Invocation, a proto-narrative cycle of four songs for soprano and piano in four languages,
was born of an inchoate desire to explore ‘intangible’ love and the intangibility of love.
The first song a setting of Shakespeare’s Sonnet “Weary with toil,” is a nocturnal, its
indirect allusions to the style of Britten and Dowland quite conscious. Musing upon
these two composers took me easily to the lute and the guitar, and so the cycle begins
with the first of dozens of guitar-like gestures. The ‘author’ finds himself/herself (gender
is ambiguous) in a state of ennui and restlessness, apparently unable to find solace by day
or by night. He/she longs for a love(r) that is absent, if such a person actually exists, or is
even aware of the longings expressed by the writer. Though we may certainly assume
that Shakespeare was writing of an actual person, I read this as a longing for an unknown
love, and set the piece in a deliberately disquieting manner.


The second, a setting of Pablo Neruda’s Sonetas de Amor, XXII, presents the flaming up
and, perhaps, consummation of sensual love – imagined or otherwise. Though we can
assume that the subject of this poem was Neruda’s wife, and that it deals with a tangible
relationship, I find the phrases that refer to or infer a mistiming or lack of recognition to
be particularly revealing. The writer speaks of ‘loving without seeing’ (loving without
being able to acknowledge?), of ‘loving without remembering you’ (loving deprived of
the history of a normal conjugal relationship?). I admire the references to the intangible
expressed mainly in the second verse, and the realization that perhaps it was all as
ephemeral as the strumming of a guitar in the shadows. Naturally, the ‘guitar’ motives
make a noticeable appearance at this point. Ultimately though, the last few lines, with
images of ‘wildfire’ (passion burning out of control) and ‘flame’ encapsulate the essential
purpose and place of this poem in the cycle.


The third song, a setting in Japanese of Tachihara Michizo’s Mata Aru Yoru Ni, and the
second nocturnal, gets to the heart of things with its less than veiled allusions to an affair.
Again, the meaning is ambiguous; it’s like trying to hold smoke. After all, it may simply
be a momentary fancy. The piano arpeggios envelop the (perhaps imaginary) lovers like
the mist described in the poem.


The last song, the first to be written, is Cho-hon, a celebrated poem by the renowned
Korean poet Kim So Wol. It is the ‘heart’ of the cycle and explores a passion, at life’s
end, that has never been allowed a proper, healthy expression, and may only do so within
the solitude of the writer’s heart, at the end of earthly things. It is at once profoundly sad,
and yet consolatory, and is set at a time when day gives way to night = death/oblivion.
Here the ‘guitar’ motives find an ultimate expression and are manifested in numerous
ways, in almost every bar.


Each song begins with a permutation of the pitches ‘e-f-g,’ where ‘e’ alone is unchanged.
In the first it is the Phrygian: ‘e-f-g’; in the second: ‘e-f-g# (hinting at the Flamenco
Phrygian); in the third it is: ‘e-f-double sharp – g#); and in the final song, the simple
minor expression: ‘e-f#-g.’ These e-centric modes, of course, represent the guitar.

In all but the last, there is an expressive interplay between atonality and modal
‘diatonicism, representing the dichotomy between the tangible = atonal, and the
intangible = tonal, with a deepening commitment to tonality as the songs unfold. The
first song is the most atonal. The second somewhat less so, the third still less, and the last
song is all but completely tonal until the very last bars, where it too gives way to the
‘grounding’ of atonality and the sense that even such a sincere outpouring of emotion is
ultimately ephemeral and elusive. I am aware of the irony that atonality (the quintessential language of the 20 th century) represents grounding, reality, and the tangible, whereas, tonality is made to signify the unreachable, the intangible, and the fantastical, thus turning on its head the traditional use of such languages (when they are juxtaposed) for an opposite effect.

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1. Weary with toil (William Shakespeare)

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tir’d;
But then begins a journey in my head,
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expir’d:
For then my thoughts (from far where I abide)

Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new.

Lo, thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind
For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.

2. Sonetas de Amor XXII (Pablo Neruda)

 

Love, how often I loved you without seeing –
without remembering you-
not recognizing your glance, not knowing you, a gentian

in the wrong place, scorching in the hot noon,
but I loved only the smell of the wheat.

Or maybe I saw you, imagined you lifting a wineglass
in Angol, by the light of the summer’s moon;
or were you the waist of that guitar I strummed
in the shadows, the one that rang like an impetuous sea?

I loved you without knowing I did; I searched to remember you.

I broke into houses to steal your likeness,
though I already knew what you were like. And, suddenly,

when you were there with me I touched you, and my life

stopped: you stood before me, you took dominion like a queen:

like a wildfire in the forest, and the flame is your dominion.

3. Mata Aru Yoru Ni (Tachihara Michizo) (aka 'For a Certain Night')

We will pause in the mist.
The mist will flow far from the mountain, brush the moon

Like a cast arrow, and will wrap us
like a cloth of ash.
We will part. Without knowing –
Without being known, like the cloud
we came across, we will forget.
Like a waterway
The road will be silver. We will go off
Alone, separately...(How is it
one has learned to wait for another in the evening?)
We will not meet again. The moon,
Reminding us of the past, reflects the night,
We will simply keep saying.

4. Cho-hon (Kim So Wol) (aka 'Invocation')

Oh name shattered in pieces!
Oh name that is vanished into thin air!

Oh name without a response!
Oh name that I will call out in dying!

 

One word left deep in my heart

I could not utter.

Oh my beloved!
Oh my beloved!

The bright red sun sets over the top

of the western mountains,
even the deer cry out in sorrow.
I call to you standing on

a lone crest of a mountain.

Unable to bear my sorrow, I call weeping.
Unable to bear my sorrow, I call weeping.
The space between heaven and earth is too hollow

for my voice to reach you.

I’ll call your name in dying
even if I am turned to stone right here.

Oh my beloved!

Oh my beloved!

Text Translation:

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