Tribute to the Angels

  • Title Tribute to the Angels
  • Year 2020
  • Instr sop solo 1-0-1-0 1-0-0-0 pf, perc
  • Duration 25 min
  • Categories Vocal, Chamber (8 or more)
  • Publisher ACA
  • Texts H. D. (Hilda Doolittle)

Tribute to the Angels was completed in 2020 with deeply appreciated support from the Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard University. It was composed for the Talea Ensemble and soprano Jennifer Zetlan. The poetry of Tribute to the Angels is taken from Trilogy, an extended cycle of poems, by the American-British imagist poet, H. D (a. k. a. Hilda Doolittle). All of the poems of Trilogy emanate from the experience of the “blitz” of London during World War II, to which H. D. was a first-hand witness. The epic cycle is divided into three parts, each containing 43 poems. My composition takes its name (and texts) from the second part of Trilogy, which focuses particularly on spiritual rejuvenation and redemption rather than on the destruction described in Part 1. I chose eight poems to form a musical setting, and added to these an opening instrumental prologue. A description of the narrative of the song cycle follows:

After a prologue, the first poem introduces the narrator, Hermes Trismegistus, (in legend) inventor of language, father of alchemy, and founder of Egyptian culture. A declamation then recalls the words of the prophet John citing God’s vow to “make all things new.” Two further poems speak of the horrors of war, comparing this struggle to heroic ones of the past, both real and mythological. Then a transformation occurs, an “alchemical change” symbolized by the metamorphosis of the word marah (from Hebrew, “sorrow”) to mer, Maia (May), Mary, and finally mother. The angel Gabriel, the herald, appears, as he summons the other angels, as well as a mysterious woman (Psyche, goddess of poetry). Bells resound as angels, named in both old and new testaments, are announced: Gabriel, Azrael, Raphael, Uriel, Annael, and Michael, and a Dies Irae chant becomes obscured by chimes that refer back to Gabriel’s song. A vision of heaven appears, a realm glowing so brightly that “there was no need of the moon to shine….,” and finally there is a hymn to Uriel (in Hebrew, “light of God”). The hymn intertwines two Judeo/Christian images: the flowering of the “rood” (the cross of Christ, made up of two rods), and the flowering of the “reed” (the correct name--Reed Sea—of the water parted by Moses), from which “we rise again and live.”