for chorus a cappella(2012)
|Commission||Commissioned by the New York Virtuoso Singers|
Cornstalks was composed in May 2012 for the New York Virtuoso Singers at the request of its conductor, Harold Rosenbaum. Scored for small double chorus a cappella, this short piece is a homophonic, antiphonal, and mostly syllabic setting of the poem Zea by the American poet Richard Wilbur. My title replaces the obscure “Zea,” the name of the genus to which corn belongs, with the ordinary word that is the poem’s subject matter. Beyond its precise observation and beautiful language, the poem attracted me because as a child I often played hide-and-seek in the cornfields at my aunt’s farm in Wisconsin.
Wilbur’s poem describes cornstalks in autumn, after “their fruit is picked,” in which “one white corn-leaf…can seem to be the sole thing breathing.” Each tercet is laid out in the manner of a haiku (lines of five, seven, and five syllables), with the first and third lines rhyming. The nine tercets in turn group into three parts. My setting incorporates some but not all aspects of this elegant structure. My main concern was to reflect the poem’s combination of apparent simplicity and underlying depth of meaning.
- Fred Lerdahl