America 1968

(2008)

America 1968 sets six poems of Robert Hayden for baritone and piano. The song cycle was commissioned and premiered by Andrew Garland and Donna Loewy.


The song cycle is published by Classical Vocal Repertoire.


"For some time, I have wanted to create a piece about 1968. To think back on that year today is to be flooded with powerful images: two assassinations, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, Apollo 8 orbiting the moon, the black power salute of John Carlos and Tommie Smith on the medal-stand of the Mexico City Olympics. The particular vision of our nation expressed in America 1968 may seem, to some, a bit unusual. It is, at times, disturbing; at times even violent. Still, it is a true, if difficult, view of our country during a volatile time. Ultimately, the vision is positive and encouraging, but the journey to that positive conclusion is harrowing - or at least I hope it is.
I found in Robert Hayden's eloquent poetry a bridge to my memories of the time - and to my own ambivalence about the era. In Hayden's poems, the redemptive powers of art and nature can assuage the reader even when "the news from Selma and Saigon poison the air like fallout." But the rhythms and cadences of urban violence can be heard in Lord Riot, and the casual, misdirected cruelty of those who have themselves been victims finds its expression in "The Whipping." "Those Winter Sundays" is perhaps Hayden's most famous poem. In it, one feels, belatedly, an appreciation for the sacrifices of another, as one does, perhaps even more viscerally, in "Frederick Douglass." To me, Hayden is at his most moving in "The Point," celebrating a transcendent meeting of light and water, a moment when people are "held in shining, like memories in the mind of God."


While tonight's performance marks the world premiere of the complete piece, two of the songs in America 1968 were composed earlier. A version of "Monet's Waterlilie" for chamber ensemble and baritone was written in 2004 for the new-music group Sequitur, and "The Point" was originally part of my song-cycle Climbing: 7 Songs on 8 Poems by African-Americans.


I would like to express my deep appreciation to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Yaddo, and Copland House - the sites where America 1968 was composed."


--Tom Cipullo


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