Leo Smit

A prolific composer, Leo Smit wrote two operas and over ninety songs, with the majority of his songs on the text of Emily Dickinson as part of his work The Ecstatic Pilgrimage. Smit was also the premiere performer of Aaron Copland's piano works during his lifetime, as well as a conductor and dedicated educator. In addition to Dickinson, Smit also set the texts of Beth Frost, Thomas Hardy, Anthony Hecht, Robert Lowell, Theodore Roethke, Anne Sexton, and Marcia Willieme, in addition to many others.

Photo: Leo Smit, self-portrait, University of Buffalo Music Library

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About

Born in Philadelphia, Leo Smit attended the Curtis Institute for piano starting in 1930. His composition studies began in 1935 under the guidance of Nicolas Nabokov.

Smit taught at Sarah Lawrence College, UCLA, and, most notably, SUNY Buffalo. He became a close friend of Aaron Copland after meeting him in 1943 and recorded Copland’s complete works for piano.

Smit’s most extensive composition, The Ecstatic Pilgrimage, is a six-cycle song group, which sets the poetry of Emily Dickinson. There are a total of 76 songs in The Ecstatic Pilgrimage. The songs were composed between 1988 and 1990, and Smit wrote about his connection to Dickinson:

“Since August 1988…Emily Dickinson has been running my life. I found many references to music, some direct, others metaphoric, and to birds, her symbols for life and creativity…A few months after falling under the spell of the great poet, I dreamed I was in her house, playing on her twangy square grand piano, knowing she was in her upstairs bedroom listening through the narrowly opened door. When I finished, I turned around, sensing a presence, and saw a slight girl in white, enveloped by a fiery mist. She silently pressed two hyacinths into my hand and vanished. I still have not awakened from my dream.”

The songs of The Ecstatic Pilgrimage are strongly tonal and contrastive, with both lyrical and dramatic elements.

For more detailed information about Leo Smit’s life and works, please visit the University of Buffalo’s website: Remembering Leo Smit. For inquiries about Leo Smit and to obtain sheet music, please contact Nils Vigeland at [email protected]

–Christie Finn

Source: Nils Vigeland’s article in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians

Related Information

Recordings

Leo Smit: Song Cycles

(Leo Smit)

2007

Dwell in Possibility: Dickinson in Song

(Ernst Bacon, Aaron Copland, Celius Dougherty, John Woods Duke, Lee Hoiby, Richard Hundley, Jake Heggie, Lori Laitman, Libby Larsen, Etta Parker, Simon Sargon, Leo Smit and Richard Pearson Thomas)

2004

Smit: 33 Songs on Poems by Dickinson

(Leo Smit)

1999

Songs

'Twas the old — road — through pain —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Beyond Circumference

A Light exists in Spring

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Tinted Mountains

A loss of something ever felt I —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Childe Emilie

A train went through a burial gate

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Celestial Thrush

A Wife — at daybreak I shall be —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Marigold Heart

After great pain, a formal feeling comes —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Beyond Circumference

At least — to pray — is left

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Beyond Circumference

Better — than Music! For I — who heard it —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Celestial Thrush

Beyond Circumference

Song Collection

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Bind me — I still can sing —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Celestial Thrush

Childe Emilie

Song Collection

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Departed — to the Judgment —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Beyond Circumference

Extol thee — could I? Then I will

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Marigold Heart

Four Trees — upon a solitary Acre —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Tinted Mountains

Go slow, my soul, to feed thyself

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Beyond Circumference

Good Morning — Midnight —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Childe Emilie

Heart, not so heavy as mine

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Celestial Thrush

I cannot dance upon my Toes —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Celestial Thrush

I cried at Pity — not at Pain —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Childe Emilie

I died for beauty, but was scarce

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Beyond Circumference

I dwell in Possibility —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The White Diadem

I have no Life but this —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Marigold Heart

I heard a Fly buzz — when I died —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Beyond Circumference

I reason, Earth is short —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Marigold Heart

I reckon — when I count it all —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The White Diadem

I saw no Way — The Heavens were stitched —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Beyond Circumference

I see thee better — in the Dark —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Tinted Mountains

I shall keep singing!

Leo Smit

Song Collection: The Celestial Thrush

I shall know why — when Time is over —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Beyond Circumference

I was a Phoebe — nothing more —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Celestial Thrush

I was the slightest in the House —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Childe Emilie

I went to Heaven —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Beyond Circumference

I would not paint — a picture —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The White Diadem

I'm ceded — I've stopped being Theirs —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Childe Emilie

I've seen a Dying Eye

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Beyond Circumference

Image of Light, Adieu —

Leo Smit

Song Collection: Tinted Mountains

Is it too late to touch you, Dear?

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Marigold Heart

It troubled me as once I was —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Childe Emilie

Let Us play Yesterday —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Childe Emilie

Me — come! My dazzled face

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The White Diadem

Me prove it now — Whoever doubt

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Marigold Heart

My Life had stood — a Loaded Gun —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Marigold Heart

Of Course — I prayed —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Beyond Circumference

Of Tolling Bell I ask the cause?

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Beyond Circumference

Papa above!

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Childe Emilie

So well that I can live without —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Marigold Heart

Softened by Time's consummate plush

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Childe Emilie

That first Day, when you praised Me, Sweet

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Marigold Heart

That Such have died enable Us

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Beyond Circumference

The Angle of a Landscape —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Tinted Mountains

The Bird her punctual music brings

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Celestial Thrush

The Bobolink is gone —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Celestial Thrush

The Celestial Thrush

Song Collection

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

The Child's faith is new —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Childe Emilie

The Earth has many keys -

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Celestial Thrush

The Ecstatic Pilgrimage

Song Collection

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

The face I carry with me — last —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Marigold Heart

The Fingers of the Light

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Tinted Mountains

The first Day's Night had come —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Beyond Circumference

The Marigold Heart

Song Collection

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

The Martyr Poets — did not tell —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The White Diadem

The Mountain sat upon the Plain

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Tinted Mountains

The Mountains stood in Haze —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Tinted Mountains

The Poets light but Lamps —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The White Diadem

The Sun Kept Setting

Jake Heggie

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: How Well I Knew the Light

The White Diadem

Song Collection

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

There came a Day at Summer's full

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Marigold Heart

There is a pain — so utter —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Marigold Heart

There's a certain Slant of light

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Tinted Mountains

They shut me up in Prose —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Childe Emilie

Through lane it lay — through bramble —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Childe Emilie

Tinted Mountains

Song Collection

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Title divine — is mine!

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Marigold Heart

To pile like Thunder to its close

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The White Diadem

Under the Light, yet under

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Tinted Mountains

Up Life's Hill with my my little Bundle

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Childe Emilie

Upon his Saddle sprung a Bird

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Celestial Thrush

We dream — it is good we are dreaming —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Beyond Circumference

We talked as Girls do —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Childe Emilie

What if I say I shall not wait!

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Beyond Circumference

What shall I do — it whimpers so —

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Marigold Heart

Wild Nights — Wild Nights!

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Marigold Heart

Within my Garden, rides a Bird

Leo Smit

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: The Celestial Thrush

Sheet Music

Childe Emilie

Composer(s): Leo Smit

Song(s): 1. I was the slightest in the House
2. Through lane it lay - through bramble
3. It troubled me as once I was
4. The Child's faith is new
5. Softened by Time's consummate plush
6. Papa above!
7. We talked as Girls do
8. They shut me up in Prose
9. I cried at Pity - not at Pain
10. Let Us play Yesterday
11. A loss of something ever felt I
12. Good Morning - Midnight
13. Up Life's Hill with my little Bundle
14. I'm ceded - I've stopped being Theirs

Voice Type: Mezzo-Soprano, Soprano

Buy via Theodore Presser Company

The White Diadem

Composer(s): Leo Smit

Song(s): 1. I reckon - when I count at all
2. I dwell in Possibility
3. The Martyr Poets - did not tell
4. The Poets light but Lamps
5. I would not paint - a picture
6. To pile like Thunder to its close
7. Me - come! My dazzled face

Voice Type: Mezzo-Soprano, Soprano

Buy via Theodore Presser Company

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