Composer’s Notes from the premiere of Insomnia, courtesy of SongFest:
“Several years ago, the brilliant conductor (and my dear friend) Mark Shapiro gave me a copy of Lisa Russ Spaar’s anthology Acquainted with the Night: Insomnia Poems. Mark wanted me to create a piece on that theme for his virtuoso choral group, Cantori New York. When I was approached by Rosemary Hyler Ritter about creating a work for SongFest, I revisited the idea. In a typical instance of composer indolence, I thought, ‘Perhaps, I can do one piece for the two groups.’ After all, Brahms’ Neue Liebeslieder and Ziguenerlieder work equally well for chorus and for small ensemble. Unfortunately, as so often happens, my grand plan fell a bit short. At a certain point, I realized that I would have to create two different versions of Insomnia. Though both versions will use the same basic material, tonight’s premiere presents a work that is clearly composed for a small group of virtuoso soloists.
“Two poems with the title ‘Insomnia’ begin the piece. The Eady text reminded me of those nights when an endless stream-of consciousness sets the mind to racing, while the Gioia combines a domesticity with an un-deniable feeling of regret. The violence of Lisel Mueller’s ‘Storm’ speaks of terrifying sleepless nights. The child’s ‘Prayer’ that followed seemed to me a most natural response. The next movement, on an excerpt from Keats’ ‘Eve of St. Agnes,’ deals with a very different prayer. The legend that inspired Keats held that if a virtuous young woman followed the prescribed ritual, she might on the eve of St. Agnes Day (January 21) see the face of her future husband in her dreams. Because youthful Romantic fervor often leads to middle-aged disillusionment, I thought this an appropriate moment to include Juliet Wilson’s haiku on snoring. The excerpt from Howard Moss’ ‘A Summer Gone’ is a perfect recollection of those evenings when the beauty of nature keeps us – blissfully – awake. The text for the eighth movement was written by the English poet William Morris in 1893 and is embroidered onto the valance of his bed at Kelmscott Manor. It is the only poem I know of told from the point of view of a bed. Finally, Whitman’s ‘A Clear Midnight’ seemed an appropriate conclusion.
“Insomnia was commissioned jointly by SongFest at Pepperdine and by Cantori New York. The present version is dedicated to Rosemary Hyler Ritter.”
–Tom Cipullo, May 1, 2009
I. You’ll Never Sleep Tonight (Text: Cornelius Eady) – Quartet
II. Insomnia (Text: Dana Gioia) – Baritone Solo
III. Storm (Text: Lisel Mueller) – Quartet
IV. Prayer (Text: Anonymous) – Soprano and Tenor Duet
V. from The Eve of St. Agnes (Text: John Keats) – Soprano Solo
VI. Snoring (Text: Juliet Wilson) – Quartet
VII. Music (Text: Howard Moss) – Mezzo and Baritone Duet
VIII. For the Bed at Kelmscott (Text: William Morris) – Mezzo Solo
IX. Insomnia Reprise – Quartet
X. A Clear Midnight (Text: Walt Whitman) – Tenor Solo