I've Heard an Organ Talk Sometimes

"I've Heard an Organ Talk Sometimes" is the tenth song in Copland's song cycle Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson.

Date: 1950Composer: Aaron CoplandText: Emily DickinsonSong Collection: Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson

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In the opening of “I’ve Heard an Organ Talk Sometimes,” the pianist dominates the texture, even when the singer enters with the first stanza of the poem. Here, the piano’s dominance (as the piano/”organ” talks and the singer “listens”) does not take place through a traditional melody, but with interesting harmonies heard in the chords. The harmonies sound more in the jazz tradition than classical, and after the starkness of the ninth song, the listener enters into a completely different musical place, like entering a cathedral flooded with light.

One special moment for the singer in this song is found in Copland’s setting of the last line. The word “Hallowed” (which is actually “Chapel” in Dickinson’s poem, according to new critical editions) is sung legato, and the singer cannot avoid singing with almost a “Gospel-Singer” flair because of Copland’s melody.

The word “Bernardine” refers to a specific order of monks and nuns in the Catholic tradition related to St. Bernard of Clairvaux. This religious order (Cistercian) is extremely conservative and characterized by an emphasis on manual labor and self-sufficiency.

–Christie Finn


I’ve heard an Organ talk, sometimes
by Emily Dickinson

I’ve heard an Organ talk, sometimes
In a Cathedral Aisle,
And understood no word it said
Yet held my breath, the while

And risen up and gone away,
A more Berdardine Girl
Yet know not what was done to me
In that old Hallowed Aisle.

Related Information

Sheet Music

Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson

Composer(s): Aaron Copland

Song(s): 1. Nature, the Gentlest Mother
2. There Came a Wind Like a Bugle
3. Why Do They Shut Me Out of Heaven?
4. The World Feels Dusty
5. Heart, We Will Forget Him
6. Dear March, Come In!
7. Sleep is Supposed to Be
8. When They Come Back
9. I Felt a Funeral in My Brain
10. I've Heard an Organ Talk Sometimes
11. Going to Heaven!
12. The Chariot

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