Notes below written by composer Steven Errante
Commissioned in 1989 by the North Carolina Music Teachers’ Association
The texts for Cradle Songs are drawn from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. This performance is the premiere of the orchestral version.
1. Infant Joy / Infant Sorrow
There are two poems in this movement, one depicting an infant born into warm surroundings and the other into destitution. The voice of the child in “Infant Joy” is sung by the baritone, while the mother’s lullaby floats over it in the soprano part. When the music abruptly shifts to “Infant Sorrow,” the baritone also sings the voice of the child. The last section of the song juxtaposes lines from both poems, reaching an unsettled conclusion.
2. Little Boy Lost / Little Boy Found
In this case there are also two poems, but here the second poem provides a happy ending. The subject gave me a chance to take some inspiration from Schubert’s “Erlking” in the galloping figures heard in the accompaniment
3. The Land of Dreams
The poem is a dialog between a father and his child: the little boy has been visiting his mother in the “Land of Dreams.” I decided to set this as simply as possible, like a folk song, in which the undulations of the accompaniment imitate the sound of a guitar.
4. Are Not the Joys
The soprano sings in a rhythmically free fashion about the joys of youth, especially when contrasted with “age and sickness.”
5. A Cradle Song
This is actually a setting of two different cradle songs drawn from Blake’s collections. One lullaby is serene and tender, but the second, sung mainly by the baritone, has some moments where sleep is disturbed: “When thy little heart does wake/Then the dreadful lightnings break.”
The work is dedicated to my wife Sandy and my first daughter Emmy, who was in the cradle at the time the music was written.
Symphony No. 2
Commissioned in 1989 by the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra for the 250th Anniversary of the founding of Wilmington, North Carolina
After a brief introduction in which some important thematic ideas appear in veiled form, an insistent rhythmic figure appears in the percussion section. Over this, melodies and chord progressions drift in and out of focus, and the movement is shaped by the process of these musical ideas gradually becoming louder and more sharply defined. At the end, though, the music fades into silence- this is unfinished business, and these themes will be more conclusively dealt with in the Finale.
The slow movement begins with a short, uneasy-sounding introduction, which leads to a somber melody in the bassoon. After the same melody is taken over by the violas and cellos, the mood quickly shifts and a major-key theme is heard in the English horn. The restless music returns, and even though the entire orchestra eventually gives out the somber melody first heard in the bassoon, the movement ends peacefully with the major-key theme, this time played by the oboe.
Very light-hearted throughout, this scherzo begins with a jaunty melody carried by the trumpet. In the middle section, a melody in the style of a folk song appears in the strings, followed by a gradual return of the tunes from the first section.
Once again, there is a brief introduction hinting at themes and motives, and then the first violins and piano present a anthem-like melody. Once this song passes through various sections of the orchestra, percussion and harp pick up the rhythmic figures from the first movement. The themes once again go in and out of focus, but this time they arrive at a point where they are now combined with the anthem theme from the beginning of the finale. They reach a triumphant high point, but things are not quite over. There is a sudden hush, and both the folk song melody from the third movement and the major-key melody from the second are heard in counterpoint. Then the tempo picks back up and the music hurtles toward a conclusion.
The Finale is dedicated to my daughter Casey.
Steven Errante, conductor
Unless indicated, all program notes are researched and written by Joan Olsson.