Surely I Shall Go On Living

ENS.33 | 1.10.08-2.8.08/10.6.12 | 10’
Mezzo-Soprano, Bb Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, String Quartet

Midi Rendition of “Surely I Shall Go On Living – 1. The Little Tree”
Midi Rendition of “Surely I Shall Go On Living – 2. Beach Walk”

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Surely I Shall Go On Living
Texts by Robert Walser (1) and Henri Cole (2) from “Selected Stories” and “Blackbird and Wolf”

  1. The Little Tree
  2. Beach Walk

I began Surely I Shall Go On Living in the summer of 2007 with the idea that the vocal line would be accompanied by an ensemble focusing on exploding and embellishing a single note, but I ran out of juice after setting a single paragraph of a lovely text by Robert Walser, The Little Tree, and abandoned it until early 2008, when upon reexamination I realized how to move forward. Each paragraph of the text would be accompanied by an expansion of the harmony, so that it moved at intervals from unisons to complex five-part chords. I began with a mezzo-soprano and string trio, adding a bass clarinet for weight on the bottom and a trumpet for brilliance above. But the song that resulted seemed like it needed a counterweight, so I dug through my list of possible texts to set and selected an otherwise unrelated poem by Henri Cole, Beach Walk, which mostly tells of a gay awakening, but shares with Walser’s prose text a sense that life is to be lived and continues though death moves always alongside. Each song is set at the same tempo, though halved in the second, whose form is more traditional and includes a quote from Morton Feldman’s Second String Quartet, a masterpiece for which I have particular affection.

In 2012 I re-orchestrated the piece for clarinet, bass clarinet, and string quartet, making it much more playable, and the original version has been withdrawn.