Casper Hauser Songs

ENS.2008.4 | 32′
Poem by Neil Azevedo
Bass-baritone & 2 Bass Clarinets, Bassoon, 2 Cellos, Bass


1. The Dark Lament of His Mouth

2. Solitude

3. Whiteness

4. On the Albino Farm

5. First Light

6. Der Erlkönig

7. To My Body

8. That the Night Please Us

9. Ich will ein Reiter werden

In 2008 I by chance discovered the book Ocean by the poet Neil Azevedo in a dollar bin at the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan, and opening it at random a multipart poem about Casper Hauser caught my eye. As a child I’d been fascinated by the story of the youth who claimed to have grown up with no knowledge of the outside world, and I loved Azevedo’s strange, evocative texts, so I immediately composed a half hour song cycle setting them.

However, Casper Hauser Songs never seemed quite right, but I wasn’t sure why. Eventually I realized the original rock-influenced instrumentation (including baritone sax and electric guitar) was to blame. Although the melodic and harmonic character of the songs may often—deliberately—resemble popular forms, the work sits firmly in the classical tradition, and as such it made sense to recast it for a more acoustic ensemble.

Over the next several years I made different versions of the piece for various instrumentations, including solo piano, until in 2017 I finally settled on a rich sextet of low woodwinds and strings. As I worked on these arrangements I found myself extensively rewriting the piece, so that by the time I arrived at this final score the material had been virtually recomposed entirely from the bottom up, though the songs retain their original shapes and character.