ENS.2006.5 | 9′
Poem by C.K. Williams
Baritone & Viola
The poem Night by C. K. Williams—a poet whose work I have always admired—first appeared in 2006 in The New Yorker, where it struck me not only for its crepuscular loveliness but for its apparent or at least temporary repudiation of the extremely lengthy poetic line Williams had long since staked out as his special territory.
The six small verses seemed to lend themselves well to my composition style, so I set them for baritone voice with guitar and viola. After Sea Change I was very interested in dark timbres, and the third Velvet Underground album with John Cale’s viola matching Lou Reed’s electric guitar was a clear touchpoint.
Unfortunately, at the time I had no idea how to write for guitar, and the part that was composed turned out to be unidiomatic and virtually unplayable. Though over the next several years I tried making versions of the piece for various instruments none of them satisfied me.
A decade passed. In 2016 I was idly looking over a version I had made of some of the movements a couple of years before for baritone with viola alone, which had been abandoned because a solo viola didn’t seem sufficient to perform the polyphony envisioned for some of the movements, when I realized that if instead of trying to recreate the original parts I used idiomatic string techniques to translate rather than transcribe the original textures I could finally make a definitive version of the work for baritone and solo viola. So I did.