for Soprano, flute, clarinet, violin and cello
Text by Edward Weismiller
soprano/clarinet movement premiered May 2003
Lucy Shelton, soprano
Mica Bregman, clarinet
complete piece premiered January 28, 2005
Lucy Shelton, soprano
Sarah Green, flute
Lucie McGee, clarinet
Charles Hummel, violin
Sarah Lambert, cello
|“An additional, unannounced treat was the premiere, by Shelton and Cigan, of a piece titled "When Time Was Young," with music by Thomas Flaherty and words by longtime 20th Century Consort supporter Edward Weismiller -- a limpid, lyrical and effortlessly touching duet for soprano and clarinet.” [Lucy Shelton, 20th Century Consort]
– Tim Page, Washington Post
|“California composer Flaherty wrote When Time Was Young for Shelton when she received an honorary degree from Pomona College. He cast the six poems by Edward Weismiller for her flexible, compelling voice as it resounds with violin (Hirono Oka), cello (Ohad Bar-David), clarinet (Arne Running), and flute (Edward Schulz). The title song, with clarinet alone, explored dissonances, let the clarinet seem to finish the soprano's sentences, sometimes, in poetry that exulted: "Let us sing our lives away."” [Lucy Shelton, Network for New Music]“
– Daniel Webster The Philadelphia Inquirer
The first poem in this set was written by Edward Weismiller in 1950, the year I was born. As a young man of 35, he looked forward in these poems to many seasons of life, and sometimes contemplated what it would be like to look back at them. He might not have guessed that some 15 years later he would make the acquaintance of a young Pomona College student named Lucy Shelton, who would go on to an internationally acclaimed career as a singer. Or that he would remain in touch with her for 40 years. Or that she would provide the inspiration to return to Pomona in his ninetieth year. Or that she would perform these poems in a musical setting with current students in 2005. Or that his five grown children would be joining him in Claremont for the occasion.
Professor Weismiller taught at Pomona College from 1950 to 1967. He spent the rest of his teaching career at George Washington University in Washington, DC, and retired some time ago. Since then he has been concentrating primarily on a study of Milton’s works, but has at the same time continued to write poetry and prose.
My own acquaintance with his poetry is quite recent. In 2003, Lucy Shelton received an honorary doctorate from Pomona College. Rather than give the traditional “thank you” speech she elected to do what she has done ever since graduating from Pomona in 1969: she decided to sing her gratitude. As she has made a specialty of singing new music, she asked the current faculty composer to write a piece to be sung with a graduating senior. Pomona clarinetist Micah Bregman was lucky enough to be the graduating senior. I was lucky enough to be the current faculty composer.
Among several poems that Lucy sent me to consider setting was the text of the second movement of the set. Its final line, “Let us sing our lives away” seemed strikingly appropriate and uplifting advice to a graduating class in a commencement ceremony, especially coming from someone who was following that very advice.
The poem came from a set of six poems found in The Branch of Fire, and the other five called out for settings of their own. Their images are vivid and richly evocative, and have given me great pleasure. The setting is dedicated to Lucy Shelton and the Pomona College Contemporary Music Ensemble: Sarah Green, flute; Lucie McGee, clarinet; Charles Hummel, violin; and Sarah Lambert, cello, premiered the piece in January 2005.
Summer's obscure, but winter is open;
Why do you rise, with your face turned ashen?
When Time was young,
When Time was young
But heaven, what is heaven? And where,
Thinking that all the world is less and less
All night the treetoads sang. The summer wood
And even friends, ending their bridge or conversation
All night the world said, It is the same.
All night the wind plucked the familiar string;
What made the music?