At the time that the New York State Bar Association invited me to indicate my interest in their music project, I was considering composing some choral settings of poems by 20th century Americans. After reading the extract from the speech by Judge Hand, The Spirit of Liberty
, two binding threads emerged, and gave rise to the sequence of texts I used. The first thread is the American paradox the dualistic nature of the country, its capacity for generosity and selfishness. The second is the continuous engagement with a frontier, once a physical wilderness, recently more a spiritual wilderness.
Other shared themes between the statement by Judge Hand and the poems were striking to me: the precariousness of liberty’s preservation in the frontier nation, and the hope that the “conscience and courage” of the nation would win through.
The shape of the cycle derived from these thoughts, moving gradually toward Lindsay’s mystical evocation of the transformed city, one which Judge Hand, both realist and visionary, would share in the same hopeful spirit.
The motive which opens the first choral setting seems to represent the metaphor of travel to new places in time, space, body, or mind shared by all the poems. The musical language draws on American vernacular throughout. It embraces the possibility (so available to music) of making rhythmic and harmonic connections below the verbal surface.