“A Mirror on Which to Dwell”
When I agreed to write a cycle of songs for Speculum Musicae I decided, first, that it should be for soprano and chamber orchestra. The poems of Elizabeth Bishop impressed me because they have a clear verbal coherence as well as an imaginative use of syllabic sounds that suggest the singing voice. I was very much in sympathy with their point of view, for there is almost always a secondary layer of meaning, sometimes ironic, sometimes passionate, that gives a special ambiance, often contradictory, to what the words say. The order of the songs is entirely mine, alternating as they do between considerations about nature, love and isolation.
“A Mirror on Which to Dwell,” a line from the poem, “Insomnia,” is the title I chose partly because it seemed to characterize the general world of the poems, partly because I wanted the music to be a mirror of the words and partly because Speculum Musicae, the organization which commissioned the work in honor of the U.S. Bicentennial. Its first performance was by Susan Davenny Wyner and Speculum Musicae, Richard Fitz conducting, in New York City on February 24, 1976. The work is dedicated to the artists that gave its first performance.