A Free Song
was completed October 16, 1942, and had its first performance March 26, 1943 at Boston under the direction for Sergei Koussevitzky. The text was selected from several poems in Walt Whitman’s collection, “Drum Taps.” The vigorous expansive verse of Whitman finds a congenial association with Schuman’s fierce and concentrated style, where grace and charm are crowded out by the impact of granite-like blocks of dissonant harmony and sharp-edged counterpoint.
The text as adapted by Mr. Schuman is as follows:Part I.
Long too long, America,
Traveling roads all even and peaceful, you learn’d from joys and prosperity only;
But now, ah now, to learn from cries of anguish.
Look down, fair moon, and bathe this scene;
Pour softly down the night’s nimbus floods, on faces ghastly, swollen, purple;
On the dead, on their backs, with their arms toss’d wide.
Pour down your unstinted nimbus, sacred moon.Part II. Song of the Banner.
O, a new song, a free song,
Flapping, flapping, flapping, flapping.
Where the banner at daybreak is flapping by sounds, by voices clearer,
By the wind’s voice,
By the banner’s voice, and child’s voice, and sea’s voice, and father’s voice,
Low on the ground and high in the air,
Where the banner at daybreak is flapping.
We hear and see not strips of cloth alone;
We hear again the tramp of armies,
We hear the drums beat, and the trumpets blowing,
A new song. a free song,
We hear the jubilant shouts of millions of men,
We hear liberty!