2013 – for SATB Chorus (10:00)


Three Wallace Stevens Songs


I. The Man Whose Pharynx was Bad

2. The Snow Man

3. Tea at the Palaz of Hoon

The New York Virtuoso Singers; Harold Rosenbaum, conductor


I have been captivated by Wallace Stevens’ poetry for many years. With his idiosyncratic, almost willfully opaque language and vivid imagery, Stevens has always struck me as a particularly musical poet. In choosing to set some of his texts, I wanted to create a somewhat Stevensian gambit of my own: to faithfully access his aesthetic landscape while also creating a choral setting that has its own independent raison d’etre. This composition, then, reflects my humble efforts towards that balance. I chose three poems from Stevens’ landmark collection Harmonium, which established the erstwhile lawyer as a major literary figure. Critics have often grouped these particular poems together because they share many connections of both specific image and general thematic content. In all of these, Stevens explores humanity’s relationship to its surroundings (both natural and social) and the importance of turning inwards for truth (whether we like that truth or not).


I. The Man whose Pharynx was bad

The time of year has grown indifferent.
Mildew of summer and the deepening snow
Are both alike in the routine I know:
I am too dumbly in my being pent.

The wind attendant on the solstices
Blows on the shutters of the metropoles,
Stirring no poet in his sleep, and tolls
The grand ideas of the villages.

The malady of the quotidian . . .
Perhaps if summer ever came to rest
And lengthened, deepened, comforted, caressed
Through days like oceans in obsidian

Horizons, full of night’s midsummer blaze;
Perhaps, if winter once could penetrate
Through all its purples to the final slate,
Persisting bleakly in an icy haze;

One might in turn become less diffident,
Out of such mildew plucking neater mould
And spouting new orations of the cold.
One might. One might. But time will not relent.


II. The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.


III. Tea at the Palaz of Hoon

Not less because in purple I descended
The western day through what you called
The loneliest air, not less was I myself.

What was the ointment sprinkled on my beard?
What were the hymns that buzzed beside my ears?
What was the sea whose tide swept through me there?

Out of my mind the golden ointment rained,
And my ears made the blowing hymns they heard.
I was myself the compass of that sea:

I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
Or heard or felt came not but from myself;
And there I found myself more truly and more strange.

(all three poems from Harmonium)


March 2014
Merkin Hall, New York City, New York
The New York Virtuoso Singers; Harold Rosenbaum, conductor


Winner of a 2013 BMI Student Composer Award

Copyright 2013-22 by Michael Schachter. michael.schachter [at] gmail.com