Fantaisies Décoratives - (2006)
for soprano and piano (or harp)
for Alexandra Wilson
i. Le Panneau [ 7 pages, circa 5' 45" ]
rose-tree's dancing shade
There stands a little ivory girl,
Pulling the leaves of pink and pearl
With pale green nails of polished jade.
leaves fall upon the mould,
The white leaves flutter, one by one,
Down to a blue bowl where the sun,
Like a great dragon, writhes in gold.
leaves float upon the air,
The red leaves flutter idly down,
Some fall upon her yellow gown,
And some upon her raven hair.
an amber lute and sings,
And as she sings a silver crane
Begins his scarlet neck to strain,
And flap his burnished metal wings.
a lute of amber bright,
And from the thicket where he hides
Her lover, with his almond eyes,
Watches her movements with delight.
she gives a cry of fear,
And tiny tears begin to start:
A thorn has wounded with its dart
The pink-veined sea-shell of her ear.
she laughs a merry note:
There has fallen a petal of the rose
Just where the yellow satin shows
The blue-veined flower of her throat.
green nails of polished jade,
Pulling the leaves of pink and pearl,
There stands a little ivory girl
Under the rose-tree's dancing shade.
Les Ballons [ 3 pages, circa 3' 00" ]
these turbid turquoise skies
The light and luminous balloons
Dip and drift like satin moons,
Drift like silken butterflies,
every windy gust,
Rise and reel like dancing girls,
Float like strange transparent pearls,
Fall and float like silver dust.
the low leaves they cling,
Each with coy fantastic pose,
Each a petal of a rose
Straining at a gossamer string.
the tall trees they climb,
Like thin globes of amethyst,
Wandering opals keeping tryst
With the rubies of the lime.
[ Total duration: 10 pages, circa 8' 45" ]
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was Dublin born, Oxford-educated and seemed to live
between many cultural worlds, taking studies in classics and Greek at Oxford
and thereafter working as playwright, writer and poet, commentator, pundit
and wit. Some of his poems are souvenirs of his travels throughout Europe,
and these small poems are titled with French names, though the first is a
word painting of a Chinese panel, and the second a descriptive verse of
balloons loosed into the sky. Imprisoned for two years at hard labor
in England for "homosexual offenses," among his poems is the oft-cited
"Ballad or Reading Goal," a commentary on prison and an execution by
While some critics of Wilde have made their small mark with commentaries
(Punch magazine wrote the predictable pun, "The poet is Wilde, but his
poetry's tame" while a recent yet eminently forgettable academic managed to
attack his work by remarking that he was "more than usually immature in his
slavish regurgitation of diverse and unassimilated poetic tags"), the body
of Wilde's work, crowned by such plays as The Importance of Being Earnest
and Lady Windemere's Fan, leaves Wilde as a creative artist of world
rank, and his critics merely obscure.
Much has been made of Wilde's homosexuality, though bisexuality might be
equally named as he was married too and sired two sons; that some creative
people are straight and others gay or bisexual means essentially nothing to
me in terms of the artistic works they have produced, for creativity and art
cannot be linked to sexual proclivities in particular, and to make such a
claim -- as have radical feminist musicologists, for example -- is an empty
pursuit worthy of little notice in the larger scheme of art across
centuries, just as other criticisms, however amusing to the cognoscenti,
might make for interesting biographical but contribute little to the works
of art which such people have left to the world.
Written for soprano, the tessitura rises to an A-sharp in the first of these
songs, "The Panel," which describes the various colors and hints at the
materials from which this Chinese panel was fashioned. The six-note, opening
chords hint at the delicate nature of the elements which might make up the
pictures on the panel. Written in D-sharp minor, the accompaniment also
hints at the "amber lute" with which the "ivory girl" accompanies herself.
In two climaxes, the vocal line rises to G-sharp as she cries, and then
A-sharp as she "laughs a merry note." The last phrases mirror the reverse
order of the last strophe as it reverses the language of the first, and a
short piano epilogue concludes the setting.
The second setting opens with a visual nod to the balloons freely blowing in
mild winds in the sky, seconds placed high as if balloons attached together.
Perhaps loosed by children -- which would be and often is a tragedy to the
child who loses a balloon -- the poem sets about to paint these balloons
with words; as with "The Panel," the clearest features are their colors, and
then their shapes and movements.
Having met and performed for some time with Australian soprano, Alexandra
Wilson, I was impressed by both her technique and and voice itself. A young
wife and mother now living and working in Venice, she is an admirable
artist. Speaking about her new child brought thoughts to me about lullabies
which, in turn, inspired the delicate opening gestures of the first song
setting and inspired that which followed in the act of composing. These
songs are a compliment to her as a performing artist.
The score for Fantaisies Décoratives in the medium key is available
as a free PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording
of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click
on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.