In My Grave


In My Grave - (2004)      
Frances Ginzer
for soprano and piano

with thoughts in memory of Mattje, a grandfather lost to war

He awoke from a fitful sleep,
The warbling of birds, his to reap,
In the depths of a dungeon e'er dark
To be blessed by the sweet songs of a lark,
And he thought to himself
Of the beautiful day.

His bones brittle with cold,
Each breath seeped in dank mould,
On his brow without pattern or rhyme
Icy water drops danced away time,
Yet he thought to himself
Of the beautiful day.

Ere long he twitched at the sound
Of the prison guard's morbid round.
Undisturbed by jangle of key,
He wandered in reverie
And he thought to himself
Of the beautiful day.

Led from the musk of the cell,
Dawn's light glowed o'er the dell.
Blinded and stand ne'er more he could;
His lungs supped from the cup of the wood,
But he thought to himself
Of the beautiful day.

Blows felled, cruel and numbing,
Freedom beckoned, and succumbing,
His limbs, chafed by bonds winding,
Were loosed of their binding
As he thought to himself
Of the beautiful day.

The spade shoved in his hands,
Bloodied and raw from the bands,
He dug the spring sod, his own grave,
So cool and inviting it's rave
And he thought to himself
Of the beautiful day.

Fire's ricochet shattered the air.
He fell in the trough, this his fare.
And he thought to himself -
The peace I so crave
I now find in my grave
On such a beautiful day.

Verona 19 XI 2004        Copyright © 2004 by Frances Ginzer        Used by permission

[ 7 pages, circa 6' 25" ]

Francis Ginzer


During the period when Frances Ginzer and I were performing Tristan und Isolde in Verona, I was composing the Songs of War cycle for baritone and piano. We were friends who had performed together in previous productions; I challenged her while we were lingering over coffee and the newspaper on the palazzo one November morning to create a poem, which she did overnight and which then I set for her in a few days. The setting is dramatic and wide ranging, because Frances herself has had such a fine career and essayed so many of the great Wagnerian roles.

Mattje is her grandfather, who was arrested and killed in Croatia as the text describes, as the family was able to reconstruct the tragic events. It is a poem of faith as well as horror being overcome by that faith.

Since she signed the draft of her poem with her initials, I chose the chord structures to generally be F over G and, alternatively, G over F, and treated the strophes in ever more dramatic fashion. The F over G "Klang" defines, in the darker minor, the key signature and modal quality of the harmonic language of that region, as well as the pivot and cadence material of the peaceable C major which "book ends" the interior horrors.


By means of this "pre-compositional" restriction, the tonality and chord structures became clear and led the setting along in its painting of the various strophes' images, each building upon the prior. As Frances was such a convincing Isolde throughout our work together, I set the accelerating tragedy for a dramatic voice, with the vocal part rising to the climactic B-flat over a rhapsodic piano underpinning.

The last measures of the song end in C major, the region with which the piece opens, a tonal vision of peace when taken in the context of the scale which the minor chords of F and G define -- E flat, F, G, A flat, B flat, C and D -- and which therefore define the tonal regions of the bulk of the setting, a tale of impending tragedy whose outcome is the "peace I so crave...."


The score for In My Grave 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.

In My Grave - for dramatic soprano