The Snow Man - (2007)
for medium voice and piano
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 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.
[ 4 pages, circa 3' 00" ]
Something of Stevens' life is sketched on the page for my setting of his The Emperor of Ice-Cream, which according to Stevens' was one of his favorite poems. This austere yet far sweeter poem paints a portrait of the winter cold, and of the nothingness "that is not there" as well as the "nothing that is" for the lone snow man in a winter landscape.
Set for medium high voice, the lyricism of the vocal line lies above a crystalline accompaniment centering on F-sharp, but with a whole-tone insistence on B-sharp within that scale. The accompaniment lies in the top register of the piano, and its clusters are intended to make the landscape austere yet lovely. The listener who is "nothing himself" regards with no awareness of anything a surrounding "nothingness." One might think of the Buddhist notion of a no-thing in which the the illusions of the world to man are quite rightly lost upon the regarding nothingness of Stevens' snow man. For this, a simple, liquid vocalism is recommended, with little stress except as noted in the score.