When I Have Passed Away - (2009)
for medium voice and piano
When I have passed away and am forgotten,
And no one living can recall my face,
When under alien sod my bones lie rotten
With not a tree or stone to mark the place;
Perchance a pensive youth, with passion burning,
For olden verse that smacks of love and wine,
The musty pages of old volumes turning,
May light upon a little song of mine,
And he may softly hum the tune and wonder
Who wrote the verses in the long ago;
Or he may sit him down awhile to ponder
Upon the simple words that touch him so.
[ 3 pages, circa 3' 05" ]
The text is taken from Harlem Shadows, The Poems of Claude McKay, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922. The sentiment he expressed herein has been offered by other artists throughout the ages, a sweet notion that something which the artist does might someday touch the life of someone never to be met and never to be known. In fact, this is one truth of art, when we consider how many artists' works we are acquainted with, even through biographies of their lives, and yet we can never truly know them, but rather their artifact. The love of poetry, music and other arts affords mankind that opportunity of which McKay so beautifully speaks.
The setting is based in large part on a four-chord ground, which I settled upon after reading what I thought to be rather silly, lightweight scholarship on the part of a music critic. The progression of chords of which I speak was purported to have gender characteristics, a notion I reject as fully as I reject notions of race and sexual orientation as rudiments of the material of art. Especially in music, such assertions have made for tenured professorships but no moving contribution to new art works themselves that I have experienced. I took the progression's triads, adding the raised sixth of the first chord as a false neighbor relationship to the next chord, additional chord members to follow and created a ground bass of two measures to accompany the first two verses. The last verse takes the same progression and elongates it into a duration of four measures. Variety in dynamics as in octave displacements broaden the setting.
The score 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.
When I Have Passed Away