CONTINENT'S END: NINE POEMS OF ROBINSON JEFFERSMEDIA:
- For mezzo-soprano and piano
- Year of completion: 2012
- Duration: 35 minutes
- Commissioned by the Robinson Jeffers Association to commemorate the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the poet's birth
- Additional support provided by The Center for Cultural Innovation's ARC Grant
- Performances: May 26, 2012 – Robinson Jeffers Association Conference – First United Methodist Church, Pacific Grove, CA. (Valentina Osinski, mezzo-soprano; Bruce Olstad, piano)
- 1. Granite and Cypress (4')
- 2. Natural Music (3'’)
- 3. October Evening (2')
- 4. Continent's End (6')
- 5. Fire on the Hills (2'’)
- 6. Distant Rainfall (3')
- 7. Science (4')
- 8. Rock and Hawk (4')
- 9. Evening Ebb (5')
Performers' note: Continent's End: Nine Poems of Robinson Jeffers is a nine-song cycle whose individual songs may be performed separately and in any order. The style is lyrical, combining tonal and non-tonal elements. The rhythmic style of the piece is often syncopated and attempts to mimic free-flowing speech, while maintaining common practice notation. The cycle varies from easy to moderate difficulty.
Composer's program note: A turning point in my creative life was the discovery of Robinson Jeffers' little volume Selected Poems. Jeffers' primal narratives, juxtaposing unmitigated violence and gentle lyricism, are set in the locale I know intimately – the Monterey Peninsula on California's Central Coast. It's a region I had the privilege of calling home for much of my youth. In Jeffers I discovered an artist that, literally, mythologized the landscape of my childhood. I intuitively sensed the musicality of his poems and, after spending years with Jeffers' long lines, complex language, and irregular meters, I believe I've arrived at music whose organic character, elastic rhythm, and rich harmony are true to these rugged verses.
In preparation for these long-gestating songs I made two important decisions. First, I chose from Jeffers' shorter poems, such as Granite and Cypress, Fire on the Hills, and the famous poem from which the collection takes its title – works that not only convey the immediacy of the poet's experience of his natural surroundings, but also have a consistent point of view or perceived narrator. Second, I set Jeffers' stalwart verse for a female vocalist – a “voice” that was ever-present in his work and life. So many of Jeffers' protagonists in the harrowing narrative poems are women. In addition, his muse and greatest influence was his beloved wife Una.
While most of the poems in this collection focus on Jeffers' relationship with the landscape, two of them, Science and Natural Music, reflect the poet's more controversial philosophy of “inhumanism” – the idea that mankind is too self-centered and that his influence on “the beauty of things” is a negative one. The harsh, even apocalyptic, tone of these poems may provide contrast and act as interludes to the more descriptive and experiential poems. I've always considered Jeffers' biting critique of humanity merely a humble form of devotion to nature – even a prophetic plea for survival. As the 21st century progresses, the civilization of which Jeffers so presciently warned us, the one that “bred knives on nature,” continues, sadly, to come to fruition.
This work is dedicated to my own wife and muse, Donna Eshelman, with whom I regularly visit “Jeffers Country” and the poet's monumental Tor House and Hawk Tower.