"...del cammin di nostra vita..."
For Tenor Solo Alone

by Christopher Fulkerson
CF's Composition Desk

Download the Score

As I will relate, only a fragment of this piece remains.

"...del cammin di nostra vita..." was written as a tiny drama, you could call it my first piece of music theater. The scene is a representation of Leonardo da Vinci, who wrote the text, as he is writing it, wrapped in thought of an experience he has had, and which he describes.

I set the text again in my SCRITTI DI LEONARDO. Whether or not I had wanted to, I had to reset it... this little composition was written as an exam piece for my Ph.D. studies at the University of California. During the composition exam, candidates were required to write a piece in one week. I was told that because I had in composition seminars been writing mostly pieces for large ensembles, I would have to write a monophonic piece for the exam, and tenor voice alone was stipulated. I was very pleased that by the end of that week I had written a vitamin pill of a drama.

But the second half of this score was lost by Professor Joseph Kerman while it was his turn to evaluate it. As he handed it back to me he apologized for spilling coffee on the first page; this spill can be found on the title page, I suppose that is not too big a deal though very insulting, but he also apologized that somehow while in his possession the second folio page had gotten lost, he just didn't know how, sorry about that.

I was astonished at this, really aghast. In his urbane way he said he assumed I had made a copy of it. No, I said, I hadn't. I did not say that on account of the exam I had just had a rather demanding week, and that in my turn I too had made an assumption, namely that I could trust my professor not to lose my exam piece.

I had admired him as the man who refused to accept Puccini, rightly calling Tosca a "shabby little shocker," and who would not apologize for a Wagnerian title (his book "Opera and Drama" has the same title as Wagner's main theoretical book). And I thought that it was pretty cool that Volume 9 of the New Groves Dictionary went from "Iacobus to Kerman." I certainly believed that one of the greatest honors in being accepted to Cal was the chance to study criticism with Joseph Kerman, who while I was still an undergraduate at the University of the Pacific had already been, through his well-known, indeed famous book about opera, important in my formation of what it means to be an intellectual. But he made things unnecessarily difficult for me on other occasions, too. When it was his turn to adjudicate the Ph.D. French exams, he actually gave me the task of re-translating back into English a page of his Beethoven String Quartets book that had been translated from English into French. I though this was incredibly egotistical, in fact improper: why was I not given something actually written in French? Not even his admirers deny his prose is idiosynchratic; it was more so in French. Of course, he failed me, and I won't argue that maybe I deserved to fail that particular time, but I would say he failed me in more than one way. Further, at about the same time, he raked me over the coals in the New York Review of Books, calling an early and incomplete draft my Ring of the Darkling "wrongheaded," but I had shown it to him purely in the spirit of getting his advice, and had absolutely not intended to publish it. That was unthinkable, it wasn't even near to being done. But he came down on it negatively and in print in one of the most respectable journals in the world, when it was only part of the very earliest stages of peer review - not even that, really, just a "will you look this over what do you think?" You don't nail somebody for that. I had to keep my chin up when he mentioned it to me at a party at his house, so I just said "Bad press is good press," which I thought was not a bad reply for just having been done down.

When I learned on March 18, 2014, of Joe Kerman's death, I took as much of the score as remained from the stack of things ready for upload, where, I can swear to Congress, it was sitting on the very top of the pile. I had been thinking about what to do about this score, incomplete though it was, but liking it as I had. So I had listed it as one of the Fantastical Domains a few weeks earlier. I had had a quandary, do I embarass myself improperly for having lost something I didn't lose, or refrain from showing as much as I had, and embarassing an old man by having an explanation; apparently I had decided against that. At his death I had the quandary, do I still not show the score, and seem ungrateful for his instruction? I reminded myself that when I had wanted to teach at the University of California Extension, that Joe had recommended me highly, in fact it got back to me that he had said I could teach "anything." That meant something to me for awhile, but it was not enough for me to actually get a job, so I have spent 23 years driving a cab. I admit that despite the fact he gave me more known grief than any other of my professors, the lack of employment can only be partially ascribed to him...

Once, after I had completed my degree and still believed I might someday get a job, I dropped by the Department and Joe and I went out to lunch as we occasionally did. But it was a strange conversation, no doubt partly because I was still fighting the prospect of driving a cab for the rest of my life. I mentioned that I had been very intimidated by the Cal professors. He candidly said he hoped I was no longer so impressed by them. I took his meaning. No, I said, I wasn't. Maybe that was that.

It's now an obvious irony that the title refers to a life at halfway point; that is all this little piece got. I wanted there to be two versions of this piece, but there is still the setting in SCRITTI DI LEONARDO, for those who want to hear it. SCRITTI however is not intended to be staged.

March 18, 2014. Updated October 30, 2014.