ECHOES OF HART CRANE
For Eight Solo Voices, SSAATTBB
by Christopher Fulkerson
Hart Crane's is a poetry full of images of depth and height; of ascent and descent. His best early poems owe much to the sea, the profoundest archetype of flat surface and unimaginable resources, the source of life, the scene of many violent deaths. Crane, born in 1899, grew up in the American East during the High Modernist period of contemporary letters, yet managed to blend the influences of Ezra Pound's Imagist circle with the tradition of Whitman and Melville. As its title suggests, Crane's book WHITE BUILDINGS incorporates images of height and depth with an early twentieth century fascination with technology and urban life which would be refreshing to again see poetized. And there is always a febrile passion in his verse, a furious bottom present even in a poem as apparently gentle as his Echoes, three love quatrains written in 1917. The poem is full of observed or invented images expressing, without paradox, ambiguity between what is up and what is down - slivers of rain flow up a windowpane; a cloud dips over a hill. This ambiguity becomes a metaphor with which to question right and wrong, and to pick apart the elements of love, which is an embrace with a cool, thorned flower. Beneath the lover's brow are the dreamsites of the "quarreling," storm and strain that is lovemaking. "Echoes" is a poem about the afterglow of love, and with it love's violence.
Composing ECHOES OF HART CRANE meant finding a musical vehicle for the poem's rich sweetness, its buried ecstatic violence, and its expressive ambiguities. Since it is an active, rather than a passive thing, music is a simpler art than literature. ("The reason Verdi's Desdemona is simpler than Shakespeare's," my grand-teacher Roger Sessions once said, "Is that she has to sing a High B!") In musical settings of love poetry the two acts can enjoy the closest intimacy. But, since Hart Crane's "Echoes" are those of events not actually in the poem, I felt a conventional love-song would miss the poem's point. Consequently, I thought the poem suitable to that ecstatic violence which precedes the afterglow of love and without which the sensibility of "Echoes" could not exist. It takes force to project something into a "state of echo." There are musical equivalents for the actual reheard sounds or refelt sensations in Crane's poem, especially the clangorous fourths and fifths, sounding at times modern, at times antique. My fascination with the many meanings of "echo" has led me to write a series of "Echoes" of different kinds.
In THE BRIDGE, the book of poems published during his lifetime, Hart Crane brilliantly combined his three favorite subjects: height anfd depth, the sea, and technology, and the poetic imagery ranges from the gulls above the Brooklyn Bridge to Atlantis below it. After the publication of the book, Crane took a trip to Mexico. His celebration of the rise and fall of modern life produced great poetry, but, as his friend Waldo Frank wrote, "In actual life it did not sustain him." Returning from Mexico, on April 27, 1932, a few moments before noon, "Hart Crane walked to the stern of the Orizaba. The ship was about three hundred miles north of Havana. He took off his coat quietly, and lept."
My ECHOES OF HART CRANE was given several performances by different Ariel octets; one of these recorded it for Opus One Records. Unfortunately Max Schubel, the President of Opus One, does not feel it worthwhile to allow the release of the master tapes, if they still exist, or even to return my telephone calls. I have the recording takes on a cheap cassette tape and am hoping to put them together, but it would be nice if Max would make good his original word to release a recording that includes this piece. Though Max is unwilling to answer letters or phone calls from me, who was the music director of the project, he was willing to speak to my ex-wife Marcia Gronewold, who had been a singer in Ariel at the time the recording was made. She told me that during 1990s he threatened her that if she didn't pay him several thousand dollars (no payment of any kind was ever part of the recording deal), he would burn the tapes. When I called him soon after learning this, he was evasive about the project, specifically, he was unsure of "where the tapes [were]." It sure sounds to me as though the bastard burned the tapes, an unbelievable act of spite that far outstrips any frustration he might have been justified to feel at my inability to raise the money for the project. Very curious that he was willing to threaten my ex-wife, but unwilling to even try to contact me. I, myself, might in fact have tried to make such an extortion payment, but clearly the reason Max did not call me about such monies was because he knew my first reaction would have been that they were never discussed, not in person, not through correspondence. He demanded that I perform his theater piece RUBBER COURT, and would not believe me when I told him I had no resources for such a project, living as I did at the time in a crack house in the Mission District of San Francisco. How are you going to negotiate with a person who uses both monetary and in-kind extortion, and when you invite him to dinner flashes at you a wristwatch with a holograph of a naked girl, and the words "time to fuck," emblazoned on it? Maybe I should not be so astonished that such a person would become president of a record company. Maybe that's what it takes. In any case and spite of everything I hope to produce a functional version of the recorded performance with the tapes I have, which were the proofs from which the maps were to have been made.
Eight of the ten singers in the Ariel ensemble behind me in the photo gave the March 22, 1985 performance of ECHOES OF HART CRANE at the Vorpal Gallery, which was at 393 Grove Street in San Francisco, where the photo was taken the night of the concert. The singers in the photo consist of, from left to right, Donna Warrington, Gail MacGowen, Renee Fladen-Kamm (made forever popular in several 1960s popsongs, notably "Walk Away Renee"), Kevin Ames, Pamela Matthews, James Starkey, Marcia Gronewold, James Meyer, John Conry, and Kenneth Cramer. Renee Fladen-Kamm and James Starkey did not sing in this performance of the piece, but in other works on the program. Miss Fladen-Kamm's companion Kenneth Cramer paid me one of the highest compliments any of my performers has even given me when he called ECHOES OF HART CRANE "ear candy."
The piece was written in 1984 and is three minutes long. The score is 20 pages long in the composer's fair hand. Hard copy of the Study Score is $8.
Echoes, by Hart Crane
First Posted October 6, 2009.