REMEMBER THE STARS
Cantata #3 for SATB Soli, Treble Chorus with Soli,
Two Clarinets, Viola, and Guitar

by Christopher Fulkerson

The poster for the Ariel June 1986 programs

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This piece marks a greater turning point in my life and art than I could have realized at the time I wrote and performed it. Writing it, I began to find new confidence as a composer, and certainly I knew that was going on; performing it I managed new levels of coordination of available resources, and a degree of involvement of composing colleagues that I could be proud of - and more than has ever been reciprocated to me. But some aspects of the project had a destructive effect on Ariel's organization; trying to be as generous as I can and remain cognizant of my own limitations, I can say that unless you have a big house and lots of money, don't have a guest composer under your roof during the creation of an untried work. Revisiting the program notes after some years, I find before my eyes another good candidate for how Francis Ford Coppola may have learned of my work on the operatic cycle DRAKULYA that I was working on; when I saw Coppola's movie "Bram Stoker's Dracula" a few years later, I was astonished at how much it resembled my operatic projections. But more about this later.

With REMEMBER THE STARS I began to find a new and freer relation between harmony and form; to find ways to express a wider variety of poetic images musically and dramatically; and to find new ways to parse the words of a poem into a dramatic form that has something like characterization in the singer's parts. I also found a new simplicity in articulating the sections of a musical form. REMEMBER THE STARS marks the end of what I think of as the second phase or period of my work, which I reckon as CF 7 through this CF 15. In works CF 7 through 14 I had begun working from precompositional plans, sometimes with the pitches derived from the "pitch multiplication" method, and sometimes with pitches derived from freer methods having to do with chordal identification of ideas or strata in a composition.

This "free architectural" piece is of the latter type. Two examples are easy to hear: at the opening the solo quartet tends to sing in harmonies similar to the major seventh chord of triadic harmony; and when the treble chorus gives voice to the group enthusiasms of youth which the soloists remember from childhood, its harmonies are selected from quartile sound sources.

The musical imagery is suggested by the poem, in which dead souls at the bottom of the dark ocean look up to see the light on the surface of the water, and think of the happy frolicks of childhood; since it employs a treble chorus, my reading of the first poem makes much of the frolick. In accordance with the characters' sightline on the light, the musical ideas tend to suggest a rising from low registers to high. Some of the most cherished moments in my career have been during performances of the passage in which the mezzo sings with the treble chorus; I felt I had achieved a reasonable compatibility between structural simultaneities that resulted in the kind of magic I love. The following passage is from the program note of the concert.

"[REMEMBER THE STARS] is a submerged pastorale and chorale on the subject of humanity's curious tendency to achieve self-destructive goals. W.S. Merwin's poems examine this theme without judgement, and it is this sensibility which in my composition takes a tone of story-telling. The adult soloists begin with the words of the drowned, but, as the tenor reminisces about childhood, a treble chorus (ideally of children) bursts out with childhood's enthusiasms for the things of life and summertime. A comparison is made between watery and earthly existence; the light on the surface of the ocean is like that seen through the trees back home; floating fish and sailing birds are not so dissimilar... as the soloists seem to come to a clearer understanding of what motivated their fate, the children grow to question and eventually, in a final "chorale," to describe their present reality. The work's last line of text can be heard as an echo of its first.

"I want to express my gratitude to the performers of my work, and in particular, my admiration to the chorus members drawn from the U.C. Extension singers, who, since in some cases they were not well advanced in the skill of reading my music, had reason to doubt the possibility of successfully performing it."

This piece was originally entitled "The Eyes of the Drowned, the Bones of the Naked." It is dedicated to the formerly American, now naturalized German music critic and psychologist Paul Moor, who lived in San Francisco for a few years during the 1980s. He warmly introduced himself to me after an SFCMP concert of music from behind the Iron Curtain for which I wrote the program notes; Paul knew that situation very well, having lived in Berlin for many years, and was pleased I understood it and thought I wrote about it well. While he was in San Francisco Paul was a good friend, neighbor on the Haight side of Parnassus Heights from me, and occasional dinner guest and nosh partner. Early on he learned of my admiration for Elliott Carter and, since he is an old friend of Elliott's, he took his first opportunity to introduce us at the Cabrillo Fesitval when Carter was guest there. Paul has also known the poet W.S. Merwin from way back and got me Merwin's address in Hawaii to write to, in order to introduce myself and ask for Merwin's permission to set his texts to music in this composition. It was Paul who told me about Anatol Vieru, the Romanian composer I commissioned to write a piece from behind the Iron Curtain, while Nicolae Ceausescu was still in power. Communication through the mail was possible with Vieru but had to be of very brief phrases. Paul is the sort of person who does all he can to be a help to others and San Francisco lost more than it knew when he left. Indeed, America lost more than it knows when he became German, but since, as I have often said, I feel as a Classical composer like a European born in exile, I certainly understand why Paul would want to be a German.

I have tried to be in touch with Paul since he moved back to Germany, but so far I have been unsuccessful with this effort. I learned that the conductor Kent Nagano knows Paul's email address, but Kent refused to tell it to me, as though there was some security reason for this. I have long known that he is no friend of mine, but his extraordinary maneuver when asked for a simple favor that he cannot possibly have reason to refuse showed me what a rotten shit Kent Nagano can be with people whom he thinks are his inferiors.

The texts set in REMEMBER THE STARS are two poems by W.S.Merwin, who, again, thanks to Paul Moor, has personally given his permission for their use.

The Eyes of the Drowned Watch Keels Going Over

Where the light has no horizons we lie.
It dims into depth not distance. It sways
Like hair, then we shift and turn over slightly.
As once on the long swing under the trees
In the drowse of summer we slid to and fro
Slowly in the soft wash of the air, looking
Upwards through the leaves that turned over and back
Like hands, through the birds, the fathomless light,
Upwards. They go over us swinging
Jaggedly, labouring between our eyes
And the light. Churning their wrought courses
Between the sailing birds and the awed eyes
Of the fish, with the grace of neither, nor with
The stars' serenity that they follow.
Yet the light shakes around them as they go.
Why? And why should we, rocking on shoal-pillow,
With our eyes cling to them, and their wakes follow,
Who follow nothing? If we could remember
The stars in their clarity, we might understand now
Why we pursued stars, to what end our eyes
Fastened upon stars, how it was that we traced
In their remote courses not their own fates but ours.

The Bones of Palinurus Pray to the North Star

Console us. The wind chooses among us.
Our whiteness is a night wake disordered.
Lone candor, be constant over
Us desolate who gleam no direction.

 

The score is 40 pages long, in the composer's fair hand. Hard copy of the Study Score is $15. A recording is available.

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And now more about my intellectual property on the subject of Dracula, that I believe may have been stolen.

I worked regularly from about 1978 to 1990 doing reserach about vampires, persuant to a cycle of operas I wanted to write. I was very dismayed when my fellow San Franciscan Francis Ford Coppola came out with the movie with the misleading title "Bram Stoker's Dracula." As anybody who has read Stoker's novel knows, that movie has quite a lot of material that is not in the book. Well, a lot of the difference is identical to research I had done. For almost two decades I puzzled over how this could be. I used to tell my students and friends about the libretti I was working on, but I couldn't muster the paranoia to believe Coppola had sent a spy into my classes. There was one friend, Randall Packer, who was close to Coppola's older brother, but I couldn't imagine this connection resulted in the theft of my intellectual property. For awhile I thought that the box of my research materials that my ex-wife allowed the "property owners" of our apartment to cart away after our separation and before our divorce was one possibility; that box certainly had some of my research materials in it, and old manuscripts as well. "Property owners" don't have the right to cart things out of your garage without a court order. This was not the first time "property owners" had been known to cart something away, but this was one time I know it had my intellectual property in it.

Then, late in 2009, when preparing this page for REMEMBER THE STARS, I reread the note I had originally written. I was perforce reminded that I had written about the operas. I gave the titles of my three operas, which are VLAD THE IMPALER, ELIZABETH BATHORY, and DRAKULYA, and I believe that alone could account for the structure of the type of story Coppola makes out of the Stoker novel. But there were other things in the movie that suggest closer knowledge of my research. The vampire girls are modelled after mine; the intrusion of the Sheridan le Fanu short story "Carmilla" was present in my scenario. Did my upstairs neighbor on Spruce Street, who made in-house documentaries of filmmakers making films, play a part in a possible theft of my ideas? But, if my ideas were used, the simplest version of how this could have happened might be that my program note allerted Coppola or his researchers to a possible plot direction for the story. Maybe the titles were enough to start them on their research, which then could easily be thought to include the same Nineteenth-Century sources I had found. This puts the similarity between some aspects of Coppola's movie, and my research, in the realm of "ideas in the air at the same time," and perhaps nothing more. But I had a lot of correspondents from all over the world, more than one of them at San Francisco State University, and maybe someone said "I've heard of a guy writing an historical opera about Vlad Tsepes..." Certainly, I don't trust academics. And there is still the question of the large cardboard box of my research materials, whose disappearance is not satisfactorily explained.

Recently I started up literary work on the DRAKULYA cycle again. I thought about whether a similar theft, or "theft," of my ideas might occur if I wrote about it here. I have decided it is better at this point to leave a paper trail in the case of this effort. Other of my projects, including quite large operatic projects, are not mentioned in this web site, only in correspondence, and, after the experience of seeing the incredible similarity between my research and Coppola's movie, I now keep a daybook of important conversations and correspondence about these more recent projects, and I make sure that here and there I talk about it with people who should have no vested interest but who should be able to be counted on to relate basic facts. I have become more circumspect, but I have also learned that too much trade secrecy can leave you vulnerable to career rape.

Speaking of the theft of whole career goals, I will reserve Kent Nagano's theft of mine to a later discussion. Since I did mention my DRAKULYA trilogy in the original program note to this piece, I think some update about that makes sense here. But as long as you understand that at least three years (and counting) of my delay in reaching Paul Moor, dedicatee of REMEMBER THE STARS, is directly ascribable to Kent Nagano, I can bow out for now. You may read more about Kent and me if you want to CLICK HERE.

And as far as I am concerned, anybody who wants to doubt my work indicting and redeeming vampires can be permitted to glimpse some of those, shall I say, special canines.

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Last updated 10/12/2010.

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