This short cycle of settings of poems by W.H. Auden was completed in 2003. It's sections are:
I. Law Like Love
III. The Hidden Law
The poet's first, dubious fancy that law is like love is a wistful and in fact quietly tragic claim. Everybody thinks they know what law is, just about as well as everybody knows what love is. We all know that love can compel, but the poem is not about the much that love can do, it says that if law is like love, then it is nothing more than many another human creation we might not keep. If everybody's ideas of what law is shall all have force, then law has no more meaning than puppy love. Love can be compelling and great, but if love is the law, then law is as duplicitous as people in their affections. The settings are meant to convey that law is more and less than we wish it were; while the feelings might be real, they suggest with humane irony that some things - the arbitrariness, in particular - that we allow to accrue to our convictions really do not belong there. The first song is marked "imperturbabile, serenemente," and traces the varieties of moods of Auden's poem.
A solo guitar Interlude marked "sostenuto" follows.
In reply to the first poem's impractical inconclusiveness, the final movement posits the existence of a "hidden" and inexorable law which the poet does not elaborate, which might allow us to do what we think we want to do, but if we try to escape it or forget it, will inexorably punish us nevertheless. There is a silent reality and power to law that is effective regardless of what we may wish about it, and the "hidden" law is in fact more inevitable than any of our legal pronouncements, which are reduced to triviality by people's unwillingness to sustain them. The music of the cycle's movements chart a single progression of thought that develops a lyrical arbitrariness into a more sustained idea, in which through the music it is suggested that the "hidden law" can stand in quite well for law that cannot be compelled. Chaotic, wishful thinking is no match for the "hidden" law. Like love it may let us do and say what we want. But it is up to us to realize that there really is a law greater than those we make.
This is the second edition of the piece. The poems are used by permission of the publisher.
New Page July 5, 2013.