About this Piece
Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) is the best-known poet of the Edo period in Japan, and is recognized as the master of the haiku form (then called hokku). Bashō penned over 1000 haiku over the course of his lifetime. For this work, I have chosen fifteen of Bashō’s haiku that describe different elements of winter – frost, ice, and snow – as well as “the withering wind” that is also known as kogarashi. I have arranged these poems into a narrative that begins at the time of the flower’s last breath in the late autumn, and ends with the newest sprouts of plants in the early spring. The number 15 is significant in this piece – in setting these fifteen haiku, I have also traversed each of the fifteen key signatures in the circle of fifths (from seven sharps to seven flats). As well, I have explored every possible duet between the six choral parts – both upper and lower tenor (T), baritone (R), and bass (B).
In each of my settings of the haiku in this piece, I have attempted to create aural backgrounds that capture some aspect of the natural imagery – such as the falling snow, the stalks of bamboo, and the wafting wind. These aural backgrounds are always constructed by setting the Japanese text, either in syllabic fragments, discreet words, or entire lines from the haiku. In front of each of these backgrounds, I have composed duets using my own sing-able English translations of these haiku (again, there are 15 possible duets – one for each pair of the six choral voices). When performing this work, these English duets should always be “in front” (as in the French musical instruction en dehors) of the Japanese backgrounds, for the comprehension of the English text is of paramount importance. This is why I have assigned louder dynamic markings for the English lines than for the Japanese ones in this piece.
I am deeply grateful to Frank Albinder and the members of the Washington Men’s Camerata for commissioning this work, and for working so quickly and diligently toward the premiere. Thank you all so much for your efforts! I’m really looking forward to hearing this.