Messiaen composed the dramatic song cycle "Poèmes pour Mi" for his first wife, whose pet name was “Mi”, as a celebration of their marriage. As in the majority of his vocal works, the poetry is also written by Messiaen, and it is a reflection on the theme of marriage, the union between Christ and the church, gaining access to eternal life and resurrection. The first movement, “Action de grâces,” is a prayer that muses on the gifts of God: nature, his wife, and the sacrifice of Christ. “Paysage” explores the lightness of heart that comes upon seeing one’s beloved. “La maison” calms the beloved’s fear of loss and death with contemplations of the purity and truth of the afterlife. “Épouvante” is a brief glimpse into the tortures of hell, and is quickly mitigated by “L’épouse,” in which the poet advises his wife to follow where the spirit leads. In “Ta voix,” the poet sees his wife through a window, and imagines seeing her through the window of eternity, being an incorporeal angel servant of the Son, which only makes her more beautiful. “Les deux guerriers” is a vision of the two of them being a singular warrior for Christ. “Le collier,” the most well known song of this cycle, is the poet’s exclamations of joy over his favorite necklace: his wife’s two arms. The cycle ends with “Prière exaucée,” a prayer to excite the heart into the joy of praising God.
A similar thread, albeit discreetly hidden under the main imagery of the poetry, can be fond in Kari Besharse’s “Four Songs,” set on poetry by the Pulitzer Prize winning poet Donald Justice. The poems overlay everyday situations, such as people getting off a bus or a rose colored morning, with deeper thoughts on the fleeting character of life, the seaming reality of the world of dreams, the themes of passing, departure.
“Five McCallum Songs” by Nicholas Deyoe deals mainly with the theme of unrequited love, temptation, denial, the undistinguishable border between the realm of dreams and reality. These songs are settings of poetry by our friend and composer Clinton McCallum’s poetry. The songs were composerd for Stephanie, and were premiered by Katalin and Stephanie in 2011.
“Siren Meditation” by Rick Snow is a work for soprano, piano, and live interactive computer sound commissioned by ASTRALIS. Its inspiration blooms from Tim Buckley and Larry Beckett’s work “Song to the Siren”, Buckley’s two recorded renditions of the work, and the “covers” later arranged and performed by many artists. In short, Buckley’s recorded versions of the song provide snapshots into two very different times of his tragically short life. In the first he sings solo while accompanying himself with guitar. His vocal performance is simple and precise, and the accompaniment basic, yet the song remains powerful. In the second version (recorded only 2 years later) Buckley’s voice has transformed radically. His vibrato is extreme. The formant regions of his voice are amplified like that of an operatic tenor and the emotional delivery of the song (interestingly) nearly overpowers the poetry of the lyrics. The musical material and overall mood in Siren Meditation One seek to capture a meditative, floating quality inspired by the original song, the tragic beauty of its historical context, and the myth of the Sirens.