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Icarus, from Loves Ancient and Forbidden - for tenor and piano

By Joseph Dillon Ford

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Piano Accompaniment, Tenor Voice - Intermediate - Digital Download
Composed by Joseph Dillon Ford. 20th Century, Neo-Classical. Score. 9 pages. Published by David Warin Solomons (S0.429965).

Item Number: S0.429965

Art song for solo voice (tenor, d - b') and piano based on an original poem with mythic, mystical themes.
There are three songs, which are also available together. (The page numbers refer to the whole bundle)

The sound sample is an electronic preview, using the cor anglais to represent the tenor voice.

"Icarus" was completed in late August 2007 as a companion for "To an Unknown God" and "Marisol."

"Could I but sing Thee the inmost longings of my heart
And speak Thee the mysteries of my nights and days!
Could I but trace the dimensions of Thy soul
As once a hand unseen the myriad constellations limned!
Were I not just flesh aspiring to be spirit—
A mere man who foolishly flies towards a heaven
From which he must inevitably fall!
But my heart's songs are Silence,
My secret only Time may tell
And the very sun is but the heel of Thy sandal.
I've surely beat these waxen wings in vain."

In the spring of 1995 I was teaching architecture history at Florida International University. When the opportunity presented itself to spend a couple of weeks traveling through Italy with two friends, Rick Calixto and Efren Mencia, I jumped at the chance to conduct research there and to coordinate explorations abroad with my history course. After connecting with my friends in Rome, we took a flight to the Island of Sicily, and a whole new world of sights and sounds captured my imagination.

Among the places we visited, none was more beautiful and intriguing than the Archaeological Park at Selinunte—the modern name of the ancient Greek colonial city of Selinus, whose origins date back to the seventh century BCE. Selinus was built by a river of the same name (now the Modione) on a spectacular site overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, but its great natural beauty notwithstanding, it was the scene of relentless warfare with the Elymians and Carthaginians. In 409 BCE, they laid siege to Selinus, killing or enslaving thousands and wrecking its magnificent temples. Later, those who had resettled in the acropolis area destroyed what remained of their city to avoid Roman conquest, and a powerful earthquake in the early Middle Ages brought down virtually everything that was still standing. Centuries of decay also took their toll on the temples, which now bear only letter names because the gods to whom they were dedicated are no longer known.

"Sic transit omnia gloria mundi"? Perhaps not, since Selinus even in ruins is a landscape of timeless enchantment. The lyrics for my song, retrospectively penned on 15 August 2001 and revised in May 2007, are at least partly autobiographical, tinged with just enough romanticism to evoke the extraordinary sense of place that not even the most impassive skeptic can hope to escape:

In the seaside city of Selinus I pricked my finger on a clump of desiccated brambles as we clambered over the ruins. Several drops of blood fell on the drum of a toppled pillar that once supported the temple of an unknown god.

It was early spring, and the sun shed its glory on fields of bright-colored wildflowers. In answer to my silent supplications, Poseidon whispered promises I knew he'd never keep, but his susurrous reassurances still seemed worth the effort of a prayer.

Some time after we left, the rains came and washed several pale droplets into the Sicilian soil. In the stem of that dry thorning weed let them rise and reveal His name!

This song for tenor and piano, lasting a little over four minutes, is through-composed. It opens with a long declamatory piano solo, the iambic motive of whose first measure signifies for me the several drops of blood I actually lost to a certain prickly plant. After this introduction dissolves into silence, the voice enters over an accompaniment part in which dissonances summon to mind the painful sting of the bramble's thorns. Gradually the mood changes, and the piano conjures up imagery of movement through a landscape strewn with ruins and enveloped by the gentle murmuring sounds of the sea. This motion gradually intensifies, and recollection of the abundance of yellow spring wildflowers is underscored by a crescendo, rising melodic line, and mystical augmented harmony that seems to bathe the scene with a burst of light. The air of mystery is very quietly sustained by an undulating triplet motive, over which the voice intones a prayer-like passage alluding to the sea god Poseidon. Gradually this triplet motion dissolves in an extended passage for the piano, and after a brief silence, the voice resumes the story of how the blood drops were washed into the Earth by falling rain (suggested by descending octave motives in the upper register of the piano). The gentle shower gives way to a sudden rush of emotion, as the voice willfully calls for that "dry thorning weed" fed by the droplets of blood to rise and reveal the name of the unknown god of the temple. (Bible readers may also detect a reference to Acts 17:23, although the text is open to various interpretations.)

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