Soprano Amy Johnson & Pianist Cathleen Kelly
Instrumentation: Soprano & Piano
Commission: Soprano & Cincinnati Conservatory Faculty Member Amy Johnson
Soprano Amy Johnson, Pianist Kathleen Kelly,
& Director Vincent DeGeorge
Patricia Corbett Theater
(Second Video: Soprano Shari Feldman and pianist Ying-Shan Su)
Patterns, a monodrama for soprano and piano, is a setting of the poem of that name by Bostonian Amy Lowell (1874–1925). Lowell broke many of the patterns imposed upon her by society. Although she was not allowed to attend college, she lived her life on her own terms and became a highly regarded poet and author. I have been drawn to her poetry for a long time, and Patterns seemed especially apt when soprano Amy Johnson and I discussed texts for her commission. The societal patterns the narrator rails against range from the garments that imprison her body to the “… pattern called a war…” that catches her fiancé in its maw. She plays wondrously with patterns in the poem, at times with dazzling internal rhymes (“… daffodils/bright blue squills”). But she also breaks patterns. She shifts line lengths and inserts unexpected repetitions and line breaks. With all this local brilliance she creates a powerful arc that I reflect in my setting. Patterns begins with the narrator walking in her blossoming garden, corseted in stiff brocade, before going on to describe her soft body beneath as she dreams of a rendezvous with her lover, but ends with anguish over his death and a raging cry against the pattern of war. Lowell also encircles the arc of life and death with that of nature, from flowers coming into full bloom, to the asters of fall, to snow. The poem can be found here.
Shari Feldman, Soprano
By Amy Lowell
I walk down the garden paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden paths.
My dress is richly figured,
And the train
Makes a pink and silver stain
On the gravel, and the thrift
Of the borders.
Just a plate of current fashion,
Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes.
Not a softness anywhere about me,
Only whale-bone and brocade.
And I sink on a seat in the shade
Of a lime tree. For my passion
Wars against the stiff brocade.
The daffodils and squills
Flutter in the breeze
As they please.
And I weep;
For the lime tree is in blossom
And one small flower has dropped upon my bosom.
And the splashing of waterdrops
In the marble fountain
Comes down the garden paths.
The dripping never stops.
Underneath my stiffened gown
Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin,
A basin in the midst of hedges grown
So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding,
But she guesses he is near,
And the sliding of the water
Seems the stroking of a dear
Hand upon her.
What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown!
I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground.
All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground.
I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths,
And he would stumble after,
Bewildered by my laughter.
I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles on his shoes.
I would choose
To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths,
A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover,
Till he caught me in the shade,
And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me,
Aching, melting, unafraid.
With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops,
And the plopping of the waterdrops,
All about us in the open afternoon
I am very like to swoon
With the weight of this brocade,
For the sun sifts through the shade.
Underneath the fallen blossom
In my bosom,
Is a letter I have hid.
It was brought to me this morning by a rider from the Duke.
“Madam, we regret to inform you that Lord Hartwell
Died in action Thursday sen’night.”
As I read it in the white, morning sunlight,
The letters squirmed like snakes.
“Any answer, Madam,” said my footman.
“No,” I told him.
“See that the messenger takes some refreshment.
No, no answer.”
And I walked into the garden,
Up and down the patterned paths,
In my stiff, correct brocade.
The blue and yellow flowers stood up proudly in the sun,
I stood upright too,
Held rigid to the pattern
By the stiffness of my gown.
Up and down I walked,
Up and down.