19. Four prairie songs of Sandburg (a cantata of 4 numbers)

See/Hear/Download: PDF     MIDI (54 KB)     MP3 (11 MB)     Sibelius5 (110 KB)     MusicXML (2.5 MB)

Text: Poems, or excerpts from poems, by Carl Sandburg (1878-1967). The first three are from Cornhuskers (1918) which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1. Prairie

I WAS born on the prairie and the milk of its wheat, the red of its clover, the eyes of its women, gave me a song and a slogan.
O prairie mother, I am one of your boys.
I have loved the prairie as a man with a heart shot full of pain over love.
Here I know I will hanker after nothing so much as one more sunrise or a sky moon of fire doubled to a river moon of water.
I speak of new cities and new people.
I tell you the past is a bucket of ashes.
I tell you yesterday is a wind gone down,
a sun dropped in the west.
I tell you there is nothing in the world
only an ocean of to-morrows,
a sky of to-morrows.

I am the brother of the cornhuskers who say at sundown:
To-morrow is a day.

2. The Smoke of Autumn

I lean on an ash and watch the lights fall, the red ember glow, and three muskrats swim west in a fan of ripples on a sheet of river gold.
Better the blue silence and the gray west,
The autumn mist on the river,
And not any hate and not any love,
And not anything at all of the keen and the deep:
Only the peace of a dog head on a barn floor,
And the new corn shoveled in bushels
And the pumpkins brought from the corn rows,
Umber lights of the dark,
Umber lanterns of the loam dark.

Here a dog head dreams.
Not any hate, not any love.
Not anything but dreams.
Brother of dusk and umber.

3. Loam

IN the loam we sleep,
In the cool moist loam,
To the lull of years that pass,
And the break of stars.

From the loam, then,
The soft warm loam,
We rise:
To shape of rose leaf,
Of face and shoulder.

We stand, then,
To a whiff of life,
Lifted to the silver of the sun
Over and out of the loam
A day.

4. Windflower leaf

This flower is repeated
out of old winds, out of
old times.

The wind repeats these, it
must have these, over and
over again.

Oh, windflowers so fresh,
Oh, beautiful leaves, here
now again.

The domes over
fall to pieces.
The stones under
fall to pieces.
Rain and ice
wreck the works.
The wind keeps, the windflowers
keep, the leaves last,
The wind young and strong lets
these last longer than stones.

Texts may also be found in the .pdf file, following the full score.

Musicians: SATB chorus, one short S solo, & piano. (Piano part may be found at the end of the .pdf file.)

Length: 3:50 + 2:25 + 2:15 + 3:30 = 12 minutes.

Program notes: The subjects and imagery of these pieces are taken from the great American heartland which extends from western New York state in the east to Alberta in the northwest, and to the plains of New Mexico in the southwest. However, the underlying theme is how to live richly and ethically in the moment while surrounded by reminders of birth, death, and eternity; this is universal. Much of Sandburg's poetry is custom-built free verse which does not rely on regular meter or rhyme for structure. Rather than force his rhythms into a fixed number of beats per measure, I have varied the number of beats as needed to follow the words. This is most evident in songs #1 & #3; however, songs #2 and #4 have long passages in regular rhythm, like most songs of earlier centuries.

[clouds and prairie, SD]

clouds and prairie, South Dakota

Peter Bird, 2012

[pronghorn antelope, SD]

pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra Americana), South Dakota

Guimir, 2009

Wikimedia Commons

[wildflowers, Nicollet, SD]

wildflowers around Nicollet Tower, South Dakota

U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2011

Wikimedia Commons

[Huff, ND]

farmhouse in Huff, North Dakota

Andrew Filer, 2009

Wikimedia Commons

[Little Missouri, ND]

Little Missouri River, North Dakota

National Park Service, 2008

Wikimedia Commons

[wild horses, ND]

wild horses, North Dakota

Podruznik, 2009

Wikimedia Commons

[Carl Sandburg, 1955]

Carl Sandburg in 1955

Al Ravenna/World Telegram/Library of Congress

Wikimedia Commons

Fresh Choral Music Online, by Peter Bird of Los Angeles