Songs from the End of the World (orchestra)

Orchestra, Vocal Music/24'/Difficulty - Hard/2019

version for soprano and chamber orchestra
also available for chamber winds
Please note: Scores are purchased, fulfilled in hard copy, and yours to keep. Parts are licensed (“rented”) per performance, and delivered in PDF form. The parts PDF does not include a score.

Full Score (11x17 paper)

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Listen to the first song, "A long time alone"

Lindsay Kesselman, soprano
The Michigan State University Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Kevin Noe

View the complete score

Lindsay Kesselman, soprano
Kevin Noe, conductor
Michigan State University Symphony Orchestra

The cycle is inspired by a passage in the Odyssey in which Odysseus, shipwrecked and near death, washes up on the shore of an island belonging to the nymph Kalypso. Homer’s telling treats the ensuing interlude as just another bit of exotic travelogue, one of many adventures on Odysseus’ long journey home; these three songs imagine what it meant to Kalypso herself, and are sung in her voice.

i. A long time alone
Kalypso’s island home is beautiful beyond imagining but remote beyond reach. Her immortality is thus an eternal solitude. The first song in the cycle, set before Odysseus’ arrival, is her lament of this loneliness. Standing on her shore, she remembers long-gone days when she could still delight in her paradise, and tells of the slow erosion of sensation and even sense after endless ages alone.

ii. Raveling
The second movement begins after Odysseus has been with Kalypso for seven years. She sings as she moves back and forth with a golden shuttle at her loom, weaving a tapestry–the work of all that time–that tells their story. At one end, the luminous threads show the near-dead castaway washed ashore; nearby the nymph nurses him back to health. Flowers and fruit, ripe and radiant, tumble through images of the love they found together. But the simple happiness of the scene and the song curdles: Odysseus wants to return to his home, leaving Kalypso to her solitude; nothing she has given or can give means anything to him anymore. She is shattered, but he is cold. So Kalypso returns to her loom, singing again, but now unraveling the tapestry, unmaking the document of love.

iii. At sea
In the final song, Kalypso watches Odysseus sail away on a boat she has given him, born by a breeze she has called up to fill a sail she has fashioned from the unmade tapestry. Waves carry him toward the horizon, and her loneliness washes in again.

– program note by A. E. Jaques (please credit A. E. Jaques when reproducing program note)

Poetry by A. E. Jaques

I. A long time alone
Dawn draws her rose-red fingers soft across the sleeping sky.
Another day unasked-for, light pinking flesh untouched.

Long ago I loved to watch the water wake
when first rays raced the waves.
Morning warm-born in a moment.

But the sweetest second sours in solitude.
Forever is a long time alone.

Summer murmurs memory of seasons sweet with cypress.
Seabirds basking idle as the fishes dare to doze.

I used to sing with the insects
answering slee slee whirrups with trilling airs.
But that was years ago,
before the buzzing buried cicada sounds inside
to rattle in the cluttered attic of never-spoken thoughts.

Even lovely liquid languor spoils.
Forever is a long time alone.

Wade into the wine-dark sea and leave the lonely island;
let salt swamp tears.
Waters hold you for a while.

Skin gleams warm. Long-fallow flesh awakens
but the ocean’s kiss consumes.
Soon there is no woman—only wave.

So the body brought back rushes out again,
tide and time-taken as all things are.
The sea is not a solace but a cell.

Forever is a long time alone.


II. Raveling

When I found you, or you found me,
both of us lost in the endless sea,
then I healed you, and you healed me,
two tattered souls stitched up lovingly.

Seven summers of sun,
seven winters of wanting,
seven springtimes as new as the dawn,
seven autumns of falling
deeper into your breath—
seven years you are warp to my weft.

Only now is this paradise paradise.
Only now is this living a life.
Only now is there greenness and sweetness and air—
lost and found ones, we two, what a pair.

As I lose you, and so lose me,
finding I never had what I thought was free—
how can you take what once you gave?
I asked only love for the life I saved.

Seven years you were warp to my weft.
Seven years, yet you leave me bereft.
Seven years and I have nothing left.

You and I, we were bound up together.
You and I wove a heaven from scars.
You and I turned the darkness and lostness and pain
into something worth living again.

Only you made this paradise paradise;
Only you made this living a life;
Only you gave me greenness and sweetness and air—
All unraveling now, past repair.


III. At sea

Again, alone.
Again, forever.
Solitude and I, once more, together.

And now—forget?
Or yet remember?
If I hold fast will I still surrender?

Shall I cling to memory, and polish thoughts like bright stones?
But every touch erodes them; to love their light is to lose it.
Remembering. Dismembering.

Forget, then. Forget him.

Forget him. Forget, yes.

And cast away the empty oyster shell.
Tide take him.
But watch—who knows what waters wash home?

Forget him? Forget, how?

This cruel moon brings ghosts in waves now, to haunt me.
Too-cruel moon brings ghosts to haunt me, to taunt me now.
This tide that gives and takes and tolls the time,
the time, the long and longing time alone.

I can’t forget;
I can’t remember.
The loss remains, so hard, so tender.

And all my rhymes are ravings,
my words the wailing of a lost one,
storm-tossed one.

The sea won’t hear.
The sky won’t care.
No different to them,
my silence or song.

No words, so. Unheard, so.

Why go on then? Why cry this silence?

Alone. Alone.

All cast away now.
Just ghosts to stay now.
Alone, all lost at sea.

Premiered

Michigan State University Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kevin Noe

Lindsay Kesselman, soprano