By Singing Light (Tone Poem for Orchestra after Dylan Thomas)
1989, rev. 2001
Chamber orchestra: 1,picc,1,Eh,1,bcl,1 2,1,1 T,1 perc hp cel strings
Premiere–Glacier Orchestra, Gordon Johnson, cond., Kalispell, MT 3/90
Score and parts on request. Ask DET about this work. Contact DET
Program NoteBy Singing Light is an orchestral setting of “In My Craft or Sullen Art,” Dylan Thomas’s poem about illumination and creative process. The poem’s sixth line, “I labour by singing light,” suggested a title. This poem, its speaker spinning moonlight into songs for a beloved and wholly indifferent audience, sat on my work table throughout my last autumn in Montana, 1988. I composed By Singing Light that year in commemoration of the Montana Centennial, and as a farewell to a state I had called home for several years. What I recall most vividly from that fall is the quality of the light: a brilliant moon, toward full, high in the October sky.
By Singing Light was first performed by the Glacier Orchestra conducted by Gordon Johnson in 1990, but I was dissatisfied with the work as a whole. The revised version was performed by the Billings Symphony Orchestra conducted by Uri Barnea in 2001.
The work is in three-part form, the middle section in quicker tempo. Moonlight descends in the guise of a falling woodwind figure. Low, vibrant strings respond, first with effort, then more impassioned, with an ascending line, which is taken over by the brass and urged to a series of climaxes. Over quicker drum rhythms, the flute introduces a new theme, which is woven into elaborate braids, while the strings muster underneath. The culmination, a sustained, luminous tutti, leads to that high country where moonlight ever spills from glistening instruments, and woodwinds harmonize over a long pedal point.