Proud Music of the Storm

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The Story

With text by Walt Whitman, Proud Music of the Storm (2017) was commissioned by the Dallas Symphony Chorus in celebration of their 40th Anniversary season. It had its world premiere on October 8, 2017 conducted by Joshua Habermann, and in June 2018 was premiered in an orchestral version with instrumentation matching that of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. More than just shared instrumentation connects Bernstein’s 1965 choral work with Runestad’s new one: both are songs of praise, and praise of music. Compare, for instance, the opening text of the Chichester Psalms from Psalm 108 (“Awake, psaltery and harp: I will rouse the dawn!”) with Walt Whitman’s lyrical second stanza of “Proud Music of the Storm” (“Ah, from a little child, / Thou knowest, Soul, how to me all sounds became music”).

In Runestad’s words, his piece is an “ode to all sounds that make up Whitman’s world and how they inspired him to create.” Nature is a recurring and important theme for the composer, who finds great meaning in “connecting with trees and plants and water and rocks,” and who infuses his love of the outdoors into his music by selecting texts that exalt the natural world and advocate for its protection. Because Whitman’s poem is an ode to the sounds that comprise our world, from nature to music, the composer wanted the piece to sound familiar to listeners. The middle section, for instance, is a lullaby. In the orchestral version of the work, a glockenspiel recalls the sound of a child’s music box, and if you listen carefully, you can hear an homage to Johannes Brahms’s famous lullaby.

Program note by Leah G. Weinberg, PhD. Please credit this author with any reproductions of this note.


Instrumentation
1. SATB choir & piano
2. SATB choir & orchestra (0.0.0.0 0.3.3.0 Timp. + 2, Harp, Strings).
3. SATB choir & wind ensemble (2 Fl, 2 Ob, 2 Bsn, 3 Cl, 1 B Cl, 2 A Sax, 1 T Sax, 1 B Sax, 3 Tpt, 4 Hrn, 3 Tbn, 1 Euph, 1 Tba, Double Bass, Timpani, 3 Percussion, Harp)

 


Duration
9:00

 


Commissioner
Dallas Symphony Chorus in celebration of their 40th Anniversary season. Joshua Habermann, conductor.

 


Premiere
October 8, 2017.

 


Text

Proud Music of the Storm
by Walt Whitman

Proud music of the storm!
Blast that careers so free, whistling across the prairies!
Strong hum of forest tree-tops! Wind of the mountains!
Blending, with Nature's rhythmus, all the tongues of nations;
You undertone of rivers, roar of pouring cataracts;
Trooping tumultuous, filling the midnight late, bending me powerless,
Entering my lonesome slumber-chamber--Why have you seiz'd me?

Ah, from a little child,
Thou knowest, Soul, how to me all sounds became music;
My mother's voice, in lullaby;
The solemn hymns and masses, rousing adoration,
All passionate heart-chants, sorrowful appeals,
Song of lost love--the torch of youth and life quench'd in despair,

The measureless sweet vocalists of ages,
Of winds and woods and mighty ocean waves;

Give me to hold all sounds,
Fill me with all the voices of the universe,
The tempests, waters, winds—operas and chants—marches and dances,
pour in--for I would take them all.

Then I woke softly,
And pausing, questioning the music of my dream,
I said to my silent, curious Soul,
Go forth,
Cheerfully tallying life, walking the world, the real,
What thou hast heard, O Soul, was not the sound of winds,
Nor dream of raging storm,
But, to a new rhythmus fitted for thee,
Poems, bridging the way from Life to Death,
vaguely wafted in night air, uncaught, unwritten,
Which, let us go forth in the bold day, and write.

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