Judith Bettina, soprano; James Goldsworthy, piano

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The Gift of Life, for soprano and piano (1990-1993), is a song cycle with texts by Emily Dickinson, Denise Levertov and Thornton Wilder. These songs were written for soprano Judith Bettina, who first performed them with her husband, James Goldsworthy, in Palo Alto, California on June 27, 1993. The poem by Emily Dickinson, "Mama Never Forgets Her Birds," is set as a lullaby, written to celebrate the birth of their daughter, Ariana Tamar Goldsworthy. The cycle, continuing with "The 90th Year," by Denise Levertov, and an adaptation of the last lines of Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey, speaks of birth, life, memory, loss, death, and, finally, love. This cycle grew directly from my work with text and characters in Tight-Rope, an opera I wrote with Henry Butler in 1985. In these songs I chose texts according to their power to generate musical images concerning memory, time, and the cyclical nature of existence, themes which are recurrent in my music.
Mama never forgets her birds,
Though in another tree --
She looks down just as often
And just as tenderly

As when her little mortal nest
With cunning care she wove --
If either of her "sparrows fell,"
She "notices," above.

ca. 1860

Emily Dickinson poetry is used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from THE POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON, Thomas H. Johnson, ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1951, 1985, 1979, 1983 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.
High in the jacaranda shines the gilded thread
of a small bird's curlicue of song--too high
for her to see or hear.
                                       I've learned
not to say, these last years,
'O, look!--O, listen, Mother!'
as I used to.

                    (It was she
who taught me to look;
to name the flowers when I was still close to the ground,
my face level with theirs;
or to watch the sublime metamorphoses
unfold and unfold
over the walled back gardens of our street . . .

It had not been given her
to know the flesh as good in itself,
as the flesh of a fruit is good. To her
the human body has been a husk,
a shell in which souls were prisoned.
Yet, from within it, with how much gazing
her life has paid tribute to the world's body!
How tears of pleasure
would choke her, when a perfect voice,
deep or high, clove to its note unfaltering!)

She has swept the crackling seedpods,
the litter of mauve blossoms, off the cement path,
tipped them into the rubbish bucket.
She's made her bed, washed up the breakfast dishes,
wiped the hotplate. I've taken the butter and milkjug
back to the fridge next door--but it's not my place,
visiting here, to usurp the tasks
that weave the day's pattern.
Now she is leaning forward in her chair,
                        by the lamp lit in the daylight,
rereading War and Peace.
                                         When I look up
from her wellworn copy of The Divine Milieu,
which she wants me to read, I see her hand
loose on the black stem of the magnifying glass,
she is dozing.
'I am so tired,' she has written to me, 'of appreciating
the gift of life.'

"The 90th Year" (for Lore Segal) from the Homage to Pavese section of Life in the Forest

Copyright © 1976 by Denise Levertov. Used with permission of the publisher,
New Directions Publishing Corporation.
Soon we shall die
and all memory of those we have lost
will have left the earth . . .
We shall die
and all memory of those we have lost
will have left the earth,
and we ourselves shall be loved for a while
and forgotten.
The love will have been enough;
all those impulses of love return to the love that made them.
There is a land of the living and a land of the dead,
and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.

Adapted from Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Copyright © 1927, by Albert and Charles Boni, Inc.
Copyright Renewal © 1985, by Thornton Niven Wilder
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: All inquiries concerning rights should be addressed to the author's agent, ROBERT A. FREEDMAN AGENCY, INC., at 1501 Broadway, Suite 2310, New York, New York 10036.

Edition Peters No. 67598
Copyright © 1994 C. F. Peters Corporation

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