Mar 14, 2009

Joyce Hope Suskind

Joyce Hope Suskind has enjoyed a varied career as composer, concert singer, oboist, pianist, and teacher. After completing her studies at Juilliard as a scholarship student in oboe and voice, Suskind discovered her talent for composing while playing improvisational piano at the Martha Graham School. She received a commission from Lehman College to compose a score for a Balinese dance which was written for gamelons, flute, and percussion. She went on to specialize in vocal music, composing a score for a musical comedy, a revue, a feminist anthem, which was her first published song, cabaret songs, and numerous art songs, most of them set to the poems of WB Yeats. She is currently interested in composing vocal chamber music. She resides in Manhattan, her hometown.

The Wild Swans at Coole (1993)

Yeats has spent nineteen summers at Coole Park, home of his great friend and co-founder of the Abbey Theatre, Lady Augusta Gregory. He is now fifty-one years old.

He writes, “All’s changed”… His tread is heavy. He is no longer in love with Maude Gonne and feels incapable of passion. He feels like an old man. But the hearts of the swans “have not grown old”. They passionately inhabit two worlds, the sky and the water. Theirs is a changeless pattern that goes on forever, always remaining at fifty- nine swans, even though individual swans may die. They symbolize immortality. Yeats ends the poem with a question. Where will they go? Who will be delighted some day by their presence? Where will Yeats be?

One year later, Yeats married Georgie Hyde-Leeds. He felt his life was finally “in order” and went on to write some of his finest poems and win the Nobel Prize.

The Shadow-like Generations (1992)

This poem by Yeats is a paraphrase of commentary made by the chorus of Elders in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.

The song is a lamentation for all humanity, which, like Oedipus, is doomed. The singer plays the role of storyteller, not a disinterested commentator, but one who is emotionally involved in the tragedy. This means that the soloist is not merely telling a story, but expressing it. Even the great king Oedipus who solved the riddle of the Sphynx could not escape his destiny. The singer depicts the sadness and resignation of this commentator.

In the third stanza, Oedipus innocently commits the terrible sin of incest. This lyrical section in the music combines the feelings of love in the melody with the sense of doom in the harmony. The singer expresses the lovemaking with the voice, but lets the facial expression and gesture bespeak of Oedipus’s terrible fate.

The storyteller becomes more and more desperate. She tries to make sense of all this. She personifies Time who sees all things. Only the eyes of the singer move to depict the eagle-eyed Time who sees all and reveals all. The body is motionless. In the final stanza the singer laments the tragedy, feeling the heart-break of Oedipus and expressing the wish that it had never happened.