for high voice and piano
First Performance
Martha's Vineyard; September 1960
Alice Esty: soprano
David Stimer: piano

For the summer of 1960, Blitzstein rented a cottage at South Beach on Martha's Vineyard. There he alternated his work between the opera Sacco and Vanzetti and a song cycle, commissioned for three hundred dollars by Alice Esty. A wealthy amateur, she possesed a pleasant soprano voice and every year gave a recital featuring her latest collection of commissions.

Returning to the poetry of E. E. Cummings, which he had set in the cycle IS 5 in 1929, FROM MARION'S BOOK (Marion was Cummings' wife) is in many ways a return to Blitzstein's compositional processes of that time. Clearly he was relieved not to have any commercial considerations to interfere with his work on the cycle of seven songs. Indeed, one piece included in the set of seven is when life is quite through with, which he originally wrote as part of IS 5, and revised only slightly for the later cycle.

He completed the cycle in August of that year. The following notes on the songs were sent by the composer to Alice Esty and her accompanist David Stimer:

o by the by : This is obviously a kite; the image must be kept throughout, of a comical volatility. Poignance at the diving and the climbing, and especially at the "throbbing like , , . singing like. . . ," And then a final frustration (comic again) as the string is let go.


when life is quite through with : Elegiac, muted; at the grave of the beloved.

what if a much of a which of a wind : A kind of young, roistering paean to the indomitableness of man, It is strophic; the three stanzas are set to exactly the same music, with some tempo variation in the third verse. Watch out for the meaning at the end: "The most who die the more we live" means "the most of us who die," so that the sentence is not callous or cut-throat at all; simply stated, there is no nothing, the "single secret will still be man."

silent unday by silently not night : The most ambitious of the lot. Death, purgatory, transfiguration; or, death-not-death, raging breaking-apart, the rising of the phoenix.

until and i heard : Possibly the hardest to perform. Light as a feather, yet soaring, with a lyrical rising to the triumphant "grave gay brave bright cry of alive."


yes is a pleasant country : Tiny, slight, but not trivial or facetious. Again affirmation.

open your heart : I like it the best of the lot, We need big climaxes and sudden hushes; and then the last phrases, quieter and quieter, to the endless word "ocean."


Eric Gordon has remarked that the songs bring "the simple monumentality of Hugo Wolf" to mind. Certainly the concentration of Blitzstein's unfussy and perceptive settings of Cummings' words recall that German master. The harmonic language harks back to the pre-Cradle work, but in the expressive vocal lines, and pithy, deceptively simple and witty piano accompiments we hear voice and experience of a mature composer at the height of his powers.