William Schuman

Carols of Death, pieces (3) for chorus

    Description by Andrew Lindemann Malone

    William Schuman almost always adopted American subjects for his programmatic works, whether depicting festivals, writing a "baseball" opera, or simply setting texts from an 1897 Sears-Roebuck catalog. It is unsurprising, then, that he often turned to the works of American poets when composing for the voice. The Carols of Death (1958) are short a cappella settings of short poems by Walt Whitman. Schuman's artistry both serves and elevates the poetry. The first setting, "The Last Invocation," alternates crescendos and diminuendos from one line of text to the next, creating a breathing effect that begets a powerful climax at the end. In "The Unknown Region," Schuman underscores both the anxiety and peace of the text by contrasting sections in which the voices sound dispersed (as in the punchy canon on the opening words, "Darest thou now") with those in which the choir sings in unison. "To All, To Each" is the shortest of the poems, and though Schuman extends the text with frequent melismas, he never obscures the words. His handling of the phrase "lovely and soothing death" -- the first three words light and ethereal, the fourth, suddenly dissonant -- is particularly eloquent.

    Parts/Movements

    1. The Last Invocation
    2. The Unknown Region
    3. To All, To Each

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2016
    Sono Luminus
    DS 92200
    2010
    Naxos
    8559358
    2006
    Centaur Records
    2773
    1999
    Guild
    GMCD7155
    1998
    EMI Music Distribution
    66787
    1994
    Composers / CRI
    615
    1991
    Bay Cities
    1022
    1991
    EMI Music Distribution
    54188
    ACR
    10307
    Vox
    3037
    Khorikos
    William Ferris Choral
    869093