Music for Words, Perhaps

Ten Songs for Voice and Piano
by Denman Maroney
Set to Poems by W.B. Yeats

The words are set to music by permission of A.P. Watt Ltd.
on behalf of Michael B. Yeats and Anne Yeats.

Copyright 1999 by Denman Maroney
Mon$ey Music (ASCAP)


A Note on the Origin of the Work
Notes on the Notation

1. The Song of the Happy Shepherd
2. The Second Coming
3. The Crazed Moon
4. The Song of Wandering Aengus
5. A Drinking Song
6. A Drunken Man's Praise of Sobriety
7. The Cap and Bells
8. Three Songs to the One Burden
9. The Two Trees
10. The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner

Appendix: Extended Piano Performance Techniques

Innova Recording

A Note on the Origin of the Work

In 1996 my 89-year-old father-in-law Eric Martin invited my 88-year-old father Pat Maroney to celebrate their ninetieth birthdays together in Wisconsin. My father declined, saying, “I’m not going to have a ninetieth birthday.” So he did not. On July 23, 1997, a massive stroke put him on life support. My brother and I stood by his bed, where he lay unconscious. The doctor said, “He’s finished.” I said, “May I unplug him?” He said yes. I did. The graph lines flattened. His life left him. I took his watch off his wrist and put it on mine. In life all he ever said of his Irish ancestry was that his school mates called him Pat, though his name was Jim, and his ancestors came from West Clare in the famine. I resolved to find my roots. The human genome had not been decoded, so instead of sending my spit for analysis, I went to Ireland. To prepare, I read Irish writers Gregory, Singh, Shaw, O’Casey, Wilde, Joyce, and Yeats. On the trip, all that I learned was that the O’Moroneys were a minor clan long since vanquished by the O’Neals. That fall at Dad’s memorial I recited Yeats’s poem The Song of the Happy Shepherd. It worked for me – “Words alone are certain good!” – but would have meant nothing to Dad, who had no use for art and surely did not know that Wilde himself had said, “All art is quite useless.” Soon after, while reading The Cap and Bells on a plane, I heard a melody. So began my Yeats song cycle Music for Words, Perhaps. In addition to poetry the music involves two other preoccupations of mine: hyperpiano, or playing the keys with one hand and the strings with the other using bows and slides of metal, plastic, rubber, and wood; and temporal harmony, or composing in layers of time based on the undertone series, the reciprocal of the overtone series (i.e., 1, 1/2, 1/3, 1/4…). In The Song of the Happy Shepherd, chords in the temporal ratio 3:4:5 (harmonically, a first inversion minor triad) simulate falling trees (“The woods of Arcady are dead”). In The Second Coming, an aluminum mixing bowl mimics the line, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre.” In The Crazed Moon, 3:4:5 at high speed simulates the moon “staggering in the sky.” In The Song of Wandering Aengus, notes bent with a copper bar recall the “hazel wand.” The ratio 3:5 at low speed gives the feel of A Drinking Song. A bar resting and buzzing on the strings evokes A Drunken Man’s Praise of Sobriety. Copper bars on mid- and low-register strings recall the bells of The Cap and Bells. My one deliberate attempt to sound Irish (and galloping horses!) comes in Three Songs to the One Burden. The ratio 5:6 informs The Two Trees. The slowing ratios 4:5, 4:6, and 4:7 echo The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner. "I spit into the face of time that has transfigured me!"

Notes on the Notation

Six of the ten songs in this cycle — The Second Coming, The Song of Wandering Aengus, A Drunken Man's Praise of Sobriety, The Cap and Bells, [One of] Three Songs to the One Burden and The Two Trees — involve the use of extended piano performance techniques. Generally these techniques involve exciting certain strings directly with a variety of tools with one hand while simultaneously playing the keys associated with those strings with the other hand.

The tools used include an aluminum mixing bowl, a marimba mallet, an audio cassette box, two copper bars, a plastic bottle and a cowbell. Generally how these tools are used is described in the appendix.

In the song scores the use of the tools is indicated by text and special noteheads on extra staves. In such cases the keys played are notated on a lower staff, and the sounds to be made by applying a certain tool in a certain way to the strings associated with those keys are notated on an adjacent higher staff.

With one exception the special noteheads used are semicircles for the mixing bowl, diamonds for the marimba mallet, parallelograms for the cassette box, squares for the copper bars, and triangles for the plastic bottle and cowbell. The one exception is that bowing (moving a tool across the strings) is indicated by parallelograms no matter what the tool.

Hollow circles above the special noteheads indicate the use of higher harmonics, which are produced by applying a tool to the zone of the strings behind the dampers. The absence of such circles indicates that the tool is to be applied to the zone of the strings in front of the dampers.

When sliding a tool (moving it along the strings) is indicated, the pitches specified by special noteheads are approximate, because sliding produces pitches outside the dodecaphonic scale. When pressing or resting a tool is indicated, the pitches specified are more precise.

Sliding is indicated both by text and by arrows showing the direction of pitch movement. The directions of pitch and tool movement are not always the same. In conjunction with keyboard action, moving pitch upward is done by sliding a tool towards the hammers, thereby decreasing the length of string the hammer strikes. This means sliding away from the keyboard from in front of the dampers and towards it from behind them. (See appendix for details.)

When a special notehead on a higher staff is not accompanied by a regular notehead on a lower staff, the sound is to be made by applying a tool to the strings without playing their associated keys.

The insides of different piano makes and models are different. As a result some songs may have to be transposed or played on different strings.