ANNA LARSON, composer
for medium low voice and piano
Arsis Press, 7 minutes
The Listeners was completed during a residency at the Virginia Center for the Arts and was premiered by the composer's father at a concert at Duke University. Additionally, it was performed on a Society of Composers Festival at Wellesley College in October, 1996 with Paul Guttry, bass baritone, and Michael Beattie, piano. The recording heard here was made in 1990 and is with Donna Dease, mezzo, and Jane Hawkins, piano.
The composer writes: "This musical setting of The Listeners was written between 1977 and 1979 as a surprise gift for my father, Arthur Larson, at the suggestion of my mother, Florence Newcomb Larson, who sent me several of his favorite poems from which to choose. I was immediately drawn to this text by Walter de la Mare because it combines a beautifully crafted dramatic form with a stirring expression of human integrity in a world where absolute knowledge is mysteriously withheld. Integrity is a quality I associate in no small way with my father and mother, and is something I take less for granted with every passing year.
I dedicate this song to both my parents in grateful recognition of their loyalty to each other and to me."
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by Walter de la Mare
"Is there anybody there?" said the Traveler,
Knocking on the moolit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest's ferny floor.
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveler's head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
"Is there anybody there?" he said.
But no one descended to the Traveler;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his gray eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveler's call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
'Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote upon the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:—
"Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word," he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Aye, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.