Fred Lerdahl

The Music and Writings of Composer Fred Lerdahl

Program note for Eros


The text for Eros (1975) is a poem by Ezra Pound, entitled “Coitus,” from the volume Lustra

          The gilded phaloi of the crocuses
          are thrusting at the spring air.
          Here is there naught of dead gods
          But a procession of festival, 
          A procession, O Guilio Romano,
          Fit for your spirit to dwell in.
          Dione, your nights are upon us.

          The dew is upon the leaf.
          The night about us is restless.

Dione is the mother of Venus, the goddess of love. Presumably the poet is contemplating a fresco by the Renaissance painter Giulio Romano. In the musical setting, for which the poem is merely a point of departure, the mezzo-soprano sings as if Giulio were her lover.

The piece, which is in one movement that lasts 23 minutes, is a set of 21 continuous variations, each twenty measures long. In the first opening statement the singer sets forth the entire poem; thereafter, the poem is varied along with the music. As in classical music, the variation technique depends on strict adherence to an underlying structure, upon which melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic details are elaborated. From Bach's Goldberg Variations came the idea of making every third variation some kind of canon. The larger form falls into three increasingly climactic cycles of seven variations each.

The instruments accompanying the singer are alto flute, viola, electric guitar, electric bass, harp, piano, and percussion. The voice and acoustic intstruments are amplified discreetly to form a degree of blend with the electric guitars.

Eros was commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation and was composed with the support of a Guggenheim Fellowship. In its clear (if extended) tonality and its use of variation form, the work represented a signficant step in my stylistic development. It was first performed in 1977 in New York City by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, with Beverly Morgan as soloist and Gerard Schwarz conducting. 

Fred Lerdahl


all materials copyright Fred Lerdahl 2009