Fred Lerdahl

The Music and Writings of Composer Fred Lerdahl

Program note for Fire and Ice 


Fire and Ice (2015), for high soprano and contrabass, was commissioned by the Tanglewood Music Center for its 75th anniversary. The text is a famous lyric by Robert Frost:

          Some say the world will end in fire,
          Some say in ice.
          From what I've tasted of desire
          I hold with those who favor fire.
          But if it had to perish twice,
          I think I know enough of hate
          To say that for destruction ice
          Is also great
          And would suffice.

This rather terrifying poem was inspired by contemporaneous astronomical theories of the sun's evolution and by a scene in Dante's Inferno. My six-minute setting is in ABABABA form. In the A sections, the voice and bass mingle in the middle register. Each time the voice states the entire poem and follows ordinary speech prosody, the first time in a literal iambic setting, the second and third times in stylized renditions of Richard Burton's and Robert Frost's readings, respectively, and the fourth time in imitation of an anonymous reading that I found on the internet. In the B sections, the voice desperately utters syllabic fragments against an inexorable bass line. The voice and bass fan out progressively, until, by the final B section, the bass is at the bottom of its register and the voice at its top (a "Queen of the Night" high F). These registral extremes embody the opposition of fire and ice.

Fred Lerdahl


all materials copyright Fred Lerdahl 2009