Fred Lerdahl

The Music and Writings of Composer Fred Lerdahl

Program note for Wake


In the summers of 1967 and 1968 I had the good fortune to be a resident composer at the Marlboro Music Festival under a grant from the Ford Foundation. The great soprano Bethany Beardslee asked me during the first summer to compose a vocal work for her. The result was Wake (1968), for soprano, string trio, harp, and percussion (three players). Bethany and a group of Marlboro performers premiered it at the 1968 festival under my direction. The work is in one movement about 16 minutes long.

The inspiration for Wake came from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. I arranged the text out of passages from Book I, chapter 8 of the novel, to create the symmetrical formal pattern of Introduction, Cycle I, Episode I, Cycle II, Episode II, Cycle III, and Coda. The main action of the piece resides in the cycles, which rise to parallel climaxes and which are meant to reflect the novel’s themes of recurrence and metamorphosis. The harp and percussion clothe the work in a lyrical atmosphere motivated by Joyce’s beautiful language.

Fred Lerdahl

Text by James Joyce
(arranged by the composer)

But toms will till. Will toms till but. Till but toms will.

Tell me all. (Anna was.) The old cheb went futt, mythed with gleam of her shadda, holding doomsdag over hunself, dreeing his weird, queasy quizzers. And the cut of him. And the strut of him. With a hump of grandeur. For mine ether duck I thee drake. And by my wildgaze I thee gander. Saw him shoot swift up her sheba sheath, like any gay lord salomon, her bulls they were ruhring, surfed with spree. 
Do tell us all about. As we want to hear allabout. So tellus tellas allabouter. Proxenete. 

Where did I stop? Never stop! Garonne, garonne! Tongue your time now, flow now, ower more. And pooley pooley.

She was just a young thin pale soft shy (Livia is) slim slip of a thing then, nymphant shame, tigris eye. Of fallen griefs, of weeping willows. Deep dark, stagnant black pools, innocefree with her limbs aloft. 
Mersey me! Shake it up, do, do! Calamity electrifies man.

Tell me the trent of it. Onon! Onon! Close only knows.

Tys Elvenland! The seim anew. (Plurabelle’s to be.) Look, look, the dusk is growing! My branches lofty are taking root. What age is at? It soon is late, ‘tis endless now. It’s churning chill. Der went is rising. Some here, more no more. 
Can’t hear with the waters of. The chittering waters of. Flittering bats, fieldmice bawk talk. Can’t hear with bawk of bats, all thim liffeying waters of. I feel as old as yonder elm. Dark hawks hear us. Night! Night! My ho head halls, I feel as heavy as yonder stone. Night now! Tell me, tell me, tell me, elm! Night night! 
Telmetale of stem or stone.

Beside the rivering waters of, higherandthithering waters of. Night!


all materials copyright Fred Lerdahl 2009