Fire and Ice
Scored for: soprano and baritone solos, SATB, orchestra
Instrumentation: 2 Flutes (1 doubles Piccolo), 2 Oboes (2 doubles E.H.), 2 Clarinets in Bb (2 doubles Bass Cl.), 4 Horns in F., 3 Trumpets in C, 2 Tenor Trombones, 1 Bass Trombone, Timpani, 2 Percussion, Harp, Piano/Celesta, Strings
Duration: 46 min.
Premiere: May 19. 2007, Elizabeth Keutsch, and David Arnold, soloists, The Handel Society of Dartmouth College, The Hanover Orchestra, Robert Duff, Conductor
Commissioned by: The Handel Society of Dartmouth College
Published by: Self-published, Angelfire Press
Contact Andrea Clearfield for score and parts:
This work is part of PROJECT : ENCORE™ of Schola Cantorum on Hudson. PROJECT : ENCORE™ works have been premiered, and then evaluated via blind adjudication by prestigious conductors as being works of excellent quality. The online, searchable database is located at: www.scholaonhudson.com/project_encore.
“Fire and Ice was commissioned by the Handel Society in celebration of their bicentennial anniversary. This moving cantata is the first major setting of poetry by Robert Frost since the 1955 setting of Frostiana by Randall Thompson. Andrea’s writing is sensitive, intuitive, and deeply personal. Her commitment to the poet’s intent and colorful, intriguing orchestrations combined with the meticulous care she took when writing for the human voice allowed for Fire and Ice one to become a significantly rewarding experience for both the performers and audience alike.”
–Robert Duff, Conductor, Handel Society of Dartmouth College
“As a former conductor of the Handel Society, I wanted to be present for the event last weekend. It turned out to be festive in every sense of the word. Andrea’s writing for chorus was set at just the right level (in my opinion) to stretch them with challenges they have probably never encounted in Handel, Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, etc.–and yet there were also many passages
of effective, truly vocal lyricism where they could sing out in the way choruses just love. And the orchestra had a part that was brilliant, and marvellously colorful. She is a masterful orchestrator, underlining, coloring, shading, and bringing excitement to the work. Since I had the pleasure of encountering both a talented composer previously unknown to me and a really wonderful new choral/orchestral piece, I wanted to bring it to your attention for consideration. The poems are richly allusive and the music enriches them. “
–Steve Ledbetter on www.orchestralist.net
Fire and Ice, cantata for soprano and baritone soloists, SATB chorus, and orchestra
Andrea Clearfield was born in Philadelphia on August 29, 1960, and is living in Philadelphia. The cantata Fire and Ice was commissioned by The Handel Society of Dartmouth College on the occasion of its bicentennial anniversary, 2007, Robert Duff, music director. This is the first performance. The score calls for soprano and baritone soloists, mixed chorus, and an orchestra consisting of two flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), two oboes (2nd doubling English horn), two clarinets (2nd doubling bass clarinet), two bassoons (2nd doubling contrabassoon), four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, percussion for two players, timpani, harp, piano/celesta, and strings.
When Handel Society conductor Robert Duff was looking ahead to the 200th anniversary of the founding of the ensemble, he invited a number of composers to propose a work that would be appropriate for the event. The composer chosen to receive the bicentennial commission was Andrea Clearfield, who researched prominent Dartmouth alumni to get ideas, and, upon learning the Robert Frost was one of the college’s distinguished sons, proposed a cantata that would be a cycle of his poems.
Frost’s poetry is a natural for music. It is compact, linguistically spare and straightforward, filled with images (especially of nature) that composers have always delighted in depicting in music, and profoundly layered with meanings that can resonate deeply, both through the words themselves and a musical setting. The critic Leonard B. Meyer once wrote an essay about Mozart’s music in which he described its “grammatical simplicity and relational richness.” Frost seems to work the same way. On the surface it is New England homespun; but its immediacy conceals many layers of significance.
Andrea Clearfield has spent most of her life in and around Philadelphia, where she has studied (at Muhlenberg College in nearby Allentown, at the University of the Arts, where she received her master’s degree in piano, and at Temple University, where she earned a D.M.A. in composition as a student of Maurice Wright), but her music has been performed widely all over the United States and in Europe and Japan. Her large and growing list of works include pieces ranging from solo or chamber works for instruments and sometimes voice, choral works, orchestral compositions, and full-scale cantatas and oratorios. Her long experience with choral music—starting as an accompanist to her school chorus in fourth grade and extending to the composition of the oratorios Women of Valor (2000) and The Golem Psalms (2006) make her an obvious choice to compose a work for the 200th anniversary of America’s oldest town/gown choral organization.
Since she likes to create a sense of place, whenever possible, with her scores, Andrea Clearfield visited the sites of Robert Frost’s homes to get a feeling for the life that produced so many famous and much-loved poems—to see, for example, the actual stone wall that is the subject of “Mending Wall” (even though that particular poem plays no role in her cantata). She also found a specific musical inspiration on the Dartmouth campus in the form of the Baker Tower carillon, which provided a “thematic glue” in the form of the four separate phrases of the melody that signals the hours, each of which is used to suggest some of the musical material of one of the four movements in the cantata.
All of this—plus much reading of Frost’s poems—was part of the pre-compositional process involving that most essential stage for any vocal work: establishing the text that is to be set to music. The aim was to celebrate Frost and the Handel Society. Inevitably, too, given the nature of Frost’s poems, the cantata evokes many elements of New England weather. But the poems that Andrea Clearfield has selected and shaped into the libretto for the cantata She chose her poems carefully and shaped them into four sections, which became the separate movements of the cantata in such a way as to embody universal themes in an arch structure. The outer movements are settings of a single poem; the two inner movements each set a group of three poems.
The first and last movements have to do with art, and the creative process. “To the thawing wind,” in the first movement, depicts clearly the spring winds that thaw the frozen world of winter, opening it up to new possibilities—here conceived as freeing the poet, the artist to new creation. One thematic element, the opening phrase of the Dartmouth carillon, is a descending major scale, which becomes the falling rain figure that dies away at the end of the movement. The second movement contains three poems—“October,” “Fragmentary Blue,” and “Going for Water,” each of which emphasizes the ephemeral nature of time in human experience. In this second movement, Clearfield builds much of the harmonic language on the intervals of fourths and fifths that are prominent in the second phrase of the carillon. “October” calls upon nature to slow the inevitable process of change, of the autumnal shifts that have always symbolized the brief transit of human life. (The full Dartmouth carillon appears, with twelve strokes of the hour, in the chimes, when the poet appeals for slower change: “retard the gentle mist.”) “Fragmentary blue” is the brief scherzo in this section, evoking wonder at the power of momentary flashes of that color that is spread out in the sky, but appears only momentarily below. And the simple flowing line of “Going for Water” (the composer directs the chorus to sing it “like a folksong) depicts a late autumn stroll to a brook that is still running, though the movement ends with shimmering anticipation of the frost to come. The third movement embodies the struggle of the human spirit in the confrontation of opposites. The harmonic language is edgier, colored by a major seventh in the third phrase of the Dartmouth carillon. The three poems that make up the movement are “The Demiurge’s Laugh,” “Fire and Ice,” and “Stars.” The first of these is a wildly energetic outburst of animal spirits in a dialectic between the Demiurge/God/demon, all apparently symbolized by the burgeoning life-force of a New England spring. “Fire and Ice,” the most famous poem chosen for the cantata, deals with man against himself, against his frequently violent emotions. The setting builds to an explosive outburst that transitions suddenly to what the composer calls “a dispassionate place” in which each choral line sings wordlessly (with the syllable “oh”) on a gently undulating turn figure evoking the impassivity of nature, and here, especially, of the distant stars—seeming to look on impassively over our sometimes crazed behavior. The undulating chorus parts fade and die away
The final movement is a setting of Frost’s “Pan,” which, to Andrea Clearfield, “questions what the art fo the future should be.” A fragment of the fourth carillon phrase evokes Pan in the orchestral introduction, and the melody at the choral entrance begins with the final notes of the carillon phrase, singing of the mythical Pan appears, only to learn that his powers have faded with the millennia and that it was time to seek a new song to play. This idea spreads through the entire assembly, and all set up a kind of dance song to ask the eternal question of art, “What should he play?”
© Steven Ledbetter (www.stevenledbetter.com)
I. To the Thawing Wind
Come with rain, O loud Southwester!
Bring the singer, bring the nester;
Give the buried flower a dream;
Make the settled snowbank steam;
Find the brown beneath the white;
But whate’er you do tonight,
Bathe my window, make it flow,
Melt it as the ice will go;
Melt the glass and leave the sticks
Like a hermit’s crucifix;
Burst into my narrow stall;
Swing the picture on the wall;
Run the rattling pages o’er;
Scatter poems on the floor;
Turn the poet out of door.
O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost–
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.
III. Fragmentary Blue
Why make so much of fragmentary blue
In here and there a bird, or butterfly,
Or flower, or wearing-stone, or open eye,
When heaven presents in sheets the solid hue?
Since earth is earth, perhaps, not heaven (as yet) –
Though some savants make earth include the sky;
And blue so far above us comes so high,
It only gives our wish for blue a whet.
IV. Going for Water
The well was dry beside the door,
And so we went with pail and can
Across the fields behind the house
To seek the brook if still it ran;
Not loth to have excuse to go,
Because the autumn eve was fair
(Though chill), because the fields were ours,
And by the brook our woods were there.
We ran as if to meet the moon
That slowly dawned behind the trees,
The barren boughs without the leaves,
Without the birds, without the breeze.
But once within the wood, we paused
Like gnomes that hid us from the moon,
Ready to run to hiding new
With laughter when she found us soon.
Each laid on other a staying hand
To listen ere we dared to look,
And in the hush we joined to make
We heard, we knew we heard the brook.
A note as from a single place,
A slender tinkling fall that made
Now drops that floated on the pool
Like pearls, and now a silver blade.
V. The Demiurge’s Laugh
It was far in the sameness of the wood;
I was running with joy on the Demon’s trail,
Though I knew what I hunted was no true god.
It was just as the light was beginning to fail
That I suddenly heard – all I needed to hear:
It has lasted me many and many a year.
The sound was behind me instead of before,
A sleepy sound, but mocking half,
As one who utterly couldn’t care.
The Demon arose from his wallow to laugh,
Brushing the dirt from his eye as he went;
And well I knew what the Demon meant.
I shall not forget how his laugh rang out.
I felt as a fool to have been so caught,
And checked my steps to make pretense
It was something among the leaves I soought
(Though doubtful whether he stayed to see).
Thereafter I sat me against a tree.
VI. Fire and Ice
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.
How countlessly they congregate
O’er our tumultuous snow,
Which flows in shapes as tall as trees
When wintry winds do blow!–
As if with keenness for our fate,
Our faltering few steps on
To white rest, and a place of rest
Invisible at dawn,–
And yet with neither love nor hate,
Those stars like some snow-white
Minerva’s snow-white marble eyes
Without the gift of sight.
VIII. Pan With Us
Pan came out of the woods one day,–
His skin and his hair and his eyes were gray,
The gray of the moss of walls were they,–
And stood in the sun and looked his fill
At wooded valley and wooded hill.
He stood in the zephyr, pipes in hand,
On a height of naked pasture land;
In all the country he did command
He saw no smoke and he saw no roof.
That was well! And he stamped a hoof.
His heart knew peace, for none came here
To this lean feeding save once a year
Someone to salt the half-wild steer,
Or homespun children with clicking pails
Who see no little they tell no tales.
He tossed his pipes, too hard to teach
A new-world song, far out of reach,
For a sylvan sign that the blue jay’s screech
And the whimper of hawks beside the sun
Were music enough for him, for one.
Times were changed from what they were:
Such pipes kept less of power to stir
The fruited bough of the juniper
And the fragile bluets clustered there
Than the merest aimless breath of air.
They were pipes of pagan mirth,
And the world had found new terms of worth.
He laid him down on the sun-burned earth
And ravelled a flower and looked away–
Play? Play?–What should he play?