The Cry of the Sedge
for Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, Tenor, Baritone, and Guitar
poetry by William Butler Yeats
premiere: University of Illinois
April 17, 1974
Frances Crawford, soprano; Mary Burdette, mezzo soprano, Thomas Mitchell, tenor; Ronald Hedlund, baritone; Paul Cox, guitar.
[Not available for performance.]
Composer Notes: At its premiere The Cry of the Sedge was semi-staged, not as the enactment of a story, but as the ritual telling of a story, with certain singers representing the three characters in the story. The work relates the story of a medieval woman who loves a man in secret. She cannot bear to give himself to him physically, but to assuage his physical desire she sends her chambermaid to make love to him in utter silence and darkness. This arrangement leaves no one fully satisfied, and only in death do their graves allow them to all lie side by side.
The baritone represents a balladeer, with the other singers representing the lady, her chambermaid, and the lover singing songs that express their feeling. The work created something of a sensation at its premiere, in part because singers were extraordinary performers, and part because the balladeer’s music used the Dorian mode and was pseudo-Medieval in style, whereas the songs of the characters were more contemporary and chromatic.
Unfortunately The Cry of the Sedge was an impractical work. It fell in an awkward no-man’s land between a recital piece and a stage work. I have considered more than once turning it into a stage work, but there would be multiple issues involved in doing that which I won’t enumerate.
In 2004 I decided to rework some of the material into a song cycle for voice and piano. Though it was relatively effective in performance, the modern sound of the piano did little to evoke a medieval atmosphere, and I felt it was too long. The version is titled If Soul May Look for voice and harp.