I Hear an Army
for soprano and string quartet (1964)
12 August 1964
Berkshire Music Festival, Tanglewood, MA
Phyllis Bryn-Julson / members of the Berkshire Music Center / David Del Tredici
XXXVI from Chamber Music by James Joyce
Dedicated to Phyllis Bryn-Julson
The Fromm Music Foundation
I HEAR AN ARMY, written in 1964, was the first of three extended compositions based on the poems of James Joyce. NIGHT CONJURE-VERSE, augments the ensemble by the addition of a Counter-Tenor (or Mezzo-Soprano) and a wind septet. Syzygy (recorded on Colum?bia) is the third. I HEAR AN ARMY was commissioned by the Fromm Foundation in 1964 and is a setting for soprano and string quartet of the last and by far the most dramatic of the poems collected in James Joyce's Chamber Music.
The composer writes:
"The poem itself is a description of a nightmare, grow?ing steadily more terrifying as it progresses, The sleeper is finally frightened into wakefulness but instead of relief feels only the despair and loneliness of a love lost.
"My conception of this dramatic episode suggested to me the three part, though continuous, form of the piece:
1. A long introduction for strings alone, sempre agitate, with the motives, which are to be important later, pre sented in a half-formed, fleeting manner ? an image of troubled sleep, not yet crystalized into the terrifying clarity of a nightmare.
2. The nightmare itself ? a setting of the poem for so?prano and strings.
3. A postlude for strings alone, in which the nightmarish activity grows dimmer and dimmer, as the imagined terrors recede during wakefulness. But ever present in this fading away, is one single, insistent note, B ? a symbol of the sleeper's poignant, unrelenting lonliness, which remains undimmed to the end.