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Every American composer looking for texts to set will doubtless look to the great American poets—amongst them Walt Whitman. Though Whitman is not my favorite poet, his texts carry a certain resonance. Unfortunately, while looking through his seminal “Leaves of Grass,” I found few poems I thought suitable for setting, until I came across one of his later appendices to the volume, “Sands at Seventy,” which is much more retrospective than many other entries; in it, Whitman is coming to terms with old age, death, and memory. "Yonnondio" was originally written for soprano and piano and may still be performed as such, but was arranged for electronics for a performance at the Center for Design Innovation and was subsequently recorded in that incarnation.
“Yonnondio” is the central movement of the collection, and is a lament for the lost culture of native North Americans. Before the poem, Whitman notes the following: “The sense of the word is lament for the aborigines. It is an Iroquois term; and has been used for a personal name.”
A song, a poem of itself—the word itself a dirge,
Amid the wilds, the rocks, the storm and wintry night,
To me such misty, strange tableaux the syllables calling up;
Yonnondio—I see, far in the west or north, a limitless ravine, with plains and mountains dark,
I see swarms of stalwart chieftains, medicine-men, and warriors,
As flitting by like clouds of ghosts, they pass and are gone in the twilight,
(Race of the woods, the landscapes free, and the falls!
No picture, poem, statement, passing them to the future:)
Yonnondio! Yonnondio!—unlimn'd they disappear;
To-day gives place, and fades—the cities, farms, factories fade;
A muffled sonorous sound, a wailing word is borne through the air for a moment,
Then blank and gone and still, and utterly lost.
released May 1, 2018
Logan Trotter, soprano
Peyton Clifford, producer
Dr. Michael Rothkopf, recording supervisor