Words Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, music by Javier Arau
The twilight is sad and cloudy,
The wind blows wild and free,
And like the wings of sea-birds
Flash the white caps of the sea.
But in the fisherman’s cottage
There shines a ruddier light,
And a little face at the window
Peers out into the night.
Close, close it is pressed to the window,
As if those childish eyes
Were looking into the darkness
To see some form arise.
And a woman’s waving shadow
Is passing to and fro,
Now rising to the ceiling,
Now bowing and bending low.
What tale do the roaring ocean,
And the night-wind, bleak and wild,
As they beat at the crazy casement,
Tell to that little child?
And why do the roaring ocean,
And the night-wind, wild and bleak,
As they beat at the heart of the mother
Drive the color from her cheek?
A brief discussion of “Twilight,”
by Javier Arau
My composition, “Twilight,” is a setting of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem of the same name. I have attempted to illustrate and enhance, through the music, many of the moods and themes that Longfellow introduces in his poem. Because of this, a brief analysis of Longfellow’s work will help shed some insight into the workings of my composition.
Longfellow’s “Twilight” is extremely rich in imagery and emotion, and both are elements that help make it a wonderful poem to set to music. Longfellow begins by setting the scene of sad and cloudy twilight along an ocean shoreline. He then focuses on a fisherman’s cottage along the water. Inside the home, a little boy peers out the window into the night-sky. Longfellow then focuses on the thoughts of the boy, as he looks out into the outside world with a sense of wonder and optimism. This sense of wonder is overshadowed, as Longfellow directs our attention to the boy’s mother, who paces nervously behind the child. She looks out the same window and sadly sees a darker side of the world. Longfellow ends the poem by posing the following two questions: How can the boy look out the window with such innocent excitement, and, at the same time, how can the mother look out the window and see something completely different?
What Longfellow has created here is a structure that takes the shape of a funnel. He begins with the description of the broad landscape. He then focuses on the cottage and then, even closer, on the people inside the cottage. From there, he narrows in on their thoughts, and finally pulls away from it all and asks his two philosophical questions.
I have tried also to capture and enhance this sort of structure in my piece. “Twilight” begins with wider intervals and more transparent, open harmonies. As the piece progresses, the music becomes more saturated with smaller intervals. The opening of the piece suggests something wondrous yet not completely personal. By journey’s end, I want for that perception to change and for the listener to sense a real sense of intimacy and contemplation. I have addressed also the questions Longfellow poses, and, rather than providing answers, I have tried simply to magnify these queries, encouraging the audience to reach its own decisions.