Thompson’s Frostiana: Seven Country Songs

Thompson’s Frostiana: Seven Country Songs

Robert Frost is undoubtedly one of the best known American poets. Although his work is memorable in and of itself, it has also found life outside of poetry as the source of lyrics for Randall Thompson’s Frostiana: Seven Country Songs. Frost’s simple vernacular style and depth of meaning make his poems uniquely suited for singing, a fact that did not escape Thompson in his composition.

Thompson’s Frostiana will be performed in Carnegie Hall in April, 2018.
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Robert Frost, whose poetry inspired Thompson's Frostiana
Robert Frost

The piece was commissioned in 1959 by the town of Amherst, Massachusetts, where Frost taught at the local college for many years. Thompson was the natural choice for the composer as he and Frost had been friends and Frost was an admirer of his music. The piece consists of a song cycle consisting of seven of Frost’s poems including his well-known “The Road Not Taken.” The piece is scored for mixed choir in three of the seven movements, the other four movements are scored for either men or women only.

On February 18, 2017, Thompson’s Frostiana will be performed in Carnegie Hall under the baton of conductor Anne Klus and sung by a combined choir including the Academy Chorale and Summit Singers, and members of the SPA Community from St. Paul, Minnesota.

Here are the seven poems that comprise Frostiana: Seven Country Songs in full:

“The Road Not Taken”

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

“The Pasture”

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

“Come In”

As I came to the edge of the woods,
Thrush music — hark!
Now if it was dusk outside,
Inside it was dark.

Too dark in the woods for a bird
By sleight of wing
To better its perch for the night,
Though it still could sing.

The last of the light of the sun
That had died in the west
Still lived for one song more
In a thrush’s breast.

Far in the pillared dark
Thrush music went —
Almost like a call to come in
To the dark and lament.

But no, I was out for stars;
I would not come in.
I meant not even if asked;
And I hadn’t been.

“The Telephone”

‘When I was just as far as I could walk
From here today,
There was an hour
All still
When leaning with my head again a flower
I heard you talk.
Don’t say I didn’t, for I heard you say—
You spoke from that flower on the window sill—
Do you remember what it was you said?’

‘First tell me what it was you thought you heard.’

‘Having found the flower and driven a bee away,
I leaned on my head
And holding by the stalk,
I listened and I thought I caught the word—
What was it?  Did you call me by my name?
Or did you say—
Someone said “Come”— I heard it as I bowed.’

‘I may have thought as much, but not aloud.’

“Well, so I came.’

“A Girl’s Garden”

A neighbor of mine in the village
Likes to tell how one spring
When she was a girl on the farm, she did
A childlike thing.

One day she asked her father
To give her a garden plot
To plant and tend and reap herself,
And he said, “Why not?”

In casting about for a corner
He thought of an idle bit
Of walled-off ground where a shop had stood,
And he said, “Just it.”

And he said, “That ought to make you
An ideal one-girl farm,
And give you a chance to put some strength
On your slim-jim arm.”

It was not enough of a garden
Her father said, to plow;
So she had to work it all by hand,
But she don’t mind now.

She wheeled the dung in a wheelbarrow
Along a stretch of road;
But she always ran away and left
Her not-nice load,

And hid from anyone passing.
And then she begged the seed.
She says she thinks she planted one
Of all things but weed.

A hill each of potatoes,
Radishes, lettuce, peas,
Tomatoes, beets, beans, pumpkins, corn,
And even fruit trees.

And yes, she has long mistrusted
That a cider-apple
In bearing there today is hers,
Or at least may be.

Her crop was a miscellany
When all was said and done,
A little bit of everything,
A great deal of none.

Now when she sees in the village
How village things go,
Just when it seems to come in right,
She says, “I know!

“It’s as when I was a farmer…”
Oh never by way of advice!
And she never sins by telling the tale
To the same person twice.

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

 

“Choose Something Like a Star”

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud-
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to the wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.
Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says, ‘I burn.’
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use Language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.
It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end
And steadfast as Keats’ Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

 

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