Four excerpts from Algebra of Night
A cycle of seven songs with two instrumental interludes interspersed, Algebra of Night was commissioned by the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music to celebrate its centenary, and was given its premiere in 2015 by mezzo soprano Deanne Meek and the 21st Century Consort at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C. The texts are by six poets who lived and wrote in Manhattan at significant periods in their careers or for their entire working lives: W. H. Auden, Edwin Denby, James Merrill, Charles Simic, Mark Strand and—perhaps the quintessential 20th-century New York poet—Frank O’Hara, who is represented by two poems.
The title is a phrase from a poem by Willis Barnstone: …and drop my way / to oblivion and algebra of night. Here I intend (as perhaps Barnstone also intended) the word algebra to suggest a poetry beyond logic and mathematics, and to imply what its Arabic root al-jabr connotes, the reassembling and restoration of broken parts. Each song and interlude contributes something of night to this algebra: fragments of sleep, dreams and darkness, of human love and loss, of ultimate things.