Lullaby (2007)

scored for mezzo-soprano piano
duration 10 minutes

When Young Concert Artists asked me to write a new work for Sasha Cooke, I was first excited, second humbled, and third filled with a great fear: where would I find the perfect text? I have not written much vocal music, and whenever I have tried it, I inevitably find that settling on a poetic text was by far the hardest of many hard parts. W.H. Auden’s “Lay your sleeping head, my love” is one of those rare poems that, to my ears, actually begs to be sung, and I am greatly indebted to Adele Chatfield-Taylor for suggesting it to me.

My setting begins in the world of a lullaby, simple and sustained. But as the poem moves through a web of complex and vivid images, the music evolves as well, becoming more of a fantasy, a journey through a dreamscape of florid figurations and dense harmonies. The music eventually finds its way back to the lullaby with which it began (excerpt to the right), but not before a widely-spaced bell sonority—at times loud and pedantic, at others distant and crystalline—marks the passage of the night and points toward the catharsis of dawn.


Lullaby was commissioned by YCA and premiered by Sasha Cooke and Pei-Yao Wang at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in May 2008.