Throughout the year we will have student writers contribute pieces that share their thoughts about their experiences, music, and other topics.
The Chorale is preparing Samuel Barber's famous setting of Sure on this Shining Night for the Choir Gala on September 29.
by Hannah Hetzel-Ebben
The text of Sure on This Shinning Night is a poem by James Agee from his book “Permit Me Voyage”. The poem is written from the perspective of an older man walking outside on a summer night, reflecting back on his life. This reflection at the end of the man’s life encompasses the idea that even through the darkest times in life there is still kindness in the world. He marvels at the vastness of the universe and feels alone yet comforted. The specific lines “Late year lies down the north, all is healed, all is health” could be referring to the glory of heaven.
The music, composed by Samuel Barber, helps to reinforce the meaning of the text. The jumps and skips both within a part and in reference to other voice parts give the feeling of wonder and uneasiness. The darker and fuller sound to the piece creates a more somber emotion amongst the listeners; the harmonies, accompaniment and choral progression also contribute to the darkness of the piece. In the B section of the piece, the texture switches from a more polyphonic sound to homophonic so that all voice parts are together for the climax of the piece. The mainly legato music has some separation to bring out text, showing that the music was composed to go with the text.
This piece is stunningly beautiful and thought provoking. The interpretations of both the text and music are endless, making this piece very personal and special to the singer and/or listener. With breathtaking tension and interweaving harmonies that emphasis the deep text, the singers take the listener on a journey of contemplation.
Listen - Sure on this Shining Night, by Samuel Barber, Performed by Abendchor