Endless Worlds (Songs from Gitanjali)

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SATB a cappella with divisi
Sacred/Secular text in English (winner of the Novel Prize, 1909) by Rabindranath Tagore
Duration: 13:00
Difficulty rating (1-5): 3.5

I. Introduction: the Light of your Music
II. On the Seashore of Endless Worlds
III. In Desperate Hope
IV. The Abounding Joy


Commissioned by H.D. Jacobs High School (Algonquin, IL) Performing Arts  Boosters,
Andrew Collins, choir director

Premiered May, 2010

Program Notes

In the early years of the twentieth century, Rabindranath Tagore (1861- 1941) took the western literary world by storm with the publication of Gitanjali (Song Offerings). This collection of 103 poems speaking of god, nature, spiritual journeys and meditation, translated from earlier Bengali versions into English by the author himself, was published in 1912. Such was its immediate popularity that it won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913. The introduction to the book by W.B, Yeats distills the essence of Gitanjali; here are a few quotes from Yeats’ introduction:

[The poems come from]… a tradition where poetry and religion are the same thing…gathered from learned and unlearned metaphor and emotion.

Tagore has been content to discover the soul and surrender himself to its spontaneity. Tagore is so abundant, so spontaneous, so daring in his passion, so full of surprise.

We are moved… because we have met our own image…our voice as in a dream.

Yeats’ introduction is worth reading in its entirety, which may be found along with the complete Gitanjali (now in public domain) at www.sacred-texts.com/hin/tagore.gitanjali.htm

When Andrew Collins asked me to write a commissioned piece for his amazing choir, we talked about a few different authors, but eventfully landed in Gitanjali territory. This is obviously a deep treasure trove of very lyrical, metaphysical, pantheistic poetry, and I eventually felt that I needed to at least imply, via multiple movements, the depth of the collection yet not wind up with a two hour piece of music. I eventually found a way to present many of   the core textual elements of Gitanjali by constructing a four movement work.

The first movement speaks of music, and specifically about singing-- of Tagore’s belief in the spiritual intersection of singing with god or the absolute. The second movement speaks of the duality of humankind and of nature—while children play in a serene seascape there is also the knowledge that nature can be fierce. Dualities abound in Gitanjali, just as they do in Eastern thought. Here they are readily accepted as yin and yang, as opposed to the way that duality is often a battleground in western thought. The third movement is reminiscent of themes in Sor Juana and St. John of the Cross— the pang of earthly love transforms into love of god, and acknowledgment of the vastness of the cosmos. The fourth movement is in praise of the kaleidoscope of nature and time, and reaches an electric ecstasy.  I have tried to capture the energy this poem implies -- yet all along one could imagine Tagore, with no difficulty, peacefully meditating with a slight samadhi smile on his face through all this busyness of the universe and this particular music!

Musical Elements

All the movements are linked by a tonal center of C, and often there is use of modes- Dorian, Phrygian, etc. F major sections in movement one and three are almost chorale-like, echo each other, and are tied to the textual beauty of those moments. F major (historically a pastoral key) appears as well in the playful uptempo sections of movement two. There are also some juxtapositions of the tonal center C with its seemingly most opposite tone center, F sharp. Some of these are very subtle, but the most obvious one is the “tempest music” in movement 2, starting at m. 63.

Melodically I of course wanted the music to be extremely lyrical. There is quite often a rising element in most of the melodies, as if envisioning Tagore reaching his hands to the skies for communion and inspiration. To also imply the otherworldly beauty of Tagore’s poetry, some of my voice spacing is purposely unusual. There are also hints of the odd dissonances often heard in Aarvo Part’s music, probably most noticeable in movment three, which was actually the first movement composed and really is the expressive crux of the whole piece.



Introduction: The Light of your Music

The light of your music illumines the world,
I ever listen in silent amazement.
When you command me to sing
it seems that my heart would break with pride;
I look to your face, and tears come to my eyes.
I know you take pleasure in my singing.
I know that only as a singer, I come before you, before your presence.

On the Seashore of Endless Worlds

On the seashore of endless worlds children meet.
The infinite sky is motionless overhead
and the restless water is boisterous.
On the seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances.
They build their houses with sand and play with empty shells.
The sea plays with children, and pale gleams the smile of the sea

Tempests roam in the pathless sky,
ships get wrecked in the trackless water, death is abroad---
yet children play, children play with shouts and dances.

In Desperate Hope

In desperate hope I go and search for her in all corners of my room; I find her not.
My house is small and what once has gone from it can never be regained.

But infinite is your mansion, my lord, and seeking her I have come to your door.
I stand under the golden canopy of your evening sky and I lift my eager eyes to your face.
I have come to the brink of eternity from which nothing can vanish---
no hope, no happiness, no vision of a face seen through tears.
Oh, dip my emptied life into that ocean, plunge it into the deepest fullness.
Let me for once feel that lost sweet touch in the allness of the universe.

The Abounding Joy

Thy sunbeam comes upon this earth of mine with arms outstretched.
All things rush on, they stop not, they look not behind,
no power can hold them back, they rush on.
Keeping step with that restless, rapid music, seasons come dancing and pass away---
colours, tunes, and perfumes pour in endless cascades in the abounding joy.







Click to See pdf Score
(excerpts from 4 mvmts)

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