Gentle echoing effects between upper and lower voices create the dream-like dialogue  of Christina Rosetti’s elegiac poem, where she pleads with her departed love to return to her.

Steven Sametz Publications
distributed by NoteNova

5-6 min.

Premiered by:
Harmonia Chamber Singers (Buffalo, NY)
May 2016

Commissioned by:
Harmonia Chamber Singers (Buffalo, NY)
Robert Pacillo, director
for their 10th anniversary

In the spring of 2015, I was asked by director Robert Pacillo to compose a new work celebrating the tenth anniversary season of the Harmonia Chamber Singers of Buffalo, New York. It was clear from the poetry he asked me to consider, that Maestro Pacillo was interested in a work of substance that would add to the choral repertoire, rather than a lighter, more celebratory work.

One of the texts he suggested was Christina Rossetti’s Echo, a beautiful poem which evokes an aching sense of loss and a desire to reconnect with a love long gone, even if it’s only an echo of the departed’s presence.

In setting Echo, I concentrated both on the dialogue (the poet’s much hoped-for wish reflected in the antiphonal writing between high and low voices) and the sense of overlapping sound (the “echo” of the title). The second section, with a turn to major mode, hints at that ecstatic reunion which the poet experiences only in dream (“O dream, how sweet, too sweet, too bittersweet…”).  A shift in tonality signals a realm beyond, “Where thirsting longing eyes/ Watch the slow door/ That opening, letting in, lets out no more.”  These compositional elements coalesce in an extended coda: the poet is left with a gently receding echo, and the wistfulness of her longing.

– Steven Sametz (2015)

Come to me in the silence of the night;
   Come in the speaking silence of a dream;
Come with soft rounded cheeks and eyes as bright
   As sunlight on a stream;
      Come back in tears,
O memory, hope, love of finished years.
Oh dream how sweet, too sweet, too bitter sweet,
   Whose wakening should have been in Paradise,
Where souls brimfull of love abide and meet;
   Where thirsting longing eyes
      Watch the slow door
That opening, letting in, lets out no more.
Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live
   My very life again tho’ cold in death:
Come back to me in dreams, that I may give
   Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:
      Speak low, lean low,
As long ago, my love, how long ago.
— Christina Rossetti, (1830–1894)

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