Hidden Texts (2017)

Tenor and Guitar

Text by John Hollander, text copyright © 1999, from "Reflections on Espionage". Reprinted by permission of Yale University Press. All Rights Reserved.

Total duration ca. 5' 

Single-movement work


Premiered April 2018

in Baltimore, MD by Peter Dayton and Valerie Hsu

Purchase this score and parts from

Peter Dayton Music (ASCAP) for: $10.00

Listen to a recording of this work on Soundcloud

This poem is a transmission, an excerpt from John Hollander’s spy-themed verse novel Reflections on Espionage. Chronicling the reflections and activities of a Cold-War-era agent, alias “Cupcake,” the book unfolds in the format of secret dispatches sent out from Cupcake to his handler “Lyrebird” or a fellow agent and confidante, “Image.” Using cryptography as an analogue for writing and the creative process, Reflections is simultaneously an encoded journal of Hollander’s own life, experiences, and friends, as well as a meditation upon writing. The selected text centers around a feeling of regret and imminent loss. Cupcake fears that the cipher to which he has grown accustomed will be changed soon, something fraught with more emotion than it should be for an agent. Against this sense of loss, Cupcake reflects upon beauty in the world, all of it containing encoded messages. He resolves cherishing this method of communication while it yet lasts. In the verse novel’s narrative, this over-investment and emotion is Cupcake’s undoing. In setting this text I hope to create a performative portrait of this individual, struggling in a world where the self-suppression is necessary for survival.