The Valley of Unrest (2020)
Text by Edgar Allan Poe
Total duration ca. 4'45"
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I was approached to set this poem by soprano and collaborator Arianna Arnold after her stunning performances as Gertrude Stein in multiple performances of MAY SHE | SHE MAY. While working on this text setting, the atmospheric, descriptive qualities of the poem led me to reconceive the project as a choral piece - with a dedication, soprano solo, and more music for Arianna as apology! It is a poem of pure mood, the kind of text whose non-narrative, static, symbolic, passionate stylings we see mirrored in the works and aesthetic goals of the French 19th and 20th century artists who worshipped Poe: Debussy, (early) Ravel, Baudelaire, Mallarmé. It seems likely this formerly “silent dell” is not a real location, but an emotional, internal landscape of mourning, agitation, and desolation. Poe leads us around this emotional landscape, its geography, its climate, its history (vaguely). The poem wallows, deliciously so, in this panorama and my setting trails off into the distance, not quite ending, since the poem has been a snapshot, not a story. With the emphasis on rustling, on “airs that move,” I felt a chorus of ghostly voices would better create the haunted atmosphere of this mournful piece.
"The Valley of Unrest" (1831) by Edgar Allen Poe. This poem is in the public domain.