Time and Memory sets texts of Pennsylvania poet William S. Trout. Reveling in natural imagery, the poetry is notable not only for its adherence to traditional metrical forms and rhyme schemes, but also in the way it subverts these—for instance, the frequent use of enjambment to counteract the potential pitfall of sing-song rhythms. Rickelton is sensitive to this: though hints at strophic, verse-like structures permeate the work, the melodies at times freely diverge, branching organically from the original statement.
We hear this in the opening song, Lulled by the drift of rain, where an initial tune emerges from a gentle pulsing texture in the piano. It then settles downwards, to be taken up by the voice. This melody is heard again, first in the voice—“Under the retreating thunder’s rush”—before it takes off, free-wheeling, rhapsodizing the beauty of the natural world. Fragments of the introductory tune break off in the accompanying counterpoint, coalescing into clusters which push towards a climax: “And I remembered such exuberance.” The musical emphasis upon memory will be played out in the following movements. In the denouement, the clusters unfold, line gently recedes into texture, and the lulling, drifting melody returns once more against the lilting pulse of the piano.
This first movement prepares the listener for the discourse between Trout’s poetry and Rickelton’s music. Melodic lines become the originary point from which the voice and piano emerge and diverge, freely evolving. The listener can hear this in Sic Transit, particularly in the way Rickelton sets “As up to spangle-star the ball curves, suspends, and starts its fall.” Though the text-setting here is clearly illustrative, almost Handelian—a bouncy, jaunty line for “ball,” a sinuous motive for “curves,” a held note for “suspends,” and a downward gesture for “fall”—rarely are Rickelton’s choices meant purely for effect. These motives are either echoes of previous material or serve to prefigure future development: the gesture for “ball” returns later at “Bite the dusk with harsh spite,” infecting the piano with smoky, acrid counterpoint.
The third movement is one of two intermezzi, excursions for solo piano that reflect on Trout’s text. This first intermezzo—meditating on March—investigates a new harmonic space, hinted at in the first two songs, but not yet fully explored. Words like “waste” and “stutter” are evoked in the tense angularity of the lines, occasionally relaxing into lush passagework.
Proceeding is a text autumnal in subject matter and in tone, a centerpiece for the structure of the work. September Noon contains resonances of past and future: “stuttering,” “drifts,” and “grief” are ideas previously explored; imagery such as “crickets,” “sun,” and illustrative tone clusters are yet to come. The g minor-tinged harmonies, coupled with vocal lines alternating between resignation and nostalgia, make the bold references to color all the more poignant: “scarlet tomatoes and the dense dye of goldenrod,” accompanied by flourishes of counterpoint, prepare the prismatic touch of harmonic departure at “cobalt blue.” This reverie lasts but a moment, until we are returned to the shadow of approaching winter, and the cooling, slightly raw chords of the movement’s beginning.
The intermezzo that follows—a reflection on Abendrot—once again explodes the harmonic palette. While the harmonies of September Noon cool and reminisce, those of the fifth movement slowly burn, moving from consonance to occasionally stinging chords, reaching their apotheosis in fistfuls of chromatic harmonies which unfurl in rapid, up-flung gestures.
These intermezzi offset the wistful remembrance of the other movements: the implacability of time and season act outside the pacing and harmonic framework of the human experience of time. Amidst this, touchstones of memory provide pathways for our experiences. This is perhaps most clearly heard in movement six, Fourth Act. Here, the music alternates between reminiscence—represented by melodies illuminating the descriptive imagery—and active experience—the chirping cricket, enacted through the rhythmic, illustrative piano texture. The alternation between experienced time and remembered time lies at the heart of the suite. The listener is guided along an imagined pathway, strewn with echoes and connections that double-back on themselves or branch out to new possibilities, occasionally reaching moments where the real world is forced into view.
The intrusion of the real upon the remembered is in full view in the final movement, In March. Ripples of previous ideas appear here: the g minor of September Noon, the upward-thrusting harmonies of the intermezzi, and the alternations of time, represented here by chant-like phrases juxtaposed with lyrical lines. We end with gentle pulsings, emerging from the “rune, cruelly disguised.” This texture is like that of the first movement, but transformed through the experience of memory and time.
Notes by Douglas Buchanan
I. Lulled by the drift of rain
Lulled by the drift of rain, the season pushed
Among the darkening stones above the sleepers;
Under the retreating thunder's rush
The sycamores fanned out their plumed sweep;
And all the spangled roadside brimmed over,
Starring the beggarly ditches with blue disks
Of wild chicory, with the sprawling clover
Escaped from hayfields, and with the Queen's mist.
And I remembered: such exuberance
You love always-whatever thrives and thrusts
Root and tendril, breeding flower and pod.
I thought: By contrast, only the interlude,
Of winter's slow reduction to the clod,
To the frosted husk-such only can I trust.
II. Sic Transit
Into evening's resolute chill
Rises the urchin's shrill yell,
As up to spangle-star the ball
Curves, suspends, and starts its fall.
Then the hurtling bodies streak
From the hemlock's peak
The cynic starling bends an eye
Now the street lamps, bluish-white,
Bite the dusk with harsh spite;
Cut the smoke of burning leaves
That eddying, slowly rising, weaves
Forms essentially as sound
As these that wrestle on the groud.
Incuriously earth's shoulder turns,
To hoist the rude funeral urns.
III. Intermezzo (reflection on March
March brooms the empty countryside
And litters all the gutters
With chattering waste, and far and wide
The silly sparrow stutters.
IV. September Noon
The wrens have gone: that stuttering no more stirs
The clear airs of morning; the last of nine
Once fledglings has departed. The green burrs
Nestle prickly in the grass; a scent of wine
Drifts from the arbour; the warm garden smell
Lies in layers beneath a heavier sun,
Throbbed through at noon by the crickets' rackety swell.—
The saunter into autumn has begun.
And through this opulence that drugs the sense
With wafts of odor and the cool burning
Of scarlet tomatoes and the dense dye
Of goldenrod, under this brooding sky
Of cobalt blue, glides the shadow whence
All grief is born, remorselessly returning.
V. Intermezzo (reflection on Abendrot
Looked up once;
The sky was pink—
VI. Fourth Act
Umber and rust on the ragged slope
Smoulder; almost the day is still,
Save for the cricket under the cope
Of lichened stone-he clacks his mill,
Shivering there, not granting yet
That August is gone, September fled,
October waning, and the threat
Of winter leveled at his head;
And boys with clubs now shout and throw
Under the shell-bark hickory trees;
And over the sleepy woods the crow
Flaps and caws his stridencies.
But, cricket, be quiet, for all is over—
Be decently quiet, and under cover.
VII. In March
One task awaits the baffled will;
But yesterday, kneeling there,
I foresaw the ineffable
Less ambiguous to face
Alone, despite the lack of grace...
Then lightly, down the Easter air,
Brittle in its rigorous chill,
Three amber bees rowed carefully
Near, to spy, with musing hum,
Heather and chrysanthemum.
I stared dully as I knelt,
Querying resurrection brave
Enough to quest what honey dwelt
Meagre by a three-years' grave;
And heart felt-though mind despised—
A rune, cruelly disguised.
All texts by William S. Trout. ©2007, J. Terry Zeller. Used by permission of J. Terry Zeller.