Elliott Schwartz

Two Watterson Poems (2004)
Program Note

These choral settings of poetry by my Bowdoin faculty colleague William Watterson were composed in 2004, and first performed in December of that year by the Bowdoin College Chamber Choir. Apart from that premiere, the music was designed for the choir's spring 2005 tour of California, which included venues that lacked a piano. Hence the absence of a piano part for the /Two Watterson Poems/. As a compromise, midway between /a cappella/ setting and full accompaniment, I decided to augment the choral texture with a number of percussion instruments (small enough to be taken around California in a rented car). The two poems may appear to be quite different, one serious and meditative, the other humorous -- but in fact they share one aspect which I found fascinating: a duality of "inside" and "outside," the observer and the observed. I tried to capture that quality in my settings.

Two Watterson Poems
Text by William Watterson

Cat Fall


the feral mother won’t let me near
though when I call she hears me;
she never quite finishes her food.
She covers the bowl with grass,
Then arranges sticks and stones
around it in patterns
I do not understand.

Only she knows what she means.


the paws of the kitten who survived
explore the keyboard
of an old piano,
striking notes randomly
like a row by Schoenberg
never to be repeated.
Music at the edge,
at the edge music

which will not harden into form.
A gust rattles the windowpane.

On the roof the rain is playing
its small silver triangle.


Yellow eyes stare up into my eyes,
their vacancy
unwordable as song…


They watch me like a t.v. turned down low
and now I am watching them watch me,
their faces blank as endpapers
in books they will never read.

I am, apparently, a rerun,
just words but no music,
my “teacher knows best” voice a drag
no matter how much I modulate,
a one-man show less commercial interruptions,
my rating lower than I know.

When the hour ends I unplug myself,
my cord a prehensile tail that slithers like a whip.

When the screen goes dark
the Keats ode fails
like perfect flora frozen in the shale.

Suite for Viola and Piano (1962)
Program Note

The /Suite for Viola and Piano /is among my earliest pieces -- composed in the mid-1960s -- and certainly among the very few works of that decade I still enjoy hearing! It was written for violist Louise Rood, and first performed by her on a Smith College recital. Other violists (notably George Grossman, Jacob Glick and Julia Adams) have played it as well over the years. The work attempts to project a range of contrasting moods and textures, via a series of brief (and occasionally interconnected) movements. Although all the material derives from a 12-tone row, the overall language of the /Suite/ is highly triadic and even "tonal."

Elliott Schwartz was born 1936 in New York City and studied composition with Otto Luening and Jack Beeson at Columbia University. He has recently retired from the faculty at Bowdoin College, where he served for 43 years, twelve of them as department chair. His many extended residencies and/or visiting professorships include Ohio State University, the University of California (San Diego and Santa Barbara), Harvard, Oxford, and Cambridge. Schwartz’s compositions have been performed by such groups as the Minnesota Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Chicago Chamber Orchestra, and the Youth Orchestra of the Netherlands and featured at numerous international music centers and festivals including Tanglewood, the Library of Congress, Monday Evening Concerts (Los Angeles), DeIjsbreker (Amsterdam), Music of the Americas (London), and the European Youth Orchestra Festival (Copenhagen). Leading orchestras and chamber ensembles have recorded his music for New World, CRI, Albany, Innova, Capstone and other labels. Honors and awards for his compositions include the Gaudeamus Foundation (Netherlands), the Rockefeller Foundation (two Bellagio residencies), and the National Endowment for the Arts. Over the course of his career he has served as president of The College Music Society, president of the Society of Composers, Inc, vice-president of the American Music Center, and board member of the American Composers Alliance.

Schwartz has also written or edited a number of books on musical subjects. These include Music: Ways of Listening, Electronic Music: A Listener’s Guide, Music since 1945 (co-author with Daniel Godfrey) and the anthology Contemporary Composers on Contemporary Music (co-editor with Barney Childs).

During 2006, Schwartz’s 70th birth-year was celebrated with concerts and guest lectures at Oxford, the Royal Academy of Music (London), Butler University, Concordia College, the University of Minnesota, the ACA Festival (NYC) and the Library of Congress. The last-named also celebrated the Library of Congress acquisition of his collected papers and archives.

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