Born in 1941 in Whitehall, Wisconsin, John Melby attended the Curtis Institute of Music, the University of Pennsylvania, and Princeton University. His composition teachers include Henry Weinberg, George Crumb, Peter Westergaard, J. K. Randall, and Milton Babbitt. In 1973 he was appointed to the Composition/Theory faculty in the School of Music of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was Professor of Music until his retirement in August of 1997 and where he now holds the title of Professor Emeritus.
John Melby is best known for his music written for computer-synthesized sounds, including a series of concerti for various instruments with computer; other compositions include two piano sonatas, three string quartets (the most recent of which includes computer), songs for voice and piano, pieces for larger ensembles, numerous compositions for computer alone, an opera, and two symphonies. His compositions have won numerous awards and have been widely performed both in the United States and abroad. He has been the recipient of an NEA Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, an associateship in the University of Illinois Center for Advanced Study, and numerous other grants and awards, including First Prize in 1979, at the International Electroacoustic Music Awards (Bourges, France). His music is published by Associated Music Publishers, ACA, Shawnee Press, and Merion Music, Inc. (Theodore Presser Co.), and recorded on the CRI, Advance, New World, Centaur, and Zuma labels, and on a CD issued by the Institute International de Musique Electroacoustique in Bourges, France.
John Melby is a member of BMI, American Music Center, SEAMUS, International Computer Music Association, SCI, American Composers Forum, and American Composers Alliance. His biography is included in the current edition of Who's Who in America.
In Darkness for soprano and computer (2007)
Amy Lawrence Lowell, an American poet of the “imagist” school, was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on February 9, 1874, and died there unexpectedly of a cerebral hemorrhage at 51 on May 12, 1925. In the year following her death, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry posthumously. Lowell was one of several illustrious members of a prominent Boston family: one of her brothers, Percival Lowell, was a famous astronomer who predicted the existence of the now-demoted planet Pluto, and another brother, Abbott Lawrence Lowell, became President of Harvard University. (Other members of this distinguished family have included the poet and critic James Russell Lowell and the poet Robert Lowell.)
Though Amy Lowell herself did not attend college because of the prevailing attitude at the time regarding the education of women, she began educating herself by voracious reading in her family’s collection of over 7,000 books. Lowell was known as an eccentric and formidable figure whose lesbianism was only one manifestation of her unconventionality and her rebellion against her distinguished Boston lineage; her unusual appearance (she was greatly overweight because of a glandular problem) was heightened by her habit of smoking cigars almost constantly, claiming that because they lasted longer than cigarettes, they took less time away from her work. She began to write poetry in 1902 and her first published work appeared in 1910 in the Atlantic Monthly. She subsequently became one of the most famous and widely-read American poets of her time.
Following her death, her work became quite unfashionable and was largely forgotten. However, recent years have seen a marked resurgence of interest in her poetry. In Darkness is a setting in one uninterrupted movement for soprano and computer-synthesized sounds of three of Lowell’s poems: “At Night,” “New York at Night,” and “In Darkness,” all three of which are found in the first published volume of her poetry, A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass, which appeared in 1912, and all three of which deal with very different images of night. The British spellings in the texts represent those of the poet. The work was composed in 2007 for soprano Patricia Sonego.
The wind is singing through the trees to-night,
A deep-voiced song of rushing cadences
And crashing intervals. No summer breeze
Is this, though hot July is at its height,
Gone is her gentler music; with delight
She listens to this booming like the seas,
These elemental, loud necessities
Which call to her to answer their swift might.
Above the tossing trees shines down a star,
Quietly bright; this wild, tumultuous joy
Quickens nor dims its splendour. And my mind,
O Star! is filled with your white light, from far,
So suffer me this one night to enjoy
The freedom of the onward sweeping wind.
New York at Night
A near horizon whose sharp jags
Cut brutally into a sky
Of leaden heaviness, and crags
Of houses lift their masonry
Ugly and foul, and chimneys lie
And snort, outlined against the gray
Of lowhung cloud. I hear the sigh
The goaded city gives, not day
Nor night can ease her heart, her anguished labours stay.
Below, straight streets, monotonous,
From north and south, from east and west,
Stretch glittering; and luminous
Above, one tower tops the rest
And holds aloft man’s constant quest:
Time! Joyless emblem of the greed
Of millions, robber of the best
Which earth can give, the vulgar creed
Has seared upon the night its flaming ruthless screed.
O Night! Whose soothing presence brings
The quiet shining of the stars.
O Night! Whose cloak of darkness clings
So intimately close that scars
Are hid from our own eyes. Beggars
By day, our wealth is having night
To burn our souls before altars
Dim and tree-shadowed, where the light
Is shed from a young moon, mysteriously bright.
Where art thou hiding, where thy peace?
This is the hour, but thou art not.
Will waking tumult never cease?
Hast thou thy votary forgot?
Nature forsakes this man-begot
And festering wilderness, and now
The long still hours are here, no jot
Of dear communing do I know;
Instead the glaring, man-filled city groans below!
Must all of worth be travailled for, and those
Life's brightest stars rise from a troubled sea?
Must years go by in sad uncertainty
Leaving us doubting whose the conquering blows,
Are we or Fate the victors? Time which shows
All inner meanings will reveal, but we
Shall never know the upshot. Ours to be
Wasted with longing, shattered in the throes,
The agonies of splendid dreams, which day
Dims from our vision, but each night brings back;
We strive to hold their grandeur, and essay
To be the thing we dream. Sudden we lack
The flash of insight, life grows drear and gray,
And hour follows hour, nerveless, slack.