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Composer finds poetic inspiration

By : Rachel Coker

When Every Evening, a new piece by faculty composer Paul Goldstaub, has its world premiere Sunday, it will be the culmination of a creative process sparked by poetry he first read several years ago.

The poems, a series of Spanish folk lyrics translated into Russian by K.D. Balmont about a century ago, were translated into English by Martin Bidney, a professor emeritus of English at Binghamton. When Bidney first shared them with Goldstaub in 2005, there were more than 350 short poems addressing a variety of themes.

By May 2008, Goldstaub had committed to setting some of the poems to music in time for the Musica Nova concert of new work that he directs each February. He had also invited baritone Timothy LeFebvre, a professor of music at Binghamton, to be the featured performer for the piece.

Early on, Goldstaub recorded Bidney reading many of the poems aloud and thought about how the poetry would interact with the music. “That’s a great miracle,” Goldstaub said. “Music expands the emotion of the text.”

Goldstaub kept a journal as he worked on Every Evening. “It’s filled with my thoughts about structure, questions I wanted to ask myself and references to music from other composers,” he said, citing Schumann, Britten and Berlioz as well as some contemporary composers.

During the summer, Goldstaub identified recurring themes in the poems and began to assign them to different groups. After one breakthrough, he made a diagram in his journal.

“I drew a picture of how I wanted the overall piece to sound,” he said. “Usually I go with a more intuitive approach. I decided in this case to do as much pre-compositional planning and structuring as possible.”

Goldstaub may have a plan as he works, but he also strives to remain open to new ideas. A sketch that initially doesn’t seem to work may find its way back into the composition later. “The piece is constantly changing, even though I know where I’m going,” he said.

Goldstaub, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Ithaca College as well as master’s and doctoral degrees from the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, joined the Binghamton faculty in 1998. His work has been played at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall and as far away as Japan.

As portions of Every Evening came into focus, Goldstaub said, he relied on the five elements of music — sound, melody, harmony, rhythm and growth — to inform his decisions about the 25-minute piece.

“I ask myself, ‘What’s the best way to use each of the five elements to serve the impression I’m getting from the lyrics?’ If it’s a quiet, mellow, reflective thing, I’m thinking, ‘What sound world is that? Is it piccolo? Probably not. Is it a male voice, perhaps in a quiet register? Maybe yes.’ That’s sound. Does the melody consist of notes that are close together? Does the melody jump around? Are the harmonies stable? Are they restful? Do they move from dissonance to consonance? Is it the reverse? Do I want to obliterate harmony? The same with rhythm. Some meters will fit the poetry exactly, some will not. How about that conflict? Does it even have to be a conflict? And there finally comes the question of growth, which is: What is this piece as a whole going to mean? What is the shape of the entire piece?”

Goldstaub came to see Bidney’s poetic translations as a sort of dialogue between individuals in a relationship, from the earliest stages of attraction — in love with the loving, if you will — to darker themes of envy and scorn and then a resolution and brightness.

“One of the mysteries of music is how it can open the door to various interpretations,” he said. “Martin and I are looking forward to what the experience of hearing the poetry and music together will do for our listeners.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08