Project Description

Male Voice and Piano. (1996) 15′

Male Voice, Piano

The poems selected for Black Dog Songs are from the collection “If My Black Dog Returns” by Richard Beale. An understanding of melancholia is very old in Western culture. It has been called “the blues,” or simply “the beast.” Winston Churchill, in a letter, mentioned a doctor famous for curing depression. Churchill wrote that he may have use for him “…if my black dog returns.”
1. “When my father’s sperm entered my mother’s egg
2. “I am smeared with the tar of night”
3. “My friend had a stroke”
4. “When I really want to whine”
5. “Fierce, blinding night!”
The poems are grippingly dramatic, and the songs are starkly simple. Emphasis is placed on a clear understanding of the sung word.

Program Note
The “Black Dog Songs” address the issue of depression, and the struggle to stay alive in the face of depression. Moreover they speak to the struggle of the sould seeking God, and feeling the tough of God through depression.

The poems of “Black Dog Songs” are from the collection “If My Black Dog Returns” by Richard Beale. He writes the following note about the title:

Images of melancholia are very old in Western tradition. At various times is has been called “the blues”, “writer’s block”, or simply “the beast”. A modern version comes from Winston Churchill, who in a letter to his wife mentioned a German doctor famous for his ability to cure depression. He wrote that he may have use for him himself “…if my black dog returns.”

The images in Beale’s poems are always stark, and sometimes shocking. They are spare and unadorned, and tell precisely about a fierce inner reality. Most people do not look at or acknowledge this reality, except possible in their most private moments. Depression is viewed as incapacity and weakness. Yet depression and darkness are the well springs of creativity, and finally must be accepted and honored in the life.

The songs were composed in June of 1996. Following the completion of my “Mass” in the previous December, and a six-month period of utter exhaustion, these songs were the next things I wrote. They are so unlike the Latin Mass that I didn’t understand the relationship between the songs and the Mass. A composer friend who knows my work well suggested that 5the songs might represent a sermon on the Mass – the speaking out with the authority to do so of something utterly necessary to be said and heard, This idea makes sense to me, and I offer these songs to you in that spirit.

Program note by David Maslanka.