Songs of Immortal Sleep

for mezzo-soprano, flute (doubling bass flute) and violoncello

Camden Reeves

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for mezzo-soprano, flute (doubling bass flute) and violoncello

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Composer Camden Reeves
Year of Composition 2014
Duration ca.22'
Categories (all composers)
Catalogue ID ce-cr2sis1


Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) is best known for his spine-tingling and macabre short stories, such as The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Fall of the House of Usher and The Mask of the Red Death; but (like Shakespeare) he regarded himself as primarily a poet. Unfortunately, apart from The Raven, Poe’s poetic output is somewhat neglected today. Perhaps this is attributable to the larger success the short stories enjoyed through Vincent Price’s B-Movie Horror in the Mid-20th Century, as the poetry had previously held an enormous following, particularly in fin de siecle France. It influenced the French Symbolists (especially Baudelaire), and Ravel cited Poe’s poetry as the inspiration behind his piano work Gaspard de le nuit.

I first read Poe’s poetry in the year 2000, and I immediately identified with it as a composer. Poe’s concept of poetry is one in which words aspire to be music. So to me, the words seem to cry out to be set. In his essay The Philosophy of Composition (1846), Poe recounts his composition of The Raven as starting more from considerations of rhythm, sound, structure and what he calls ‘tone’, and only gradually progressing to the actual subject matter and the words themselves. In The Poetic Principle (1848) he discusses how the literary content of his poetry is not the point. Rather, the chiming of the refrain and the rhythmic patterns are intended to transport the listener to somewhere otherworldly. The subject and words are in sympathy with this; but the words and their meaning are not the ultimate objective.

“It is no mere appreciation of Beauty before us – but a wild effort to reach Beauty above. Inspired by an ecstatic prescience of the glories beyond the grave, we struggle,
by multiform combinations among the things and thoughts of Time, to attain a portion of that Loveliness whose very elements, perhaps, appertain to eternity alone.”

In his short stories Poe tells us about strange and creepy places of being; in his poetry, he actually tries to take us there.