Ted Hughes, describes Emily Dickinson’s poetry as being concerned with a ‘Holy Trinity’; firstly, of the joy and awe inspired by natural world around her – ‘the Universe in its Divine aspect’; secondly, her morose and frightening vision of the pain-stricken soul within that universe; and thirdly, of ‘Death as the solution’ to the conflict created by these two subjects. In thinking of her poetry, it occurred to me that madrigals of Carlo Gesulado could be seen as an almost direct musical analogy to these ideas. The texts of his madrigals center on the conflicting simultaneity of joy and pain experienced through his pursuit of love, and see Death as the solution to the tension generated by these conflicting experiences.
‘Asciugate i begli occhi’ can be seen as an attempt to bring the madrigals of Gesualdo and the poetry of Dickinson into the same orbit, creating a work that dwells on the deeply meaningful and moving ideas latent in both their works. The musical reasoning behind this pairing is, I hope, equally as potent; Dickinson’s terse writing style – with it’s short sentences, slow metrical construction, and strong tendency to linger on individual words (as though subjecting them to microscopic examination) – is perfect for setting in madrigal form. Through the quotation and transformation of material, found in the madrigal ‘Asciugate i begli occhi’ (‘Dry those beautiful eyes’), I’ve tried to express the emotion contained in each line, and sometimes individual words, of the following two Dicksinson poems:
That Love is all there is,
Is all we know of Love;
It is enough, the freight should be
Proportioned to the groove.
It’s such a little thing to weep –
So short a thing to sigh –
And yet – by Trades – the size of these
We men and women die!
Asciugate i begli occhi was composed May 2011