Mount Auburn: Spring and Autumn Suites

by Mary Bichner

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“Mount Auburn Cemetery: Spring and Autumn Suites” is an album of twelve original compositions inspired by the beautiful Mount Auburn Cemetery of Cambridge, MA, USA. The works were composed by Mount Auburn Cemetery artist-in-residence Mary Bichner, an orchestral composer with the music “superpowers” of perfect pitch and synesthesia (a condition that causes here to “see” splashes of specific colors when she hears their corresponding pitches sounded).

In the first year of her residency, Mary composed twelve new works inspired by Mount Auburn Cemetery’s breathtaking landscape and landmarks, using her sound­-to­-color synesthesia to select the musical components that best “match” the natural color palette of each location at different times of year. The finished collection consists of a six-movement Spring Suite and a six-movement Autumn Suite that, when played in order, also takes place over the course of a single day (sunrise to sunset).

The suites contain both vocal and instrumental works. Of the voice-based pieces, all but one are musical settings of poems written by poets buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery (Maria White Lowell, James Russell Lowell, Frances Sargent Osgood, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow). The remaining vocal work is a musical setting of a poem by Emily Dickinson who, while not buried at Mount Auburn, is classified by the archives department as one of the cemetery’s Notable Visitors.

In January of 2017, the works were recorded by a 19-piece chamber orchestra at WGBH Studios of Boston MA, and were released online as a digital album on June 3rd, 2017. The tracks are also featured in Mount Auburn’s new mobile app, so that visitors to the cemetery will be able to experience the music in the setting that inspired it.

Mount Auburn Cemetery was founded in 1831 as the United States’ first rural cemetery. In addition to being a “National Historic Landmark, a botanical garden, an outdoor museum of art and architecture, and an important habitat for urban wildlife”, Mount Auburn is also a strong supporter of the arts. Filmmaker and multi-media artist Roberto Mighty, MFA, the cemetery’s first artist-in-residence, recently launched the online edition of his commissioned work “earth.sky”: a “site-specific, multi-screen digital multimedia installation based on the landscape of the cemetery and the stories of some of the 98,000 people buried there”. Mount Auburn is also home to “A Glimpse Beyond”, an immersive performing arts experience featuring musicians, dancers, and artists that challenges viewers to “reexamine [their] ideas about life and death, joy and sorrow”.

credits

released June 3, 2017

Composed and arranged by Mary Bichner. Conducted by Kristo Kondakçi. Performed by Katharina Giegling (concertmaster), Sonia Deng (violin), Abby Swidler (violin), Christopher McClain (viola I principal, viola soloist), Minjung Chun (viola I), Carrol Lee (viola II principal), Foxman James (viola II), Aron Zelkowicz (cello principal), Nash Tomey (contrabass principal), Arielle Burke (flute), Elizabeth England (oboe), David Angelo (clarinet), Susannah Telsey (bassoon), Evanangelia Leontis (soprano), Mary Bichner (alto), Mali Sastri (tenor), Seth Grondin (bass [vocals]) and Paul Jacobs (piano).

Recorded and engineered by Antonio Oliart Ros at WGBH Studios in Boston, MA. Mixed and mastered by Peter Moore at Palace of Purpose in Malden, MA. Consulting by Xiao’an Li.

Album cover photo by Mount Auburn Cemetery. Album cover design by Bree Harvey.

Commissioned by The Friends of Mount Auburn and Mount Auburn Cemetery.

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Track Name: To The Sky [Spring Suite]
SONG [Excerpts]
(By: Maria White Lowell)

O bird, thou dartest to the sun,
When morning beams first spring,
And I, like thee, would swiftly run;
As sweetly would I sing.
Thy burning heart doth draw thee up
Unto the source of fire;
Thou drinkest from its glowing cup
And quenchest thy desire.

O dew, thou droppest soft below,
And pearlest all the ground,
Yet, when the morning comes, I know
Thou never canst be found.
I would like thine had been my birth;
Then I, without a sigh,
Might sleep the night through on the earth
To waken in the sky.

[...]

For they are free, ye all are free,
And bird, and dew, and light,
Can dart upon the azure sea
And leave me to my night;
Oh, would like theirs had been my birth,
Then I, without a sigh,
Might sleep the night through on the earth
To waken in the sky.
Track Name: Love-Song [Spring Suite]
LOVE-SONG
(By: James Russell Lowell)

Nearer to thy mother-heart,
Simple Nature, press me,
Let me know thee as thou art,
Fill my soul and bless me!
I have loved thee long and well,
I have loved thee heartily;
Shall I never with thee dwell,
Never be at one with thee?

Inward, inward to thy heart,
Kindly Nature, take me,
Lovely even as thou art,
Full of loving make me!
Thou knowest naught of dead-cold forms,
Knowest naught of littleness,
Lifeful Truth thy being warms,
Majesty and earnestness.

Homeward, homeward to thy heart,
Dearest Nature, call me;
Let no halfness, no mean part,
Any longer thrall me!
I will be thy lover true,
Will be a faithful soul,
Then circle me, then look me through,
Fill me with the mighty Whole.
Track Name: Garden Gossip [Spring Suite]
GARDEN GOSSIP
(By: Frances Sargent Osgood)

“I will tell you a secret,” the honey-bee said
To a violet drooping her dew-laden head;
“The lily’s in love! for she listened last night,
While her sisters all slept in the holy moonlight,
To a zephyr that just had been rocking the rose,
Where, hidden, I hearkened in seeming repose.

“I would not betray her to any but you,
But the secret is safe with a spirit so true—
It will rest in your bosom in silence profound.”
The violet bent her blue eye to the ground:
A tear and a smile in her loving look lay,
While the light-winged gossip went whirring away.

“I will tell you a secret,” the honey-bee said
And the young lily lifted her beautiful head—
“The violet thinks with her timid blue eye,
To pass for a blossom enchantingly shy;
But for all her sweet manners, so modest and pure,
She gossips with every gay bird that sings to her.

“Now let me advise you, sweet flower, as a friend,
Oh, ne’er to such beings your confidence lend;
It grieves me to see one, all guileless like you,
Thus wronging a spirit so trustful and true:
But not for the world, love, my secret betray!”
And the little light gossip went buzzing away.

A blush in the lily’s check trembled and fled:
“I’m sorry her told me,” she tenderly said;
“If I mayn’t trust the violet, pure as she seems,
I must fold in my own heart my beautiful dreams.”
Was the mischief well-managed? Fair lady is’t true?
Did the light garden gossip take lessons of you?
Track Name: Woodlands I Wander [Autumn Suite]
ON A LANDSCAPE BY DOUGHTY [Excerpts]
(By: Frances Sargent Osgood)

[…]

Again through the woodlands I wander,
Where autumn trees, lofty and bold,
Are stealing from bright clouds above them
Their wealth of deep crimson and gold.

Where Nature is scepter and crown’d,
As a queen in her worshipping land:
While her rock-pillar’d palaces round,
All matchless in majesty stand!

[…]
Track Name: 996 [Autumn Suite]
996
(By: Emily Dickinson)

I heard, as if I had no Ear
Until a Vital Word
Came all the way from Life to me
And then I knew I heard.

I saw, as if my Eye were on
Another, till a Thing
And now I know 'twas Light, because
It fitted them, came in.

I dwelt, as if Myself, were out,
My Body but within
Until a Might detected me
And set my kernel in.

And Spirit turned unto the Dust
"Old Friend, thou knowest me,"
And Time went out to tell the News
And met Eternity.
Track Name: Footsteps of Angels [Autumn Suite]
"FOOTSTEPS OF ANGELS" [Excerpts]
(By: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

When the hours of Day are numbered,
And the voices of the Night
Wake the better soul, that slumbered,
To a holy, calm delight;

[...]

Then the forms of the departed
Enter at the open door;
The beloved, the true-hearted,
Come to visit me once more;

[...]

With a slow and noiseless footstep
Comes that messenger divine,
Takes the vacant chair beside me,
Lays her gentle hand in mine.

And she sits and gazes at me
With those deep and tender eyes,
Like the stars, so still and saint-like,
Looking downward from the skies.

Uttered not, yet comprehended,
Is the spirit's voiceless prayer,
Soft rebukes, in blessings ended,
Breathing from her lips of air.

Oh, though oft depressed and lonely,
All my fears are laid aside,
If I but remember only
Such as these have lived and died!