Haiku Cycle
soprano voice and piano

Robert Morris

Program Notes

Haiku Cycle was written in 1978 for the soprano Lynn Webber whose many performances of challenging new music inspired this piece's frankly virtuosic character. For a number of years I had wanted to set Japanese Haiku poetry in keeping with its spontaneity of composition and distinct, vivid, yet fleeting reflection of the world of nature and sense-impression. I had also been interested in composing vocal music in which the text would not be merely "set" or "interpreted"; rather, the text would have a primary and integral structural role in the compositional matrix. Aside from a few early choral works for which I had composed the texts, I had composed no vocal music for ten years.

In late August, 1977, the way to accomplish these goals became clear. In essence, I found an efficient way to allow a text's sense to articulate different strands of pitch continuity while, reciprocally, the pitch structure would "sort out" layers of mixed texts. Sometimes the poems are also differentiated by dynamic, range, or relative duration. Thus, the soprano's part is an elaborate compound-melody which supports up to three simultaneously presented Haiku poems. The specific overlay of poetry was designed to stress its fragmentary yet holistic nature which results in a sequence of intuitively related concepts, images, and allusions sometimes verging on sheer manic word-play or forming collections of sounds which connote the mood of the generating Haiku poems.

For instance: the three poems,

     The returning wild geese
     Mingle with the monks-
     Bathing in the sound.

     Above the white clouds-

     A day of Spring
     In the garden-

are merged to form the string of syllables in the soprano part: "The voices returning wild a- geese a day bove min- the gle with the of spring in monks white the clouds garden sparrows sky-larks".

The piano part is similarly structured except that registers of sound, not poems, articulate the pitch structures. As in many of my recent works, a plan of exploring all of the combinations of articulators--registers and word continuities--once each and in maximal continuity was implemented to provide a underlying balance to the whole.

Haiku Cycle is divided into four parts, each derived from poems belonging to one of the four seasons. The density of presentation of the poems and registers as well as the harmony and harmonic rhythm are composed in such a way as to suggest the range of affects of each season of the year.

Haiku poetry is a Japanese literary genre of a naturalistic impulse which expresses intimate yet trans-personal experience in the threeline, seventeen syllable form: 5, 7, 5. Each poem is also associated by its subject with a season of the year. Although these poems are short, in the hands of great poets such as Basho (1644-1694), Buson (1715-1783), and Issa (1763-1827), they can be very profound. The exquisite balance of formality, spirituality, and spontaneity is typical of a good deal of Japanese art and is almost without comparison in western European culture.

The ninety Haikus chosen for inclusion in the piece are derived from R. H. Blyth's four volume translation/collection published in Tokyo by Hokusiedo Press.