Richard Wright

Wright Song Book (2014)
soprano and piano

Robert Morris

Program Notes

The Wright Song Book is a setting of forty-six haiku poems by Richard Wright (1908-1960). Wright, an important Afro-American author of books such as “Native Son”, and “Black Boy,” became interested in haiku, the seventeen-syllable Japanese poetic form that became popular in the United States and elsewhere in the mid-1950s. In his last years he composed over 4000 haiku, from which he selected 817 eventually published in 1988 in a book entitled “Haiku: This Other World.”

Haiku was an important creative stimulus in my teenage years. I found something deep and satisfying in poetry that did not involve itself with ego and story, but with the relation between humans and nature in a transient and impermanent world. In 1978, I set translations of haiku poems in my Haiku Cycle, where the poems were mixed together to suggest their distinct, vivid, yet fleeting reflection of the world of nature and sense-impression. Wright Song Book is more traditional, and sets each of Wright’s poems separately, one per song.

Any number of songs may be selected for a given performance, and they may transposed up or down a few semi-tones to better fit the voice of the singer. For the premiere, Jamie Jordan and I selected songs to comprise two cycles, interleaved between other items in the concert: 12 songs for a song cycle we called "Summer/Autumn" and 11 songs for another cycle called "Winter/Spring."

Wright Song Book was written for the soprano Jamie Jordan in 2014.