It’s amazing how much can be said in the small space of sixteen measures. A case in point is Little Elegy, a song by American composer Ned Rorem (b. 1923).
Rorem, who was born in Richmond, Indiana and will turn 93 in October, produced a series of operas, three symphonies, countless concertos, and chamber works over the course of his long career. But he’s most known for his prolific contribution to a genre less-often explored by contemporary composers- the art song. In this way, Rorem continues down the path of some of the great songwriter/composers of the past, like Schubert, Hugo Wolf, and Fauré.
Written in 1948 while Rorem was living in France, Little Elegy hints at the hazy impressionism of Debussy with its cooly detached rising and falling parallel chords. In 1993, Ned Rorem commented on the elusive, mysterious powers of creativity, saying that he heard “my own lost voice” in the song:
I can remember like yesterday the actual sensation of writing Little Elegy, though I could not write it today (mainly because it’s already written). I do envy the innocent knack for hitting the nail on the head without crushing my finger; but though youth can be imitated, it cannot be repeated.
Little Elegy is a setting of this poem by Elinor Wylie.
Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced.
Arguably, no artist grows up: If he sheds the perceptions of childhood, he ceases being an artist.
– Ned Rorem
- Songs of Ned Rorem, Susan Graham (recording featured above) iTunes
- A few more excerpts from Susan Grahams recording: O Do Not Love Too Long, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Look Down Fair Moon
- Rorem: Violin Concerto, Philip Quint