Five Bishop Songs

By Lewis Spratlan | For SATB Chorus, and Piano | 25′

Title: Five Bishop Songs
Composer: Lewis Spratlan
On poems by: Elizabeth Bishop
Year Composed: 2020
Instrumentation: For SATB Chorus, and Piano
Duration: 25′
Format: Full Score
Catalog Number: OM0442

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From the composer:

One of our greatest poets, Elizabeth Bishop wrote these texts at varied times and in various places during her long and far-flung career.

1. “Florida” is an encylopedic glimpse of the “state with the prettiest name.”  A vague Latin bass figure in the piano holds the song together, subsuming its various topics into this portrait, heavy on nature.  We visit mangroves, manacled with oysters, S-shaped birds, birds whose cries rush up the scale in a tantrum, and fun-seeking pelicans, coasting on the tidal currents, then standing on the sandbars, drying their damp gold wings on sunlit evenings.  

2. In “Thunder,” the giants tire of play and create thunder by flinging the gods’ gold balls and harps and mirrors at the walls of heaven.

3. “House Guest” introduces a small, thin, bitter seamstress who is incapable of cheer, watching zigzags on the blank tv screen hour after hour.  She refuses offers to come see the jets, come see the baby or the knife grinder in the streets below.  She asks for a little money to buy buttons.  “Buy buttons, buy yourself an ice cream, a comic book, a car!” It turns out that she had always wanted to be a nun, but was opposed by her family.  She’s delivered to the nearest convent… Can it be that we nourish in our bosoms one of the Fates, Clotho, and that our fates will be like hers, and her hems crooked forever?

4. Rio at carnival time is the scene of “Pink Dog,” a hairless mongrel in the streets, that becomes a metaphor for beggars who are rounded up and thrown into the tidal rivers.  To save herself the pink dog must don a costume and dance the samba.  “A depilated dog would not look well.  Dress up and dance at Carnival!”

5. “Sonnet” declares “I am in need of music that would flow / Over my fretful, feeling fingertips / Over my bitter-tainted trembling lips / With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.


Commission/Dedication: Commissioned by and dedicated to The University of Illinois Chamber Singers, Andrew Megill, director.
Premiere: Happening soon! Scheduled for October 26, 2022 at The University of Illinois, Urbana.

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