I hope those familiar with the music of Eric Whitacre know his song “Sleep.” Its background is interesting.
Whitacre set the text of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” for mixed chorus, but failed to seek permission from the executors of Frost’s estate beforehand. Perhaps I, too, would have thought anything that brought Frost’s poems to a larger audience — a musical audience, perhaps, not inclined to what some may think an overly romantic work from a distant age — the Frost Trust could have been approved, possibly even with gratitude or at most requiring the payment of a modest royalty. Not so, dear reader. They flatly refused to allow its use.
Having composed a lovely setting that, in my estimation, would only have enhanced our appreciation of Frost, Whitacre chose another creative outlet: He approached Charles Anthony Sylvestri, a poet who has often worked with contemporary composers, to write a text sympathetic to Whitacre’s tone and meter. The result is “Sleep,” which I encourage you to hear on CD or this recording on Vimeo. Then tell me that Frost isn’t rolling in his eternal resting place, wherever that may be, with unbridled envy.
©2001 by Charles Anthony Silvestri
The evening hangs beneath the moon,
A silver thread on darkened dune.
With closing eyes and resting head
I know that sleep is coming soon.
Upon my pillow, safe in bed,
A thousand pictures fill my head.
I cannot sleep, my mind’s a-flight;
And yet my limbs seem made of lead.
If there are noises in the night,
A frightening shadow, flickering light,
Then I surrender unto sleep,
Where clouds of dream give second sight,
What dreams may come, both dark and deep,
Of flying wings and soaring leap
As I surrender unto sleep,
As I surrender unto sleep.
What dreams may come, indeed, Robin Williams. What dreams may come?