Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0002652, Fri, 19 Dec 1997 11:12:06 -0800

Richard Wilson and Christopher Berg songs from VN poems (fwd)
EDITOR's NOTE. A few days ago, I queried NABOKV-L about composer Richard
Wilson's musical setting for VN's "Ballad of Longwood Glen." Bennett
Lerner, musician, and NABOKV-L's "Man-in-Thailand," put me in touch with
his friend Christopher Berg, a fellow musician and composer. Below is Mr.
Berg's reply. NABOKV-L thanks Christopher Berg for his information.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Christopher Berg <TENTENDER@aol.com>

Bennett Lerner sent me the question about the Richard Wilson piece,
which I happen to be acquainted with. It's a setting for harp and tenor of THE BALLAD
OF LONGWOOD GLEN, rather beautiful. It captures the strangeness of the poem
nicely, although (in my estimation) little of its humor.

It happens that the tenor on that recording, Paul Sperry, has also sung a
number of my songs -- the ones on Frank O'Hara poems -- and has championed
others, including four songs on Nabokov poems -- "Restoration," "Rain," "A
Discovery" and "A Literary Dinner" -- for coloratura soprano and piano. These,
unfortunately, have not been commercially recorded, but I do have a tape made
at a concert at Roulette in New York City a few years ago. I'd be happy to
share this with other subscribers. (There is a published edition, for the
musically literate, available from Classical Vocal Reprints, P.O. Box 20263,
New York, NY 10023-1484; phone (718)601-1959; fax (718)601-1969.

EDITOR'S NOTE. Mr. Berg expands on the above in this second message:
I suspect (though am not certain) that the Wilson piece was a commission from
the singer who recorded it, Paul Sperry, who has commissioned many pieces. Why
"Longwood Glen," or whether that was the idea of the commission I do not know.
But I'll ask him.

My four Nabokov songs came about at the request of Iris Hiskey (a soprano who
sang for a while with the Philip Glass Ensemble, and whose New York debut
recital I accompanied). She sang only two or three of the four and it was
another ten years (they were written in 1982) before a soprano came along who
was able and willing to do all of them (they "lie," as the singers say, very

Dmitri Nabokov has heard my four songs, and wrote me
"Your settings are excellent: I took the time to follow each with the text,
waited for each phrase with possible musical resolutions in mind, and
nearly every time yours were satisfyingly on the button. The songs are not easy -- a
former professional bass speaks -- especially the enunciation of the text by a
female voice while dealing with the vocal challenges."