Versions of the Truth
a twelve-movement song cycle for dual-ranged voice and piano (2013), 25’
Since 2009, my wife Trudy Chan, who is a keyboardist, has been performing with an extraordinary vocalist named Phillip Cheah who sings as a baritone and a male soprano. For their song recitals, Phillip performs in both registers, effortlessly going from one to the other. When The ASCAP Foundation informed me in November 2011 that I would be the recipient of a Charles Kingsford Fund commission to compose a song cycle for any performers I wanted, I decided to write a new cycle specifically for Phillip and Trudy, so I created Versions of the Truth, inspired by the poetry of 19th century American writer Stephen Crane, in which a recurring theme is the quest for truth and truth’s ultimate elusiveness,
In the same way that Crane was able to so effectively write about a war he never experienced in his famous novel The Red Badge of Courage, in his poetry he seemed to predict the wholesale literary license and unpredictability of the 20th and 21st centuries which he never lived to see, dying at the age of 28 not even six months into the year 1900. So I realized that I would be able to set these words without fear that I would somehow be anachronistically untrue to them by setting them in my own personal musical language which, while indebted to the past, is very much concerned with the present. Although contemporary editions present Crane’s words in clearly discernible sentences, in the original editions they were printed in all capital letters screaming out at the reader like tabloid headlines from another reality, a quality that seemed like a crucial clue to the musical settings in which I should embed them.