Bahnhofstrasse was originally composed as part of a cycle of ten art songs for solo voice that I adapted from my favorite poems by James Joyce. I later wrote this choral setting (along with choral settings of Night Piece and Strings in the Earth and Air) for my friend Thomas Colohan, artistic director of the Washington Master Chorale, for the Chorale's 10th Anniversary Season opening concert on October 27, 2019 in Washington, DC.
It's an existential piece about the loss of youth. In 1917, James Joyce suffered a sudden and painful attack of lumbago while walking along Bahnhofstrasse, the chic main street in Zurich, Switzerland. His condition was compounded by increasing blindness due to glaucoma.
Bahnhofstrasse underscores Joyce’s angst as he discovers youth is fleeting. Yet, being middle-aged, he realizes he’s not old enough to benefit from the "old heart's wisdom" that comes in the autumn of life.
The musical language is minimalist and meditative, composed of repeating cycles of broken chords in the accompaniment that reiterate a simple, eerie motif as the four vocal lines float wistfully above.
Bahnhofstrasse is part my choral suite, Three Choral Songs on James Joyce. It is also available in high voice (soprano or tenor) and medium voice (mezzo-soprano or baritone) versions as part of my complete collection of art songs with texts by James Joyce: Ten Poems of James Joyce.
The eyes that mock me sign the way
Whereto I pass at eve of day.
Grey way whose violet signals are
The trysting and the twining star.
Ah star of evil! star of pain!
Highhearted youth comes not again.
Nor old heart's wisdom yet to know
The signs that mock me as I go.
James Joyce, 1882 - 1941