On the Beach at Fontana
On the Beach at Fontana recalls an excursion that the poet James Joyce and his young son took on the Adriatic coast. It evokes the experience of paternal love, most especially the fear that would come with losing the boy.
Agitato sixteenth notes in the accompaniment mimic the father’s fast-beating heart. Halfway through the piece, the vocal line strikes us with a series of dissonant tritones. There's a steely surety to these gorgeous dissonances as the lines are rendered, “Around us fear, descending, Darkness of fear above.”
The inspiration for the poem can be found in Joyce's notebook of 1907:
I held him in the sea at the baths of Fontana and felt with humble love the trembling of his frail shoulders: Asperge me, Domine, hyssopo et mundabor: lavabis me at super nivem dealbalor [Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, O Lord, and I shall be cleansed: thou shalt wash me and I shall be made whiter than snow]. Before he was born I had no fear of fortune.
On the Beach at Fontana is available for high voice (soprano or tenor) and medium voice (mezzo-soprano or baritone). It is also part of my collection of ten art songs on poems by James Joyce that I wrote during the winter and spring of 2019:
Wind whines and whines the shingle,
The crazy pier-stakes groan;
A senile sea numbers each single
From whining wind and colder
Grey sea I wrap him warm,
And touch his trembling fine-boned shoulder
And trembling arm.
Around us fear, descending,
Darkness of fear above;
And in my heart how sweet unending
Ache of love!
James Joyce, 1882 - 1941