Five Songs of the Von Seggerns for soprano, clarinet in B-flat and piano (2010)
II. How Can I Keep from Singing?
III. He Grew in Those Seasons like Corn in the Night
Interlude - "Silent Night"
IV. Experiments in Silence
On Christmas day of 1925, five members of the Von Seggern family from Wisner, Nebraska, were killed instantly in a rail crossing tragedy. The family members included the father and mother, Fred and Lena, two daughters, Anna and Louisa, and a son, Gustave. On the day of the funeral services, the other son – the lone survivor, 19-year-old Fred Von Seggerns, Jr.’s physical condition was surprisingly good, but he was still under the impression that he was injured in a football game, without knowing that his loved ones were dead.
The time span in Ms. DeBoer’s poems is set before and after the train crash. They try to capture the different characters of the family either from the perspective of the individual or from a third-person perspective. Most of the poems incorporate theatrical elements as an expressive tool.
Immortality depicts the everyday life of Fred Von Seggern, Sr. He is portrayed as a hard working farmer. The form of the piece is almost through-composed, with no obvious repeated sections. This music is atmospheric, yet full of inner expression and drama.
How Can I Keep from Singing? is a dynamic contrast to Immortality. From the eyes of the wife, Lena Von Seggern, we see a violent and abusive husband. The music deals with tension and release. It progresses from a very dense and rhythmic texture to one that is more melodic and calm. The pronoun, “He” can also symbolize death itself. Note how Ms. DeBoer has spaced out the words.
He Grew in Those Seasons like Corn in the Night portrays Fred Von Seggerns, Jr., the farmer. Through his eyes is also the description of his father, a powerful contrast to Lena Von Seggern’s How Can I Keep from Singing? There is an interesting relationship to Immortality, with the similar setting of sunset and the use of colors in words. The symbolism of his father and God and the biblical quotations eventually sets up the atmosphere for the unresolved tension at the end.
The Interlude uses the Christmas melody Silent Night, originally by Franz Gruber (1787-1863), as a basic melodic framework, and adds pitches that eventually evolve into dense clusters. The Interlude hints at Christmas day in 1925, and serves to divide the time before and after the accident.
The next song, Experiments in Silence describes the surrounding atmosphere of a funeral service and the emotion that arises from inside the coffin - silently laid inside is the dead girl, the daughter, Louisa Von Seggern. The pastor opens the lid, and Louisa “answers” his prayer “with eternal silence.” This song starts with a large bell that resembles a church. Different sounds from the piano’s interior are used as a metaphor to the coffin, with the most evokative moment being at the end, where Ms. DeBoer writes, “in silence they fasten the lid to my eternity.”
The lone survivor, Fred Von Seggerns, Jr., feels no less desperate than his dead sister. Aftermath portrays the emotion of the 19-year-old boy sitting in a hospital after having realized the death of his loved ones. The energetic rhythm depicts the tension in Fred’s anguished heart and tries to capture his obscure remembrance of the horror of the accident.
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