DESCENT, a musical


The music for Descent was originally developed as a song cycle by Phil Kline and me, inspired by the poems of Pierre Louÿs that comprise the Chansons de Bilitis.

Here's the French text of one poem, called Solitude:

Pour qui maintenant farderais-je mes lèvres? Pour qui polirais-je mes ongles? Pour qui parfumerais-je mes cheveux?

Pour qui mes seins poudrés de rouge, s'ils ne doivent plus la tenter? Pour qui mes bras lavés de lait s'ils ne doivent plus jamais l'étreindre?

Comment pourrais-je dormir? Comment pourrais-je me coucher? Ce soir ma main, dans tout mon lit, n'a pas trouvé sa main chaude.

Je n'ose plus rentrer chez moi, dans la chambre affreusement vide. Je n'ose plus rouvrir la porte. Je n'ose même plus rouvrir les yeux.

Here is Alvah Bessie's English translation. (Worth reading just for the illustrations, right?!?!)

Phil's translation/adaptation goes like this:

Why should I care
If my lips are pretty?
Who cares if I
Will comb my hair?

What good are breasts
If she cannot see them?
What use are hands
If they cannot touch her?

How can I sleep
Or lie in peace?
I turn and reach
But she is not there.

I can’t go home
To stillness and silence.
I lock the door
And close my eyes.

For the accompaniment to our setting of Solitude, Phil and I used a couple of piano chords from the beginning of Debussy's song La flûte de Pan, which is a setting of a different poem from the same collection by Pierre Louÿs. I added some electronic transformations that emerge gradually over the course of the song.

You can listen to the Debussy song we grabbed the chords from, along with Ruthie Stephen's recording of Solitude in the player below. In Descent, Beatrice sings this song as Lillian is giving her final press conference before taking off on her ill-fated flight.