The word “notes” in the title of this piece refers, pardonably, I hope, both to the notes of the music
and to notes in the sense of observations. Much of the response of the classical music world to the
coronavirus pandemic has involved live streaming of classical repertoire. But composers will surely
respond, too, as I seek to do here. (It is early May as I write this.) Thomas Hardy’s poem “The
Convergence of the Twain” is about the loss of the Titanic in 1912, but its narative forms all too apt
a metaphor for the shipwreck of 2020: a collision between human and natural forces that upsets the
order we foolishly thought was secure, a shock wave that rips across the entire globe. The poem,
with its reflection on “vaingloriousness,” seems especially pertinent to condition in the United States, where arrogance and ignorance at the top levels of government, led by one vainglorious man, gave the virus a free hand to spread more misery and death than it could do anywhere else on the planet. So this musical setting is a work of political art as well as a kind of elegy.
– Lawrence Kramer
The Convergence of the Twain: Lines on the Loss of the Titanic
In a solitude of the sea
Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.
Steel chambers, late the pyres
Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.
Over the mirrors meant
To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls—grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.
Jewels in joy designed
To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.
Dim moon-eyed fishes near
Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: “What does this vaingloriousness down here?”
Well: while was fashioning
This creature of cleaving wing,
The ImmanentWill that stirs and urges everything
Prepared a sinister mate
For her—so gaily great—
A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.
And as the smart ship grew
In stature, grace, and hue,
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.
Alien they seemed to be:
No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history
Or sign that they were bent
By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,
Till the Spinner of the Years
Said “Now!” And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres