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The Centennial Cantata.



The Centennial Meditation of Columbia. 1776-1876. A Cantata.

[Musical Annotations, in angled brackets, precede each section.]

[Full chorus: sober, measured and yet majestic progressions of chords.]

From this hundred-terraced height,
Sight more large with nobler light
Ranges down yon towering years.
Humbler smiles and lordlier tears
Shine and fall, shine and fall,
While old voices rise and call
Yonder where the to-and-fro
Weltering of my Long-Ago
Moves about the moveless base
Far below my resting-place.

[Chorus: the sea and the winds mingling their voices with human sighs.]

Mayflower, Mayflower, slowly hither flying,
Trembling westward o'er yon balking sea,
Hearts within `Farewell dear England' sighing,
Winds without `But dear in vain' replying,
Gray-lipp'd waves about thee shouted, crying
'No! It shall not be!'

[Quartette: a meagre and despairing minor.]

Jamestown, out of thee --
Plymouth, thee -- thee, Albany --
Winter cries, `Ye freeze:' away!
Fever cries, `Ye burn:' away!
Hunger cries, `Ye starve:' away!
Vengeance cries, `Your graves shall stay!'

[Full chorus: return of the `motive' of the second movement,
but worked up with greater fury, to the climax of the shout
at the last line.]

Then old Shapes and Masks of Things,
Framed like Faiths or clothed like Kings
Ghosts of Goods once fleshed and fair,
Grown foul Bads in alien air --
War, and his most noisy lords,
Tongued with lithe and poisoned swords --
Error, Terror, Rage and Crime,
All in a windy night of time
Cried to me from land and sea,
`No! Thou shalt not be!'

[A rapid and intense whisper-chorus.]

Hark!
Huguenots whispering `yea' in the dark,
Puritans answering `yea' in the dark!
`Yea' like an arrow shot true to his mark,
Darts through the tyrannous heart of Denial.
Patience and Labor and solemn-souled Trial,
Foiled, still beginning,
Soiled, but not sinning,
Toil through the stertorous death of the Night,
Toil when wild brother-wars new-dark the Light,
Toil, and forgive, and kiss o'er, and replight.

[Chorus of jubilation, until the appeal of the last two lines
introduces a tone of doubt: it then sinks to `pianissimo'.]

Now Praise to God's oft-granted grace,
Now Praise to Man's undaunted face,
Despite the land, despite the sea,
I was: I am: and I shall be --
How long, Good Angel, O how long?
Sing me from Heaven a man's own song!

[Basso solo: the good Angel replies:]

'Long as thine Art shall love true love,
Long as thy Science truth shall know,
Long as thine Eagle harms no Dove,
Long as thy Law by law shall grow,
Long as thy God is God above,
Thy brother every man below,
So long, dear Land of all my love,
Thy name shall shine, thy fame shall glow!'

[Full chorus: jubilation and welcome.]

O Music, from this height of time my Word unfold:
In thy large signals all men's hearts Man's heart behold:
Mid-heaven unroll thy chords as friendly flags unfurled,
And wave the world's best lover's welcome to the world.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

2:33 min read
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Sidney Lanier

Sidney Lanier was a poet, writer, composer, critic, professor of literature at Johns Hopkins and first flutist with the Peabody Symphony Orchestra in Baltiimore. He wrote the Centennial cantata for the opening ceremony of the 1876 Centennial celebration in Philadelphia. more…

All Sidney Lanier poems | Sidney Lanier Books

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