4 Greek Songs for Soprano and Guitar 1998

First page from each of the four Songs





Published: DAPrint, Omaha NE Duration 15'

Spiral bound 10 &1/2" by 13" Hard copy $13 From DAPrint

Premiere: May 1998, at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival: Deanna McBroom, soprano, and Marc Regnier, guitar.

Text by the composer: free translations from fragments in the Ancient Greek by the lyric poet Sappho.


Program notes:

Download Title page, Dedication and Prgram notes:

Download Songs as 8 1/2 X ll' PDF files

Song I

Song II

Song III

Song IV


Program notes

After various visits to Greece, I wanted to make some kind of musical statement about ancient Greece, which I had studied and thought about, a lot, and wherein, I believe, has originated just about every good thought we've ever had about evolving into a decent collective society with a worthwhile "high" art.

For texts I have chosen the words of (by most accounts) the greatest lyric poet of all time: Sappho. The problem with these "snippets" (we don't really have much of her work) is that, like Ancient Greek Musical fragments, we know almost everything...except how they sounded. Modern attempts to approximate the sounds of Sappho's ancient tests, (in spite of many valiant efforts) ring don't ring true. And translations in to English seem equally stilted. As Ezra Pound once rather testily remarked, upon publication of yet another attempt: "Nobody seems to have mastered the ladies' meter." 

Every pictorial representation of Sappho (mostly on Greek pottery) shows her with her lyre. Plainly these texts were meant to be sung not spoken. And no one knows how to do this! What I have attempted is a translation into modern Greek of Sappho's fragments (with enormous amounts of help and encouragement from Ross McGoulus and Professor Wagman. The later translations into English are my own paraphrases.


The original version of these songs is for soprano and guitar, which though not a lyre, is at least a somewhat similar instrument. If the version with piano is performed, the piano should sound not like a piano, but like some in between instrument that has an unusual delicate mostly non legato sound. And if a grand piano is used with the lid raised sufficiently, the passages played with a plectrum (so indicated in the score) will help deliver the unusual, ethereal quality that comes effortlessly for a guitarist.




These songs are a collaborative effort, and the result of actions and kindnesses by several people. Dr. Frank Morris Chairman of the Classics Department at the College of Charleston, allowing me to tag along with two of his Greek classes in different years, is totally responsible for getting me to Greece both times. Chasing around that incredible country for several weeks, studying archeology and ruins and artifacts, art, drama and philosophy there and on several of the islands in the Agean Sea made the kind of indelible impression upon my psyche that somehow had to be expressed in music.


Some time later guitarist Marc Regnier and soprano Deanna McBroom, both of whom are colleagues of mine on the faculty at the College of Charleston approached me to do some songs for them. Deanna and Ross McGoulus, also a singer/teacher and a wonderful musician/person who also is/speaks Greek, spent hours helping me with the translations from Ancient, to Modern Greek, and then to English, and then with the employment (of these wonderful fragments by Sappho) Dr. Robert Wagman, Professor of Classics at the University of Florida at Gainsville with his encyclopedic knowledge of both ancient and modern Greek was by virtue of recent discoveries able to help with insertions and translations of missing snippets in the original text. The short story is that these songs are the result.


Text Song I


The shining stars which peek out behind the lovely new moon

are outshone by the full and brilliant bright lunar light which

over all the earth scatters a silent sheen of silveriness.


Song II


Hither from Kriti (Crete) come now to me

to this tiny holy temple, this blessed place

which has this beautiful meadow filled with apple trees

and the aroma of incense sifting, wafting 'round the altars.

There, too, babbling cool rushing water flowing under

branches of apple trees

and with roses the whole place now is shadowed

and from shimmering dark green leaves

the sleep of enchantment flows through.

There, too, a meadow wherein graze the horses

where spring flowers blossom, spreading open

and with breezes blowing so gently

there you, *Cypris, now into our cups of gold

pouring gracefully nectar

with our joyous feast



*a poetic name for Aphrodite


Song III


As blessed as a god it seems is he who sits by you;

see how he encircles you, how soft he is

when he whispers and when he smiles so sweetly at you

oh then this tortured heart's not mine

it breaks inside me, in my breast

and as I look at you it seems as though I lose my voice

and that I lose all sound and my tongue can't speak at all--

shattered and my body's frozen in torment

suddenly I'm overwhelmed by fire, my eyes now darken

bells ring in my ears, I am soaked with fear

and wracked by trembling seizing me then entirely,

more green than grass I am moving now toward death a little



Song IV



On the ornate throne the bright immortal Aphrodite,

daughter of the greatest god, with fear distress and anguish

do not enslave my heart my soul, you I implore lady mine,

but now draw nigh, as in the past when you listened to

this voice of mine, my far away voice that you listened for;

and then nearby to me you hastened, for then you left your father's

palace, and then in your chariot of burnished gold,

lovingly and beautifully to me you came, to this black world

with swiftly flying sparrows flapping whirring wings

down from heaven's edge through the midair and from breezes inside

and quickly came down here to me, and you most blessed of all

inquired of me with a smile on that godlike face of yours,

what happened that made me call again and what from you

this time I needed, and what now this time I wanted,

inquires this crazed, this maddened soul of mine;

what now do you ask more, what is it this time?

"Whom am I to bring in to your arms,

to your embrace now? What, Sappho, preoccupies you now?

for if she runs from you away

she'll just as soon to you return

and if she disregards your gifts

soon she will be giving you some

if it is not you that she wants now,

she all too soon shall love you."

Come to me now and stay with me

and from the depth of all my deep despair deliver me

and make it so my happiness returns, reawakens in me

and the best of love will then fill my soul

as you now stand by me.



Page 1, First Song


 Page 1, Second Song


Page 1, Third Song


Page 1, Fourth Song