Baltic Trees (2017)
SATB | 5:00

Commissioned by the New Hampshire All State Treble Choir

Preview Score

Baltic Trees incorporates melodic and harmonic materials, as well as contrapuntal techniques, from sutartinės, a form of traditional polyphonic music performed by female singers in northeast Lithuania. In 2010, sutartinės were inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

While there are dozens of ways of singing sutartinės, most feature simple, 3–5 note melodies sung canonically at the interval of the second, resulting in a highly characteristic style of dissonant counterpoint. The extreme simplicity of the melodic material is balanced by the unexpected instability of the harmonic relationships.

The English texts were created specifically for this work. They were inspired by fragments of Lithuanian folk poetry collected and discussed in “The Depiction of Trees in Lithuanian Folk Songs” by Brone Stundzhiene (Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore; Vilnius). In this extended essay, the author discusses the profound relationship between ancient Baltic peoples and the “living architecture” of the forests that surrounded and nurtured them. Following a close reading of more than 4,000 Lithuanian folk poems, he demonstrates widespread correlations between trees and archetypal human themes: e.g. Linden/Femininity; Oak/Creation; Birch/Prosperity; Fir/Melancholy; Poplar/Ceremony; etc.)

My original texts adapt images and themes from this body of poetry to fit the strict syllabic schema and rhythmic accents of the sutartinės melodies. It is my hope that these short songs will provide a point of entry into the remarkable and little-known sutartinės tradition for English- speaking vocal ensembles in the United States and elsewhere.