Poulenc Trio Poets: Walt Whitman 200 Years

The Poulenc Trio celebrates the Whitman anniversary with a World Premiere by Andrew List

2019 marks the 200th anniversary of Walt Whitman’s birth.  Whitman was an outspoken music-lover who has inspired generations of composers and performers.  To celebrate, the Poulenc Trio will tour with a newly commissioned world-premiere work by Boston-based composer Andrew List.

Walt Whitman. Watercolor by Fabrizio Cassetta

Walt Whitman. Watercolor by Fabrizio Cassetta

Suggested Bonus Pairing: Beethoven at 250!
Beethoven: Trio, Op. 38 in Eb major

All music is what awakes within us
when we are reminded by the instruments;
It is not the violins or the clarinets -
It is not the beating of the drums -
Nor the score of the baritone singing
his sweet romanza; not that of the men’s chorus,
Nor that of the women’s chorus -
It is nearer and farther than they
— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

To celebrate Beethoven's 250th anniversary in 2020, The Poulenc Trio's 2019-20 touring repertoire will include Beethoven's Op. 38 trio, the Viennese master's own arrangement of his Septet, Op. 20, which was one of Whitman's favorite works.

Whitman was an avid and enthusiastic concertgoer, considered himself a music critic of sorts, and as a journalist, wrote a lot of notes and reviews about pieces he heard and enjoyed. He credited music as the one art form more pure than poetry, and said that many of his poems were inspired or based structurally on music he loved. New Yorker music critic Alex Ross quotes from Whitman's memoir, Specimen Days:

Towards the end of his life, and after a long illness, Whitman attended a concert at the opera house in Philadelphia, where he was particularly moved by a performance of the Septet. It was that performance that inspired him to write those words. 



About Walt Whitman

Whitman was an outspoken music-lover who has inspired generations of composers and performers. According to New York's WQXR:

  • Baritone Thomas Hampson devoted an episode of his radio series Songs of America to those pairing Whitman's words to music. Composers included Americans such as Leonard Bernstein, Charles Ives, Ned Rorem, as well as non-Americans like Kurt Weill and Donizetti.
  • John Adams composed his work for baritone and orchestra, The Wound-Dresser, in 1989. It's based on the poet's eponymous work, which describes his experiences in the Civil War.
  • Gustav Holst's Walt Whitman Overture, was the result of the influence of Whitman's concepts of beauty, and was among one of the composer's earliest successes. He would return to the poet's work throughout his career, such as the 1919 "Ode to Death," with lyrics taken from the elegy for Abraham Lincoln, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd.
  • Ralph Vaughan Williams was another British composer who was strongly affected by Whitman's writings and included excerpts from Leaves of Grass in A Sea Symphony and Toward the Unknown Region. Dona Nobis Pacem, a meditation on the horrors of war, also included the poet's writings.


World Premiere: Song of Myself: A Walt Whitman Tryptich by composer Andrew List

About the new work

For the Poulenc Trio's tribute, the group asked brilliant Boston-based composer Andrew List to create a new work. Song of Myself is one of the 12 poems included in Whitman’s 1855 first edition of Leaves of Grass. List's Song of Myself: A Walt Whitman Triptych, consists of three movements, with one stanza of the poem read before each.


About Andrew List

Andrew List, Professor of Composition at Berklee College of Music, Boston, was the first American and composer to be awarded a prestigious artist-in-residence grant by Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst at The Hague, with other distinguished residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Atlantic Center for the Arts, the Aspen Music Festival, La Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris and Visby Centre for Composers in Sweden.

Friends of the Poulenc Trio, the Zodiac Trio plays Andrew List's Klezmer Fantazye


A composer of diverse genres, his works have been commissioned and performed by groups and soloists such as The Boston Classical Orchestra, Zodiac Trio, Esterhazy Quartet, Turtle Island String Quartet, pianists George Lopez and Winston Choi, cellist Emmanuel Feldman, and soprano Lisa Saffer.

Upcoming world premieres include: From The Heart of Ra for viola and piano performed by violist Leslie Perna, Calder’s Universe, a song cycle inspired by quotations of Alexander Calder performed by soprano Tony Arnold, Night Wanderings for Clarinet and Percussion Ensemble performed by clarinetist Kliment Krylovskiy and the FCU Percussion Ensemble, a companion piece to Messaien’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps for Zodiac Trio with cellist Ariel Barnes, and The Signs of Our Time a musical satire on political corruption, to be premiered by loadbang.

Mr. List is a graduate of New England Conservatory of Music, with B.A. and M.A. degrees in music composition. He received his DMA in composition from Boston University, where he studied with Bernard Rands, Samuel Headrick, and Nicholas Maw. Mr. List has also studied privately with Richard Danielpour.

Mr. List is the composer-in-residence at the Zodiac Music Academy and Festival, in the south of France where he presents a composition class each summer. He was the first prizewinner of the Charlotte New Music Festival Composition Competition, Portland Chamber Music Festival Composition Competition and Renegade Ensemble’s Composition Competition and second prize winner of The American Prize Chamber Muic Division for String Quartet no. 5 “Time Cycles”.

I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of
the soul.
— Walt Whitman, I Sing the Body Electric

Walt Whitman reads his poem America, from a wax recording circa 1890.

Bryan Young