Almost every time I hear a setting of Emily Dickinson I think, "Is that what the composer really hears when they hear her poems?" Of course, each composer will hear something different in this or that poet, but, for me, this feeling is strongest with Dickinson. Dickinson is not a whimsical schoolgirl, nor is she a crusty old New England Protestant, nor is she a disturbed small-town eccentric. She is intensely observant, broody, and perhaps even a little bit dangerous to those who are closest to her. She observes the heights of ecstasy and the depths of pain in the everyday interactions of human beings with each other and their world, and she feels these things very deeply. She may be America's most important lyrical poet, perhaps our only answer to poets like Heine, and, unless there is a return to older forms in American poetry, I doubt we will ever have another body of work like hers.
I plan to begin by setting four books of her poems: Love, Nature, Death, and Eternity. I have begun with Love. As I set these economic and lyrical words I think of Schubert, who could say it all with a perfect melody and no more. With a melody and a prayer, and a few digressions, I hope I can evoke the intensity of this enigmatic American artist.