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Steve Courtney <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 19 Sep 2006 13:27:54 -0400
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The discussion of Twain & music reminded me of the following letter (from
the electronic edition of Mark Twain's letters, Copyright 2003 the Mark
Twain Project) in which Clemens tries to compose music vicariously.

It's to the musically inclined Rev. Edwin Pond Parker of South
Congregational Church in Hartford, the church the Clemenses reputedly
attended when Twichell was not preaching because the music was better. South
Church had a choir, while Asylum Hill carried on the traditional
Congregationalist practice of congregational singing. Parker, Twichell and
the Rev. Nathaniel Burton collaborated on a hymnal, but it was really
Parker's work, Twichell always maintained.

The poem Clemens wanted to set to music is a section of Tennyson's long poem
"The Princess." I've set the words down under the letter.

To Edwin Pond Parker
22? December 1880 -- Hartford, Conn.

Dear Dr. Parker --

    I wish you would compose a certain piece of music. I have imagined it
all the morning -- that is, imagined I was listening to it -- but of course
it was all blended sounds, & not articulated, not organized. Theme: "The
Splendor falls on Castle walls, & snowy summits old in story."

    I imagined a quartette of male voices (without accompaniment) singing,
down to "Blow, bugle, blow" (then a few notes from a bugle behind the
singers, or behind the scenes;) "Set the wild echoes flying!" (Bugle notes
repeated.) Then "answer, echoes" (the bugle notes softly imitated by a
concealed flute at the other end of the house, or in another room.) And so
on: "O hark, O hear! (flute) How thin & far (flute) from cliff & scar
(flute) the horns of Elfland fairly blowing!" (flute.)

     Well it does look the very nation on paper, but it sounds well when it
is fading & receding in my mind's ear Horatio.

    May be the song has already been set to music -- then it has been poorly
done & nobody sings it; so I wish you'd do it over again & do it right.
Won't you?

Truly yours,
S. L. Clemens

The splendor falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story;
The long light shakes across the lakes,
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying. dying, dying.

O, hark, O, hear! how thin and clear,
And thinner, clearer, farther going!
O, sweet and far from cliff and scar
The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

O love, they die in yon rich sky,
They faint on hill or field or river;
Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
And grow for ever and for ever.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying.

Steve Courtney
Terryville, CT