Douglas Hill – A Place for Hawks for mezzo-soprano, horn, and strings
August Derleth (1909-1971) was one of Wisconsin’s most prolific authors and poets with more than 150 published books of fiction, poetry, Wisconsin history, biography, science fiction, mystery, and short stories. His creative output more often than not derived its inspiration from his town and area of birth and life-long residence, Sauk City. The natural surroundings of these rolling hills and Wisconsin River bottoms were beautifully expressed in hundreds of his poems and much of his prose.
The four poems selected for A Place for Hawks set the poet/singer near the still and silent woods, in awe of its darkened depths during the cold of winter, wishing at once to go in and yet called by unseen walls that “only sight could breach.” This uncertain solitude is suddenly disturbed by a frightening and fantastic encounter with “the great bird” as he flies near and shares a brief moment of eye contact before reentering the “darkness of the winter wood.” The third poem finds the poet/singer virtually soaring with a “hawk on the wind.” Having moved beyond the darkness and uncertainty of primal nature, the poet/singer finds kinship and ecstasy simply watching as the hawk floats, circles, vaults, and dives. The final poem sings warmly and optimistically of the coming of spring with its blossoms, birdsongs, and “birch with yellow catkins” shaking in the air. The poet/singer looks forward to a journey to the hills “far from village streets” where the “hawk flies high” and where the “earth of grass and tree” will surely provide “their strength again.”
Taken as a literal set of experiences or as a symbolic confrontation with one’s own nature, these poems, and the music which enhances their power and romantic simplicity, reach outward to touch a certain spirit which connects us all to the earth, grass, trees, and the joyful soaring of the hawk.
The composer wishes to thank “the Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin-Madison for its grant support which made the composition and preparation of this work possible.