Song-Collection To What You Said

[Walt Whitman, head-and-shoulders portrait], 1863
[Walt Whitman, head-and-shoulders portrait], 1863. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

from Songfest, 1977
By Leonard Bernstein, 1918-1990

Leonard Bernstein's Songfest was originally a Bicentennial commission but was not completed until 1977, nearly a year later. The twelve-movement cycle is scored for six singers and orchestra, including electronic instruments; the work was later arranged for reduced orchestra. The cycle begins with all six singers in an opening hymn, followed by three solos. The last four movements are in reverse of the opening four: three solos precede the closing hymn. The structure in the center of the cycle features ensembles: a duet, a trio, a duet, and a sextet. All of the texts are based solely on American poetry, ranging from the mid-seventeenth century to the present, and deal with a myriad of subjects, including love, social issues, daily living, and personal and creative aspiration. For Bernstein, Songfest represented the "portrayal of a comprehensive picture of America's past, as seen in 1976 through the eyes of a contemporary artist." While individual movements had been previously heard, the premiere of the complete cycle took place on 11 October 1977 with six singers and the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Bernstein's setting of Walt Whitman's unpublished poem, "To What You Said," is the fourth song in the cycle. Nearly mistaken as an abandoned scribble, the poem was discovered on the verso of page thirty of the holograph manuscript of Whitman's Democratic Vistas (1871), which is housed in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection at the Library of Congress. Bernstein was reportedly attracted to the text not only because it was unfamiliar, but because the poem's message of repressed love spoke volumes to the composer who, during the time period Songfest was composed, was experiencing a sexual identity crisis. While many have suggested that "To What You Said" was Bernstein's homage to homosexual love, it is probable that the poem was instead intended for Anne Gilchrist, an Englishwoman who fell in love with Whitman. For a more detailed analysis of the text, including an examination of the poem's genesis as well as Bernstein's setting, see the article by Thomas Hampson and Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold entitled "The Frailest Leaves: A Study of Whitman's 'To What You Said'," originally published in The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review (Winter 1995) but also available online at www.hampsong.com/projects/whitman.External link: http://www.hampsong.com/projects/whitman

About this Item

Title
To What You Said
Subject Headings
-  Bernstein, Leonard, 1918-1990
-  Parlor and Concert Stage
-  Songs and Music
-  contemporary america (1945-present)
-  Songs Collections
Genre
song collection
Online Format
online text
image
Description
Song Collection. Bernstein's setting of Walt Whitman's unpublished poem, "To What You Said," is the fourth song in the cycle. Nearly mistaken as an abandoned scribble, the poem was discovered on the verso of page thirty of the holograph manuscript of Whitman's Democratic Vistas (1871), which is housed in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection at the Library of Congress. Bernstein was reportedly attracted to the text not only because it was unfamiliar, but because the poem's message of repressed love spoke volumes to the composer who, during the time period Songfest was composed, was experiencing a sexual identity crisis. While many have suggested that "To What You Said" was Bernstein's homage to homosexual love, it is probable that the poem was instead intended for Anne Gilchrist, an Englishwoman who fell in love with Whitman. For a more detailed analysis of the text, including an examination of the poem's genesis as well as Bernstein's setting, see the article by Thomas Hampson and Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold entitled "The Frailest Leaves: A Study of Whitman's 'To What You Said'," originally published in The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review (Winter 1995) but also available online at www.hampsong.com/projects/whitman.
Additional Metadata Formats
METSXML Record

Rights & Access

Rights assessment is your responsibility.

The Library of Congress is providing access to these materials for educational and research purposes and makes no warranty with regard to their use for other purposes. The written permission of the copyright owners and/or other rights holders (such as holders of publicity and/or privacy rights) is required for distribution, reproduction, or other use of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use or other statutory exemptions. There may be content that is protected as "works for hire" (copyright may be held by the party that commissioned the original work) and/or under the copyright or neighboring-rights laws of other nations.

Responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of an item and securing any necessary permission ultimately rests with persons desiring to use the item. Users should consult the bibliographic information that accompanies each item for specific information. This catalog data provides the details known to the Library of Congress regarding the corresponding items and may assist users in making independent assessments of the legal status of these items as related to their desired uses.

Items included here with the permission of the rights holders are indicated as such in the bibliographic record for each item.

In some cases, the Library was unable to identify a possible rights holder and has elected to place some of those items online as an exercise of fair use for strictly non-commercial educational uses. The Library of Congress would like to learn more about these materials and would like to hear from individuals or institutions that have any additional information or know of their history. Please contact:  Performing Arts Reading Room.

Suggested credit line: Library of Congress.

More about Copyright and other Restrictions

For guidance about compiling full citations consult Citing Primary Sources.

Cite This Item

Citations are generated automatically from bibliographic data as a convenience, and may not be complete or accurate.

Chicago citation style:

To What You Said. Online Text. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200182581/. (Accessed June 26, 2017.)

APA citation style:

To What You Said. [Online Text] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200182581/.

MLA citation style:

To What You Said. Online Text. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200182581/>.