Vollrath began falling in love with the works of William Blake (1757-1827) in the early 1960s when he first began reading his poetry at Florida State University. Believing that Blake encompassed an egalitarianism and humanity that was more than a century ahead of his time, the composer began setting the poetry to music. He learned that Blake’s contemporaries did not take him seriously when he said all men are equal regardless of skin color. Unbeknownst to Vollrath at the time, Blake was beginning to be recognized more fully in the mid-1960s. In these works, Vollrath explores the extent to which Blake was ahead of his time, and focuses on the notion that Blake was not understood by his peers during his lifetime.
Regarding his setting of “The Fly” Vollrath says “Make the most of life while you’re living. Live and enjoy life as much as you can.” Through “The Sick Rose,” Vollrath recognizes the experiences of misery through the COVID-19 pandemic and other hardships we face. Through this piece, he depicts us all as leaves in the wind, blown about.
Vollrath was first drawn to the works of Sara Teasdale upon an invitation to visit a Tennessee college. When a vocalist there requested that the composer set Teasdale’s poetry to music, Vollrath received his first foray into the repertoire. Since this time, he feels fortunate to have been able to have Timothy Phillips record it.
Before teaching at Troy University, Vollrath received a book of poetry from poet John Gracen Brown. Not knowing much about poetry at the time, he remained uninspired. Later, however, during his professorship, he received another book from Brown, and Vollrath suddenly fell in love with the verse.
One summer, the composer sat down to write a new song daily, setting music for voice and saxophone to one of Brown’s poems. Finding that Brown’s poetry evokes a love of nature and rural countryside, Vollrath had quickly associated it with the saxophone he heard on Prairie Home Companion. He continued writing, inspired daily by Brown’s verse, eventually completing 50 songs.
Vollrath wants listeners to be transported to the natural locales, enjoying the moon, the landscape, the earth. He says, “What a gorgeous thing a mountain is; we need to appreciate the beauty.” A Netflix show called God sums up some of these notions for the composer, providing inspiration in the visages he portrays. A Buddhist monk in the show notes that: birds do not fly, they are carried. Fish do not swim, they float. The earth is not a resource, it’s our source. In this, Vollrath states, “We are all dependent on each other. If we destroy the earth we destroy ourselves.”
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