Carl Vollrath’s OLD AND NEW POETRY from Navona Records is a lovingly-prepared setting of the works of seminal poets William Blake and Sara Teasdale, as well as the contemporary writer John Gracen Brown. Employing piano, saxophone, and mezzo-soprano, Vollrath thoughtfully pushes tonal boundaries in response to the poetic language, and evocative performances reveal the composer’s intimate relationship with the text, offering listeners a compelling musical-literary experience.
Today, Carl is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our composers and performers. Read on to learn how Carl discovered the poetry that inspired his album…
What were your inspirations for the album?
I came across Blake’s poetry in the late 1950’s. I didn’t realize that during his lifetime he was disregarded since he believed everyone was equal. I fell in love with his words and started to set them to music. The five short songs were first performed at a Florida State University recital. Some of Blake’s other poetry was set later and also performed at FSU. At a request from a vocalist, the Teasdale poetry was set while at Troy State University and I was fortunate to have them recorded at a New York studio. They were first performed in Staten Island NY. I came across Brown by receiving a book of his poetry, and only after receiving a second volume of his did I realize that a musical setting of them might enhance their beauty.
What experiences helped shape you as a musician?
How I came to the musical world is strange, like so many other things that happen. My parents were somewhat musical; my mother played piano and my father played violin by ear. But the real start came from a Russian-French Jewish family that took me under their wings and arranged an audition at Stetson University. After that things became even stranger, like playing in the military band at West Point as a piccolo player even when I told them I never played piccolo in my life. Another important event was when Dr. Cramer started performing my works for trombone and made an LP record of the works written for him. Of course, Richard Stoltzman made a two disc album of clarinet work that I wrote for Tim Phillips.