I Never Saw Another Butterfly (Davidson)

Song Cycle for vocal solo or duet, or chorus of treble voices (either unison or two or three part) and piano. (1971 – completed in 1968)

Originally composed for a 3-5 part boys’ choir with piano accompaniment.  (Dedicated to the Columbus Boychoir – now known as the American boychoir). An orchestrated version was completed by Donald Fraser in 1988.

“A musical memorial to the 15,000 children who passed through Teresienstadt on their journey to Auschwitz.

The description which follows is based on on the American Boychoir and American Symphony Orchestra Sound Recording (see below).  The spoken poems between songs as well as many special colorations of the orchestral arrangement heard are significantly different from the published score also cited below.  It is a complex piece for a children’s choir especially due to its dissonant harmonic sections and varied rhythmic structures.

* Preludium – Night in the Ghetto (spoken) (Lyric, tonal, beautiful harp and string accompanies the second half of poem and leads directly into the first song)

1. “It all depends on how you look at it” (with bird-like flutes in the background; this piece is a contrast between the surrounding beauty and the tramping of the marching feet which ‘bring death, making a return to the “beauty” theme even more hauntingly sweet.)

*Inserted spoken dialogue in modified call-and-response pattern, lead by a young voice with unison echoing by choir speaking of black potatoes, flies, bugs and other harsh realities of the camp.

2. “Man proposes, God disposes” (heavier brass and percussion with irregular rhythms heighten the description of the rich man, now bruised and sore. A tight canon section follows).

3. Terezin (dissonant chords lead into a chromatic melody which has flowing step-wise or tight intervals within the moderate vocal ranges, alternating, and shifting textures and tone colors

4. “The butterfly” (The poem from which the song cycle name is derived, begins with a fluttering accompaniment with mainly strings and flute, from which emerges the melody that repeats like an echo or perhaps a brief memory.  The rising then falling of chords seem to paint a picture of the floating butterfly that brought a moment of joy, never to return. The echo effect returns at the end, fading away.  In my opinion, one of the most beautifully touching pieces in the set.)

5. “The garden” (This piece performed a capella in 3 parts, moves freely and resembles how one might observe a child going through a garden, walking, stopping to investigate or skipping ahead; but the poem itself reflects the tragedy by comparing the boy to a blossom which will live longer than the little boy who looking at it.)

6. “The little mouse” (Whimsical, short piece about a mouse and a flea).

7. “On a sunny evening” (The opening octave unison section is very clean and new after the other songs heard previously.  The imagery in the poem is quite unusual, such as where “the heavens shriek with blue” and yet, amidst the beauty, the poet reminds us of the barbed wire and hope to overcome death).

7a. Added songs: “I’d Like to Go Away Alone” (Duet) and “Homesick” (Alto Solo)  (Almost a capella, accompaniment consists of occasional instrumental flourishes from piano, bell, or harp-like interjections).

7b. “Terezin”Added primarily spoken poem

8. “Yes, that’s the way things are” (A brief song here serves as a character study of a toothless old man in the “so called” park)

9. “Birdsong” (A song of hope. The ending is particularly effective with its ethereal “how wonderful it is to be alive” on a pianissimo G major triad juxtaposed with a Hebrew chant on the dominant D below the chord with-Sh’ma Yisrael.. Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One”).

Composer: Charles Davidson (1929- )

Score: Ashbourne Music Publications, a Division of Stonehedge, Inc., Elkins Park, PA.

The limited vocal range and original setting of the songs for boys’ choir makes it especially suitable for younger voices.  There are occasions where piano is marked for rehearsal only where it doubles a three-part arrangement.

Sound Recording:

Bernstein, Leonard, Kelly Seaton, James Litton, and Charles Davidson. 1990. “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” Chichester psalms [first recording in composer’s original version]. Ocean, N.J.: Musicmasters.  Performer: American Boy Choir Concert Choir and American Symphony Orchestra.  Orchestration by Donald Fraser. Conducted by James Litton.