Eric Whitacre: i carry your heart

The Text

Composed in 2016, Eric Whitacre’s choral work i carry your heart has become another popular piece in choral repertoire.  Based on the E. E. Cummings (1894-1962) poem of the same name, the text of the song is as follows:

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear

no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

 

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

 

Similarly to many of E. E. Cummings’ poems, i carry your heart is based on strong themes of love and marriage. The speaker of the poem is telling his beloved partner that wherever he goes, he is always carrying his lover’s heart with him. Interestingly, he is talking to them directly, which gives a really personal feel to the text. It is also worthy of note that Cummings was known to for his unusual capitalization (or in this instance the lack of). There are theories that the main reason he didn’t capitalize the pronoun ‘I’ is due to the speaker not wanting to seem above his partner, but more that they are on the same level. The text can be taken at face value, and actually this is rather refreshing.

Whitacre adds a note to this work to explain the origins of composing this particular choral work:

“Seven years ago, one of my best friends in the world, Omar Crook, got married to another of my best friends, Amy Arms. Omar asked me before the wedding if I would set e.e. Cummings’ iconic poem ‘i carry your heart’ for the ceremony. I tried and tried to find the music in the poetry but came up empty, so instead I did the next best thing: I gave a terrible best man’s speech.

Five and a half years later I was sitting at the piano, working on another piece, and I stumbled on a single music gesture that unlocked the poem for me. That musical gesture is heard first in the opening lines of the poem: i carry your heart with me./i carry it in my heart./i am never without it.

The idea that ‘I’m never without it’ was the core of the piece’s construction. And so, I finally wrote the piece and surprised them with it. I was giving a concert with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and I invited them to attend without giving them any idea what we would perform. We made it through the entire concert and then, as an encore, I announced, “this is for my dear friends Omar Crook and Amy Arms, a gift for their wedding day – a little late.” Now every time I hear it I think of this very intimate love and, very specifically, Omar and Amy.” Source

 

The Music

To reflect the simple nature of the text, Whitacre aims to mimic this style within his choral composition. Based around one primary chord, the work sits on a foundation created by the tenor voices on a G. The other voice slowly move up the scale, which creates a dichotomy of both movement and staticism. Whitacre has commented that this work has a certain humming charm to it.

For the duration of the work, neither the soprano or alto lines sing the same note, until right at the end where the alto voices reach a G to resolve the final chord of the song. The central idea and theme of the music reflects the central idea of love that runs through Cummings’ poem. Of course, Whitacre adds his signature cluster chords and dissonances to create that ethereal atmosphere that he is known for. However, he does not stray from the home key, which gives that consistent feel to the music.

At the start of the work the voice are singing in unison, and after the first three lines, they begin to stray and start singing in polyphony. There are certain lines where the voices come back together in unison, which creates a bold statements and creative word painting. For example, on the line ‘here is the deepest secret that nobody knows’, the tenors and basses are in unison, which gives the impression of how ‘deep’ the secret is.

The final line ‘i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)’ is incredibly poignant and fulfilling. The lower voices resolve the chord, with the alto voices resolving the final dissonance, creating a comfortable closure to this work.

“It’s everything that I always imagined love could be” – Eric Whitacre

Happy Reading!

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