Originally a Bicentennial commission, the texts of Songfest are all by American poets.


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 proceed in reverse from the opening four: three solos and then a closing hymn. The structure in the center of the cycle features ensembles: a duet, a trio, a duet, and a sextet. The texts are based solely on American poetry, ranging from the mid-17th century to the present, and they deal with a host 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 heard previously, the premiere of the complete cycle took place on October 11, 1977, with six singers and the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

--Stephanie Poxon, Ph.D.

Please note that only songs that can be sung as solo art songs are included in the Song of America database.


Complete Movements (including ensemble movements):

Opening hymn : To the poem | Text: Frank O'Hara
The pennycandystore beyond the el | Text: Lawrence Ferlinghetti
A Julia de Burgos | Text: Julia de Burgos
To what you said | Text: Walt Whitman
I, too, sing America | Text: Langston Hughes
Okay "Negroes" | Text: June Jordan
To my dear and loving husband | Text: Anne Bradstreet
Storyette H.M. | Text: Gertrude Stein
If you can't eat you got to | Text: e.e. cummings
Music I heard with you | Text: Conrad Aiken
Zizi's lament | Text: Gregory Corso
Sonnet : What lips my lips have kissed | Text: Edna St. Vincent Millay
Closing hymn : Israfel | Text: Edgar Allan Poe


Audio PLaylist