Songs From Letters

(1989)

Libby Larsen's Songs From Letters sets five excerpts from letters written by Calamity Jane to her daughter Jane. The letters were found upon Calamity Jane's death in 1903.


The song cycle was premiered in 1989 and published in 1994. The work is for soprano and chamber orchestra, but a piano/vocal version has also been published.


Larsen writes of the songs:


"In the forward of Between Ourselves, a compilation of letters between mothers and daughters, editor Karen Payne quotes Rosa Luxemburg, 'It is in the tiny struggles of individual peoples that the great movements of history are most truly observed.' I think she's on to something. The diary of Martha Jane Canary Hickock (Calamity Jane), reveals the struggle of an individual soul, a tender soul, a woman and pioneer on many frontiers. Calamity Jane was a working woman, good in her profession, working at what she loved and making choices because of her will to work. Calamity Jane sent Janey, her daughter by Wild Bill Hickock, to live with a "normal daddy" - her friend Jim O'Neil. She paid for child support by working as a gambler, trick shooter, cowhand, barmaid, stagecoach driver and prostitute. She even tried (and rejected) marriage. In her time she was odd and lonely. One hundred years later, her life sheds light on contemporary society. She chooses rough-tough words to describe her life to her daughter. I'm interested in that rough-toughness and in Calamity Jane's struggle to explain herself honestly to her daughter, Janey."


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