Although he is regarded as one of America’s foremost composers of art song, John Duke is relatively unknown to concert audiences. This oversight, however, is being remedied by recent performances, recordings, and publications which have sparked new interest in the composer’s oeuvre. Set to a text by Edward Arlington Robinson, “Richard Cory” is Duke’s tragically ironic interpretation of a man who had everything but “went home and put a bullet through his head.”
The audio recording, provided in the audio player to the right, features Thomas Hampson, baritone, and Craig Rutenberg, piano. This song was recorded for Instant Encore as part of American Public Media's Performance Today series, presented by Classical Minnesota Public Radio. To listen, please click on the track name itself. You can download a recording of this entire recital for free through the Instant Encore website with the download code: THSOA2009.
Robinson's famous triptych set to music by John Duke limns portraits of three men living lives of silent despair. Each has an autobiographical parallel in the poet's own existence. The outwardly successful Richard Cory, who one day surprises his townsfolk by putting a bullet through his head, is a portrait of Robinson's brother Herman, who effectively committed suicide with alcohol after a series of disastrous business investments, dying prematurely in 1893.
Miniver Cheevy, with his fatal Romanticism and self-destructive drunken passivity, again alludes to Herman, but also suggests the poet himself, in his perennial sense of being unappreciated and misunderstood as an artist and intellectual.
Luke Havergal's mourning of a dead love, and his epiphany that only through the western gate of death can there be true union of souls, is an aching hymn to Robinson's passion for his sister-in-law, Emma Shepherd.
--Thomas Hampson and Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold, PBS I Hear America Singing
by Edwin Arlington Robinson
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good morning," And he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich, yes richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.