Eric Whitacre is one of the most-performed composers of his generation. Born in 1970, he studied composition at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the Juilliard School with notable composers including John Corigliano and David Diamond. His choral works and band works have rapidly become accepted in the repertoire due to their strong appeal to audiences and players alike. In addition to composing, Whitacre tours the world as a conductor of his own works.
Whitacre is quite web-savvy:
Eric Whitacre on WikiMusicGuide (better than Wikipedia in this case), including complete works list.
Whitacre even writes his own program notes! Here they are for Sleep:
Sleep began its life as an a cappella choral setting, with a magnificent original poem by Charles Anthony Silvestri. The chorale-like nature and warm harmonies seemed to call out for the simple and plaintive sound of winds, and I thought that it might make a gorgeous addition to the wind symphony repertoire. Sleep can be performed as a work for band, or band and mixed chorus.
What Whitacre leaves out is that the music for Sleep was originally a setting of Robert Frost‘s poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening“. Alas, the Frost estate maintains very strict controls on musical settings of Robert’s work. Some reports say that Frost himself banned any musical setting of his work after being disgusted with Randall Thompson‘s Frostiana. So Whitacre has been denied permission to use the Frost text in any performance or recording. This is where Silvestri’s poem came from – it is a perfect musical match to “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”:
Charles Anthony Silvestri’s poem:
The evening hangs beneath the moon
A silver thread on darkened dune
With closing eyes and resting head
I know that sleep is coming soon
Upon my pillow, safe in bed
A thousand pictures fill my head
I cannot sleep, my mind’s a-flight
And yet my limbs seem made of lead
If there are noises in the night
A frightening shadow, flickering light
Then I surrender unto sleep
Where clouds of dream give second sight
What dreams may come, both dark and deep
Of flying wings and soaring leap
As I surrender unto sleep,
As I surrender unto sleep.
Sleep is all over YouTube. We’ll begin with an excellent, straight-up band version:
Eric Whitacre himself conducts the choir version:
Now here’s what it sounds like with band AND choir, with Whitacre again at the podium. The video is slightly off from the sound.
Whitacre has put together another virtual choir for a rather eerily polished version of Sleep:
Finally, a version with the Frost text has made it onto YouTube: