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The Willow Song

from the Ballad of Baby Doe (1956)

A student of Horatio Parker at Yale University and Vincent DʻIndy and Nadia Boulanger in Paris, Douglas Moore was an American composer known for opera's dealing with American folk themes, offering perspectives of rural pioneer life. Awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1951 for his opera "Giants in the Earth," his folk opera "The Ballad of Baby Doe" is most well known and one of the few American operas to enter repertory.


"Baby Doe" is based on historical figures, including the Bonanza King of Leadville mine owner Horace Tabor, his first wife Augusta Tabor, and the titular second wife Elizabeth (Baby) Doe Tabor. The entire opera is a riches to rags story set in 1880s Colorado. There are signs of marital discord between Horace and Augusta in the first Act. Events coincide with the appearance of Baby, as Horace watches her sing "The Willow Song," an aria of lost love, the breakdown of her marriage to Harvey Doe. While only 3-minutes, the brief aria showcases a tremendous expressive range for soprano, blossoming into a high-D above the staff at the peak of the work. Supported by two flutes (piccolo), oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, two horns, two trumpets, two trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, piano, and strings, Moore's scoring is delicate and tender in voicing the pentatonic folk-like melodies. Lush strings and shimmering wind trills and percussion accents further caress the voice in a touch of sweet melancholy. 


The song is the proverbial cupid's arrow for Horace. Eventually, the drama of secret infidelity arises between Baby and Horace. Augusta finally finds out through love letters not meant for her, and Horace leaves Augusta for Baby, ending the first Act. The opera ends with a series of misfortunes as the new couple sees their assets disintegrate to tragic ends in the second Act.


Douglas Stuart Moore was born on August 10, 1893, in Cutchogue, New York, and died on July 25, 1969, in Greenport, New York. © MTF

(Notes by Michael-Thomas Foumai)


American masters take center stage to celebrate an American experience, fearless women, impossible virtuosity, and unforgettable journeys. Violinist Joshua Bell and Soprano Larisa Martinez join your Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra in a program of the unshakable American spirit with Barber’s sweeping Violin Concerto, Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Bernstein’s West Side Story, Gershwin’s tour de force An American in Paris, and more! © MTF

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