Variations on a Summer Day


for mezzo-soprano and nine instruments

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Sample Score Pages
thumbnail of VARIATIONS ON A SUMMER DAY website excerpts
25 min.
September 1, 2012
Mary Nessinger, mezzo-soprano
Alexander Platt , conductor
Commissioned for Maverick Concerts, Alexander Platt, Director, by the Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard University
From college in western Massachusetts I went to law school in New York, and then to the law firm of Patterson Belknap. The trade, of rolling hills and red maple leaves for office buildings and elevator banks, mirrored my trade of writing music round the clock for writing memoranda and discovery requests, also round the clock. The music I composed in those years came late at night, in the law school library or, later, behind the blinds at my office desk, in the interstices. My idols were professionals for whom creating art was an escape and a release: Charles Ives, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams. I was most attracted to Stevens, whose poetry captured the wild disconnect of irrational and lurid imagery emerging from buttoned-down passages of the language of the office. Variations on a Summer Day, though, is Stevens on vacation, in Bermuda shorts, in Damariscotta and the Berkshires. Alexander Platt, director of Maverick Concerts in Woodstock, New York, asked me for a companion piece to Maurice Ravel’s Trois Poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé, for the same combination of mezzo-soprano and nine instruments, for a summer concert in 2012. For that concert I set eight stanzas from the Stevens poem, commissioned by the Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard University. Mary Nessinger sang with Sequitur at this and at subsequent performances in New York and Pittsburgh, for which I began to add settings of other stanzas from the poem. The final version of the Variations was premiered in July 2016 during Contemporary Music Week at the Tanglewood Music Festival, with Quinn Middleman singing and David Fulmer conducting the TMC Fellows.
“Stevens’s poems are intellectual and enigmatic and wouldn’t seem to me prime material for song settings. Meltzer’s style, though, suits the texts very well; he writes a kind of dissonant lyricism that seems a fine musical complement to Stevens. Meltzer’s scoring, using the same ensemble called on later in the program for a Ravel cycle, was very imaginative… the audience liked it and so did I, and I’d be interested in hearing it again.”

— Leslie Garber, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, September 2, 2012


“[M]ezzo-soprano Quinn Middleman made a similarly persuasive case for Harold Meltzer’s ‘Variations on a Summer Day,’ a gleaming setting of texts from the Wallace Stevens poem of the same name.”

— Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe, July 25, 2016

“He uses music to mirror images in the music, conjuring astonishing gulls at the start…. There’s dramatic invocation… marvelous, soaring, restless a cappella melody…. ”

— Brian Schuth, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, July 25, 2016

Performance History
  • September 1, 2012: Mary Nessinger, mezzo-soprano with Sequitur conducted by Alexander Platt, Maverick Concerts, Woodstock, New York (stanzas 12-19)
  • November 18, 2012: Mary Nessinger, mezzo-soprano with Sequitur conducted by Paul Hostetter, Music on the Edge, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (stanzas 8-9, 11-20)
  • April 1, 2014: Mary Nessinger, mezzo-soprano with ensemble conducted by Michael Barrett, NYFOS Next “Harold Meltzer and Friends” concert, National Opera Center, New York City (stanzas 9, 11, 15-17)
  • April 28, 2014: Mary Nessinger, mezzo-soprano with Sequitur conducted by Eduardo Leandro, Cutting Edge Concerts, Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Symphony Space, New York City (stanzas 8-9, 11-20)
  • February 11, 2014: Emily Alcorn, mezzo-soprano with the Illinois New Music Ensemble conducted by Julie Gunn, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois (stanzas 5, 8-9, 11-20)
  • July 24, 2016: Quinn Middleman, mezzo-soprano with Tanglewood Music Fellows conducted by David Fulmer, Seiji Ozawa Hall, 2016 Festival of Contemporary Music, Tanglewood Music Center (stanzas 1-2, 5, 7-9, 11-20)
  • July 24, 2016: Emily Alcorn and Amber Farish, mezzo-sopranos, Tanglewood Music Fellows, 2016 Festival of Contemporary Music, Seiji Ozawa Hall, Lenox, MA