Eric William Barnum
Photo: Danielle Barnum
Eric William Barnum
Sweetheart of the Sun (2005)
“One of the primary characteristics of all music I compose, no matter the style or sound-world, is that it contains a great deal of longing. ... I feel it could be said that though this concept remains a bit of a mystery to us, all human beings know and recognize this feeling to one degree or another.”
— Eric William Barnum
Eric Barnum is currently director of choral activities at the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh. He is a Minnesota native, with undergraduate degrees in composition and vocal performance from Bemidji State University, graduate work at Minnesota State University–Mankato, and a Doctor of Musical Arts in choral conducting from the University of Washington–Seattle.
His The Sweetheart of the Sun, setting a 19th-century poem by Thomas Hood, presents the Biblical story of Ruth, widowed daughter-in-law of Naomi, and Boaz, a prosperous landowner.
Ruth and Boaz
A medieval depiction of the story of Ruth by the English scribe and artist William de Brailes, ca. 1230
Against a background of famine and poverty, Naomi and Ruth are destitute; Ruth goes into Boaz’s fields to glean whatever kernels of grain the harvest crew may have left behind. The poem begins at the point when Boaz looks out over his fields and notices Ruth. He is immediately smitten by her beauty and her situation, knows he has found the love of his life, and offers Ruth a place in his life and home.
The poem also touches on an element of cosmic justice and fairness. Boaz recognizes that heaven could never have intended these fields to produce a bountiful harvest for the owner while impoverished people scrounge in the dirt for scraps of grain. (Hood’s best-known poem, “The Song of the Shirt,” inspired social activists in the mid-19th century on behalf of impoverished women laborers.)
Performance notes for the work urge singers to keep that moment in mind, to remember personal moments of emotional power, and to be guided in their interpretation by the text itself.
In addition to his academic work, Barnum is a choral conductor, clinician, and conference speaker, and has been a composer-in-residence for a number of vocal ensembles, most recently with Cantus and Tove in Trondheim, Norway. His list of commissioned works numbers nearly 100.
Little more than a week after these concerts, Barnum will be at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center, conducting a DCINY Composer Spotlight performance of his own compositions.
Sweetheart of the Sun
“Ruth” (1843) by Thomas Hood (1799–1845), adapted