“The Providence Singers ... opening entrance in the final movement was breathtaking”
Channing Gray
Providence Journal
6 May 2013
(Mahler Symphony No. 2)


Eric William Barnum
Eric William Barnum (b.1979)
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

She stood so fair amid the corn,
Clasped by the golden light of morn,
Like the sweetheart of the sun,
Who many a glowing kiss had won.

On her cheek an autumn flush,
Deeply ripened; — such a blush
In the midst of brown was born,
Like red poppies grown with corn.

Round her eyes her tresses fell,
Which were blackest none could tell,
But long lashes veiled a light,
That had else been all too bright.

And her hat, with shady brim,
Made her tressy forehead dim; —
Thus she stood amid the stooks,
Praising God with sweetest looks, Alleluia! —

Sure, I said, heaven did not mean,
Where I reap thou shouldst but glean,
Lay thy sheaf adown and come,
Share my harvest and my home.