Forgiving Our Fathers —2001

Forgiving Our Fathers is a song cycle with texts by Mark Strand, Dick Lourie, and Billy Collins. It was commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition to be performed by baritone Sanford Sylvan and pianist David Breitman.

Program Note

The poems I selected for these songs were all written by living American poets, and reflect on father and son relationships.  The film Smoke Signals provided the initial spark: the story revolves around a young man’s search for his father, their confrontation, and eventual reconciliation.  When I heard Dick Lourie’s poem, “forgiving our fathers,” recited by the main character at the end of the film, I was deeply moved by it, and hoped I would some day find the right opportunity to set it to music.  After years of waiting, in the final months of revising and editing these songs, I became a first-time father.


The Tunnel  (Mark Strand)
The Empty Body  (Mark Strand)
Answers  (Mark Strand)
Forgiving Our Fathers  (Dick Lourie)
Moon  (Billy Collins)


The Maggio pieces drew from two song cycles, Let Me Start Over (about regret) and Forgiving Our Fathers (about reconciliation), all reflecting superb taste in contemporary poetry (H.L. Hix and Mark Strand) plus a Rorem-calibre talent for concentrating meaning into an attractive vocal line. But while Rorem applies a Gallic rationality to the emotions at hand, the fearlessly confrontational Maggio projects cross-cutting shades of ambivalence with the confidence of a seasoned film editor – even when using simple ostinatos in piano accompaniment. As in Leonard Bernstein’s later music, Maggio gets too close for comfort. Then you realize that what you’re resisting isn’t the music but what it summons within yourself.

David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer, November 11, 2005