Program notes

Simplify, Simplify, for choir and ensemble, opus 82 (2010)

Simplify, Simplify is a choral setting of some inspired words of Henry David Thoreau that I have selected from his book, Walden. Walden, or Life in the Woods, was first published in 1854 and is Thoreau’s reflective account of his experiment in radical personal simplification. For two years he lived alone in the woods at Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts, in a cabin owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson, in turn, caught the spirit of Thoreau’s philosophical concerns and poetic writing style perfectly when he wrote in 1860: “We ascribe beauty to that which is simple; which has no superfluous parts; which exactly answers its ends; which stands related to all things; which is the mean of many extremes.” [Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Conduct of Life.]

My work takes some of Thoreau’s words and arranges them as a set of variations scored for choir accompanied by soprano saxophone, string quartet, percussion and piano. The work was commissioned in 2009 by the Leichhardt Espresso Chorus and their conductor Michelle Leonard. They gave Simplify, simplify its first performance in March 2010.

© Andrew Schultz, 2010.


The soil is suited to the seed, for it has sent its radicle downward, and it may send its shoot upward also with confidence. Why has man rooted himself thus firmly into earth, but that he may rise to the heavens above?

Simplify, simplify.

If a man, does not keep pace with his companions perhaps it’s because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

Simplify, simplify.

This is the only way we say; but there are many ways that can be drawn radii from one centre.  All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.

Simplify, simplify.

To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.

What is the nature of luxury that enervates and destroys nations?

Henry David Thoreau, Walden