De Profundis (2010)

by Thomas Oboe Lee

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In 2005, Paul Hodes and I embarked on an opera project on the life of Oscar Wilde. Paul wrote the libretto using mostly words penned by Mr. Wilde himself. Granite State Opera, under the direction of Phil Lauriat, produced a workshop performance of Act One in January 2006 at the Concord Community Music School in Concord, New Hampshire. I was quite pleased with the outcome, but GSO decided not to produce the work. And therefore Act Two never saw the light of day ... “De Profundis,” Oscar Wildeʼs book-length letter to Lord Alfred Douglas, aka Bosie, had to wait for another day.

In the meanwhile, I met John Whittlesey, artistic director of Intermezzo, in 2006 and we agreed to do a chamber opera on the life of Arthur Crew Inman, a Boston diarist and recluse who lived in the Back Bay area of Boston from 1919 to 1963. The two-act opera was produced by Intermezzo in the fall of 2007. Both John and I were quite pleased with the outcome.

This year John has decided to present a vocal recital with Intermezzo for the coming season 2010-11 entitled “Boys Night Out.” The main feature of the evening is a Dominick Argento work, “The Andrée Expedition” for baritone and piano. I suggested to John that I should write a new work for him for this occasion. He asked what text I had in mind? I suggested “De Profundis” by Oscar Wilde. John said yes.

The huge task of winnowing the text (often indulgently verbose and over-the-top, which is to be expected from someone as flamboyant and so-full- of-himself as Mr. Wilde) from 118 pages to something that would be suitable for a recital was enormous. John had set a time limit of 15 minutes. So, between Jesse Martin (the librettist for the Inman opera) and I, we managed to reduce the original text to about a page and a half.

The song cycle is in three parts, and every single word is Oscar Wildeʼs.


released June 13, 2011

Text excerpted from "De Profundis" by Oscar Wilde.

Tim Krol, baritone
Holly Chatham, piano
Kamilo Kratc, sound engineer and editor
Soundworks Recording Studio, LLC

Music by Thomas Oboe Lee

© Departed Feathers Music, Inc. - BMI

Photo credit: Thomas Oboe Lee



all rights reserved


Thomas Oboe Lee Cambridge, Massachusetts

Thomas Oboe Lee was born in China in 1945. He lived in São Paulo, Brazil, for six years before coming to the United States in 1966. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, he studied composition at the New England Conservatory and Harvard University. He has been a member of the music faculty at Boston College since 1990.
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Track Name: De Profundis
Words by Oscar Wilde.

Dear Bosie:
After a long and fruitless waiting of two years without a single line from you I am determined to write to you myself. As I sit here in Reading Gaol after a trial and sentence that has brought me public ruin and infamy, the memory of our affection is often with me. Yet I will begin by telling you that I blame myself for allowing such a friendship as ours, devoid of all intellect and based solely on pleasure, to dominate my life. To think that loathing, bitterness and contempt should forever take the place in my heart once held by love is very sad to me. But as I look back over our time together I realize that you were destructive to my work as an artist.
Drama, novel, poem in prose, poem in rhyme, subtle or fantastic dialogue, whatever I touched I made beautiful. I made Art a philosophy and philosophy an Art. I had the ability to alter the minds of men.
Nevertheless, during the entire time we were together, because of your constant claim on my attention and time, I never wrote a single line. As long as you were by my side my life was entirely sterile and uncreative. The basis of character is will power and mine became subject to yours. In your case one had to either give up to you, or give you up. There was no alternative. You even convinced and goaded me into a libel suit against your father. The consequences of these actions leave me in tears in this terrible place. But I must keep love within me, or how else should I live another day? Love is fed by the imagination, by which we become wiser than we know, better than we feel, nobler than we are. Only what is fine and finely conceived can feed love. But anything will feed hate.

Hate blinds people. You were not aware of that. Subtly, silently, and in secret, Hate gnawed at your nature. Your terrible lack of imagination, the one really fatal defect of your character, was entirely the result of the Hate that lived in you. That faculty in you which Love would have fostered, Hate poisoned and paralysed. The aim of Love is to love, no more, no less. For my own sake there was nothing for me to do but to love you. I knew, if I allowed myself to hate you, that in the dry desert of existence over which I had to travel, and am traveling still, every rock would lose its shadow, every palm tree be withered, every well of water prove poisoned at its source. Are you beginning now to understand a little? Is it beginning to dawn on you what love is? It is not too late for you to learn, though to teach it to you I may have had to go to a convict’s cell.
After my terrible sentence, when the prison dress was on me, and the prison house closed, I sat amidst the ruins of my wonderful life, crushed by anguish, bewildered with terror, dazed by pain. But I would not hate you. No matter what your conduct was to me, I always felt that at heart you loved me far better than anyone else. But you, like myself, have had a terrible tragedy in your life, though one of an entirely opposite character to mine. In you hate was always stronger than love. Your hatred of your father was of such stature that it entirely outstripped, overthrew and overshadowed your love of me. You did not realize there was no room for both passions in the same soul.
And the end of it all is that I have got to forgive you. I must do so. I don’t write this letter to put bitterness in your heart, but to pluck it out of mine. “Forgive your enemies” is not for the sake of the enemies, but for one’s own sake because Love is more beautiful than Hate.

I am to be released, if all goes well with me, towards the end of May. I know that much is waiting for me outside that is very delightful, from what St. Francis of Assisi calls “my brother the wind, and my sister the rain,” down to the shop-windows and sunsets of great cities. I hope to be with my friends, and to gain, in their healthful and affectionate company, peace, and balance, and a less troubled heart, and a sweeter mood. I have a strange longing for the great simple primeval things, such as the Sea, to me no less of a mother than the Earth.
I tremble with pleasure when I think that on the very day of my leaving here both the laburnum and the lilac will be blooming in the gardens, and that I shall see the wind stir into restless beauty the swaying gold of one and make the other toss the pale purple of its plume. For me, to whom flowers are part of desire, there are tears waiting in the petals of some rose.
The final mystery is oneself. When one has weighed the sun in the balance and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens, star by star, there still remains oneself. Perhaps I am chosen to teach you something much more wonderful: the meaning of sorrow and its beauty.