The Coming of Spring (2014)

Monodrama for tenor with flute/piccolo, oboe/English horn, clarinet/bass clarinet, horn, bassoon, and piano. Available for performance in piano-vocal reduction. 36 mins.

A dramatic work in one act with libretto by Nell Shaw Cohen based on the writings and paintings of Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967).


The Coming of Spring is a one-act monodrama based on the writings of visionary American painter Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967). A series of poignant chronological episodes reveal how perceptions of nature framed Burchfield’s life experience: from days collecting insects during his rural Midwestern childhood, to the years in which he supported his large family by producing popular images of industrial and suburban scenery in Buffalo.

Burchfield’s mission to develop the expressive power of his art—and, in particular, to convey the transition from winter to spring in a single image—leads to a revelation in 1943 with the completion of the monumental titular painting, which he first began in 1917.

The text of my libretto is adapted from transcriptions of Burchfield’s journals, essays, and letters, and even a few quotations from a 1936 LIFE Magazine profile of the painter. Original text forms connective tissue between these sources, helping to dramatize events in Burchfield’s life.

Originally scored for tenor with a six-piece chamber ensemble, The Coming of Spring may also be performed in piano-vocal reduction.

Performance & Development History

Semi-staged workshop production of full score. Featuring David Rosenmeyer, conductor; Herschel Garfein, stage director; and Tyler Lee, tenor. NYU Provincetown Playhouse, New York NY, 4/29/14.

Excerpt “Collecting” performed on recital by Tyler Lee, tenor, and Ben Baker, piano. NYU Black Box Theatre, New York NY, 5/19/14.

Excerpt “Prologue: Two Hollows” performed by Tyler Lee, tenor, and Alice Hargrove, piano. UrbanAnimals NYU, NYU Provincetown Playhouse, New York NY,  11/24/14.

Press Clippings

The East Hampton Star, ‘The Coming of Spring’ on monodrama workshop at NYU’s The Provincetown Playhouse. (4/22/14)


“Nell Shaw Cohen deserves superlative praise for her compositions inspired by art, particularly her understanding of [painter] Charles E. Burchfield’s rapport with nature.” —Nancy Weekly, Head of Collections and Curator, Burchfield Penney Art Center