Our literature-inspired summer series, narratives, opens on Saturday, June 25th with a concert event entitled persona [beginning]. The centerpiece of the evening will be the world premiere of a 5-movement work by ACG’s Composer in Residence, Joseph V. Williams II. We’ve asked Joe to share some insights about his ambitious new composition.


As I write, the sounds of Persona are swirling through my mind’s ear. Persona is a five movement song cycle on texts of Fernando Pessoa written for musicians that transcend their instrument: Estelí Gomez (soprano), DaXun Zhang (bass), Isaac Bustos (guitar), Alejandro Montiel (guitar), and the trio of Adam Bedell, Cullen Faulk, and Matthew Teodori, who make up the line upon line percussion ensemble.

This extraordinary group will create a realization of the multifaceted world that Fernando Pessoa explored. Pessoa, often referred to as the Walt Whitman of Portugal, occupied many worlds – so many that he created alternate personas which he spoke through – or arguably, wrote for. He gave each of these alternate personas a name and referred to them as heteronyms (as opposed to pseudonyms) because he believed and demonstrated that their view and voice was separate from his own.

In setting these texts to music, the concept of what sets each of us apart, our inner and outer selves, is manifest as fundamental musical contrasts. Whether in Pessoa’s voice, or in the voice of his most celebrated heteronyms, each poem occupies a musical and intellectual space of its own.

The instrumentation is most primal:  voice and percussion- our most essential musical expression and thus, our most essential expression of self. All accompanied by the most intimate of instruments, the guitar, which shares common ground between the two.

This piece is an exploration of who we are, who we aren’t and who we can be. The themes run from that age old wisdom of not trying to be anyone who you are not, of nostalgia and cynicism, and, ultimately, desperation and hope. The texts of the five poems are below. Enjoy and I hope you will join us for a concert event unlike any other you have experienced.


Five Poems by Fernando Pessoa


As Alberto Caeiro:

To think about God is to disobey God,
Since God wanted us not to know him,
Which is why he didn’t reveal himself to us…

Let’s be simple and calm,
Like the trees and streams,
And God will love us, making us
Us even as the trees are trees
And the streams are streams,
And will give us greenness in the spring, which is its season,
And a river to go to when we end…
And he’ll give us nothing more, since to give us more would make us less us.


As Fernando Pessoa:


‘You aren’t asleep under the cypress trees,
For in this world there is no sleep.

Your body is the shadow of the clothes
That conceal your deeper self.

When night, which is death, arrives,
The shadow ends without having been.
And you go, unaware, into that night
As the mere outline of yourself.

But at the Inn of Wonderment,
The Angels take away your cape;
You continue with no cape on your shoulders
And little else to cover you.

Then the Highway Archangels
Strip you and leave you naked,
Without any clothes, with nothing:
You have just your body, which is you.

Finally, deep within the cave,
The Gods strip you even more.
Your body, or outer soul, ceases,
But you see that they are your equals.

The shadow of your clothes remains
Among us in the realm of Destiny.

You are not dead amid cypress trees.

Neophyte, there is no death.


As Ricardo Reis:

Remember, with quick steps, on the white beach
Darkened by the foam, the ancient rhythm
             That bare feet know,
             That rhythm repeated
By nymphs when they tap the sound of the dance
In the shade of the trees; you, children
             Not yet concerned
             With concerns, revive
That noisy circle while Apollo bends,
Like a high branch, the blue curve he gilds,
             And the tide, high or low,
             Flows without ceasing.


As Fernando Pessoa:


Ah, the soft, soft playing,
Like someone about to cry,
Of a song that’s woven
Out of artifice and moonlight…
Nothing to make us remember

A prelude of courtesies
Or a smile that faded…
A cold garden in the distance…
And in the soul that finds it,
Just the absurd echo of its empty


As Álvaro de Campos:


When will this inner night – the universe – end
And I – my soul – have my day?
When will I wake up from being awake?
I don’t know. The sun shines on high
And cannot be looked at.
The stars coldly blink
And cannot be counted.
The heart beats aloofly
And cannot be heard.
When will this drama without theater
– Or this theater without drama – end
So that I can go home?
Where? How? When?
O cat staring at me with eyes of life, Who lurks in your depths?
It’s Him! It’s him!
Like Joshua he’ll order the sun to stop, and I’ll wake up,
And it will be day.
Smile, my soul, in your slumber!
Smile, my soul: it will be day!


Dr. Joseph V. Williams II
Classical Guitarist & Composer
Guitar Instructor, University of Mary Hardin Baylor
Composer in Residence, Austin Classical Guitar
Director, Austin Classical Guitar Youth Orchestra
Texas Guitar Quartet