This a cappella setting of Emily Dickinson’s poem is an excerpt from Michael Kaulkin’s larger work Cycle of Friends for soprano solo, chorus and chamber orchestra. It is for mixed chorus divided into two ideally antiphonal SATB groups.
Completed and premiered in 1996, Cycle of Friends for soprano solo, chorus and orchestra is my first large-scale work and possibly still my favorite. It is a lush, emotional journey through five texts taken from such diverse sources as Tang Dynasty poetry of China, Sappho and Emily Dickinson, each dealing in its own way with the universal theme of friendship.
Being the third of the five movements, “Are Friends Delight or Pain” is literally central to the piece, posing the key dramatic question with its title. It is bookended by two anecdotal poems from Tang-era China that are ultimately more about the memory and loss of friendship than friendship itself. By setting the Dickinson poem as an a cappella movement in the middle of an orchestral piece, and structuring it entirely around a relentless “E” pedal, I hoped to heighten the directness of the question and its function as a chorus in the Greek sense, by commenting on the other texts used in the piece.
— Michael Kaulkin