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Shostakovich and Michelangelo

"The School of Athens" by Raphael depicts Heraclitus (center left) laboring over some lines of verse; the figure of Heraclitus is said to be the likeness of Michelangelo

"The School of Athens" by Raphael depicts Heraclitus (center left) laboring over some lines of verse; the figure of Heraclitus is said to be the likeness of Michelangelo

Art and Music Month: Shostakovich’s Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti

Monday at 11:00 PM, with bass Ildar Abdrazakov

The man who painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel saw himself as a sculptor—he is one of the greatest, though his frescoes are no less exceptional; the same could be said of the dome he designed for St. Peter’s Basilica. Michelangelo Buonarroti possessed talents of such a singular nature, one wouldn’t try to pin him to a single medium. When Dmitri Shostakovich turned to Michelangelo, it wasn’t the frescoes or the sculptures or the architecture that fired his imagination, but the poetry of Michelangelo. It’s noteworthy that Raphael portrayed his rival Michelangelo as a poet in his famous fresco “The School of Athens” (right).

Hear an interview with bass Ildar Abdrazakov who came to Chicago to sing this song cycle.

Here is a translation of just a few of Michelangelo’s poems set to music by Shostakovich:

Immortality

Here fate has sent me eternal sleep,
But I am not dead. Though buried in the earth,
I live in you, whose lamentation I hear,
Since friend is reflected in friend.

I am as though dead. But as a comfort to the world
With its thousands of souls, I live on in the hearts
Of all loving people. And that means I am not dust.
Mortal decay cannot touch me.

 

Dante

What should be said of him cannot be said;
By too great splendor is his name attended;
To blame is easier than those who him offended,
Than reach the faintest glory round him shed.
This man descended to the doomed and dead
For our instruction; then to God ascended;
Heaven opened wide to him its portals splendid,
Who from his country’s, closed against him, fled.
Ungrateful land! To its own prejudice
Nurse of his fortunes; and this showeth well
That the most perfect most of grief shall see.
Among a thousand proofs let one suffice,
That as his exile hath no parallel,
Ne’er walked the earth a greater man than he.

 

On the Brink of Death

Now hath my life across a stormy sea
Like a frail bark reached that wide port where all
Are bidden, ere the final reckoning fall
Of good and evil for eternity.
Now know I well how that fond phantasy
Which made my soul the worshiper and thrall
Of earthly art, is vain; how criminal
Is that which all men seek unwillingly.
Those amorous thoughts which were so lightly dressed,
What are they when the double death is nigh?
The one I know for sure, the other dread.
Painting nor sculpture now can lull to rest
My soul that turns to His great love on high,
Whose arms to clasp us on the cross were spread.

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