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Shostakovich Rarity

Dmitri Shostakovich

Dmitri Shostakovich

San Francisco Symphony with James Conlon, Wednesday at 8:00 PM

If you’ve heard this piece at all, odds are you were at Ravinia in 2006 when this conductor performed the piece with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. That year, James Conlon presented a Shostakovich mini-cycle: the last three symphonies (Nos.13-15). All are autumnal works, though Nos.13 and 14 scratch at wounds inflicted by Hitler and Stalin—these pieces are heavies, even by Shostakovich standards.

There is a pattern with Maestro Conlon of exploring music that came out of that period of madness, when tens of millions were slaughtered at the hands of tyrants. Perhaps because it was too soon, too painful or still suppressed (truthfully), much of the music that Maestro Conlon has championed had been left untouched: music by composers who were exiled, or who were murdered, or composers like Shostakovich who poured their outrage into the music. Such is the Fourteenth Symphony.

Many conductors aren’t even sure if this is a symphony—”song cycle” seems more apt—but Shostakovich himself insisted on calling it that. It’s scored for a modest string section and percussion, and follows in the tradition of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde: a series of poems set for two vocal soloists.

The Shostakovich 14th is undeniably the work of one of music’s greatest minds; it’s just not easy. Maestro Conlon, before conducting the piece with the San Francisco Symphony addressed his audience, urging them to pay close attention—that’s basic to getting more out of any piece of music, but in this case it’s basic to “getting it” at all.

 

1. De profundis, bass.

Federico García Lorca

 

Those hundred lovers

are asleep forever

beneath the dry earth.

Andalusia has

long, red-colored roads.

Córdoba, green olive trees

for placing a hundred crosses

to remember them.

Those hundred lovers

are asleep forever.

 

2. Malagueña, soprano.

Federico García Lorca

 

Death

enters, and leaves,

the tavern.

 

Black horses

and sinister people

travel the deep roads

of the guitar.

 

And there’s a smell of salt

and of female blood

in the fevered tuberoses

of the shore.

 

Death

enters and leaves,

and leaves and enters

the death

of the tavern.

 

3. Lorelei, soprano and bass.

Guillaume Apollinaire

 

In Bacharach lived a witch with fair hair

who let all the men around die of love.

 

The bishop summoned her to his court

and acquitted her on account of her beauty.

 

Oh lovely Loreley, your eyes are made of precious stones,

which magician gave you the power of sorcery?

 

I am weary of life and my eyes are accursed;

oh bishop, those who have looked at me have perished.

 

My eyes are not precious stones but flames,

throw this sorcery to the fire.

 

That fire is consuming me, oh lovely Loreley,

somebody else has to condemn you, for you have enchanted me.

 

Bishop you laugh. Pray rather to the Virgin for me,

let me die and may God protect you.

 

My lover has left for a distant land,

let me die for there is nothing I love.

 

My heart is so heavy that I must necessarily die,

I would die if I would dare look at myself.

 

My heart is so heavy since he is no longer there,

my heart has been so heavy since the day he left.

 

The bishop summoned three knights armed with lances:

take this demented woman to the convent.

 

Go away Lore in madness, away Lore with tremulous eyes,

you shall become a nun dressed in black and white.

 

So the four left down the road,

the Loreley implored them and her eyes glowed bright like stars.

 

Knights, please let me climb onto that rock so high

for I may see my beautiful castle one last time.

 

To see once more my reflection in the river

and then I shall go to the convent of virgins and widows.

 

Up there, the wind blew her untied hair,

the knights cried: Loreley, Loreley.

 

Down there, on the Rhine, comes a boat

and, on board, there is my lover, he has seen me and calls.

 

My heart becomes so tender, it is my lover returning.

She leans over and falls into the Rhine.

 

To see her in the water, the beautiful Loreley,

her Rhine-coloured eyes, her sun-like hair.

 

4. The Suicide, soprano.

Guillaume Apollinaire

 

Three large lilies, three large lilies on my grave without a cross,

three large lilies dusted with gold, daunted by the wind.

Watered only when a murky sky pours upon them,

majestic and beautiful like kings’ scepters.

 

One emerges from my wound and, when a ray of sunlight brushes it,

moves up bleeding. It is the lily of terror.

Three large lilies, three large lilies on my grave without a cross,

three large lilies dusted with gold, daunted by the wind.

 

Another emerges from my heart, which lies suffering on this resting place,

gnawed by worms. The third emerges from my mouth.

All three stand on my lonely grave

All alone, all alone and condemned as I deem myself.

Three large lilies, three large lilies on my grave without a cross.

 

5. Les Attentives I: (“On the Alert”), soprano.

Guillaume Apollinaire

 

The one that must die this evening in the trenches

is a young soldier who, all day long, stares idly

at the concrete battlements

where the night’s glories were hung.

The one that must die this evening in the trenches

is a young soldier, my brother and my lover.

And since he must die I want to make myself beautiful;

I want my naked breasts to light the torches,

I want my big eyes to melt the pond that freezes.

And my hips, I want them to be the tombs

for, since he must die, I want to make myself beautiful

in both incest and death, these two magnificent deeds.

The cows at sunset low all their roses,

the bluebird’s wing fans me softly.

It is the hour of Love, of ardent neuroses.

It is the hour of Death and of the final promise.

The one that must perish, just as the roses die,

is a young soldier, my brother and my lover.

 

 

 

6. Les Attentives II: (“Look Here,

Madame!”), soprano and bass.

Guillaume Apollinaire

 

Madame, look!

You have lost something.

It’s my heart — not much of a thing!

So pick it up.

I have given it, and I have taken it back.

It was down there in the trenches.

Now it’s here and I laugh at them, I laugh at them,

at the beautiful loves scythed down by death.

 

7. A la Santé (At the Santé Jail), bass.

Guillaume Apollinaire

 

I

 

Before I got into my cell

I had to strip my body bare

I heard an ominous voice say Well

Guillaume what are you doing here

 

Lazarus steps into the ground

Not out of it as he was bid

Adieu Adieu O singing round

Of years and girls the life I led

 

II

 

I’m no longer myself in here

I know

I’m number fifteen in the eleventh

Row

 

The sunlight filters downward through

The panes

And on these lines bright clowns alight

Like stains

 

They dance under my eyes while my

Ears follow

The feet of one whose feet above

Sound hollow

 

III

 

In a bear-pit like a bear

Every morning round I tramp

Round and round and round and round

The sky is like an iron clamp

In a bear-pit like a bear

Every morning round I tramp

 

In the next cell at the sink

Someone lets the water run

With his bunch of keys that clink

Let the goaler go and come

In the next cell at the sink

Someone lets the water run

 

IV

 

How bored I am between bare wall and wall

Whose colour pales and pines

A fly on the paper with extremely small

Steps runs across these lines

 

What will become of me O God Who know

My pain Who gave it me

Have pity on my dry eyes and my pallor

My chair which creaks and is not free

 

And all these poor hearts beating in this prison

And Love beside me seated

Pity above all my unstable reason

And this despair which threatens to defeat it

 

V

 

How long these hours take to go

As long as a whole funeral

 

You’ll mourn the time you mourned you know

It will be gone too soon like all

Time past

too fast too long ago

 

VI

 

I hear the noises of the city

In the turning world beyond me

I see a sky which has no pity

And bare prison walls around me

 

The daylight disappears and now

A lamp is lit within the prison

We’re all alone here in my cell

Beautiful light Beloved reason

 

8. The Zaporozhye Cossacks’ Reply

to the Sultan of Constantinople, bass.

 

More a criminal than Barabbas,

horned like a fallen angel,

what Beelzebub are you

who gorge yourself down there on filth and mire?

We shall not attend your Sabbaths.

 

Rotten fish of Salonica,

a long necklace of fearful dreams,

of eyes poked out with sticks.

Your mother farted timourously

and gave birth to you in her colic.

 

Butcher of Podolia,

lover of wounds, of ulcers, of scabs.

Pig’s snout, mare’s arse.

Keep all your riches

to pay for your medicines.

9. O, Delvig, Delvig!, bass.

Wilhelm Karlovich Küchelbecker

 

O Delvig, Delvig! What reward is there

for noble deeds and verse?

Where and what is the joy in talent

amongst villains and fools?

In Juvenal’s austere hand

the dreaded lash whistles at the villains

and wipes the color from their cheeks.

The power of the tyrants trembled.

 

O Delvig, Delvig, what is persecution?

Immortality is the reward

both of valiant, inspired deeds

and of sweet singing!

Thus our union will not die,

proud, joyful and free!

In happiness and grief, firm is the union

of lovers of the eternal Muse!

 

10. Der Tod des Dichter (The Poet’s

Death), soprano.

Rainer Maria Rilke

 

He lay. His high-propped face could only peer

in pale refusal at the silent cover,

now that the world and all this knowledge of her,

torn from the senses of her lover,

had fallen back to the unfeeling year.

 

Those who had seen him living saw no trace

of his deep unity with all that passes;

for these, these valleys here, these meadow-grasses,

these streams of running water, were his face.

 

Oh yes, his face was this remotest distance,

that seeks him still and woos him in despair;

and his mere mask, timidly dying there,

tender and open, has no more consistence

than broken fruit corrupting in the air.

 

11. Schlußstück (Conclusion), soprano and bass.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Death is great. We belong to her with laughing mouths. When we believe ourselves to be in the midst of our lives, she dares to cry inside us.

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