Akhmatova Songs

Excerpt: “Everything is Plundered”

Instrumentation: Sop/Mezzo, Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Cello, Piano
Also available for Sop/Mezzo and Piano
Duration: 13:30
Commission: Sistrum Ensemble
Premiere: 5/5/86
Sistrum New Music Ensemble
Strathmore Hall, Rockville, MD

Program Note:
The composition of Akhmatova Songs was inspired by Stanley Kunitz’s translations of this poetry. However, I decided to set the poetry in the original Russian, with the help of my colleague and friend, poet Sharon Leiter, who penned a transliteration, and whose own translation of the three poems accompanies the score. The Russian has its own particular rhythm, sonic contour and imagery, and I welcomed the opportunity to explore them. The three poems in this group share themes of loss and transcendence, as does much of Akhmatova’s poetry. Having lived from 1889-1966, Akhmatova’s creative years spanned many of the cataclysms that characterized what she called “the real twentieth century”. Her poems Requiem and Poem Without a Hero are two of her most eloquent responses.

I chose to set three poems: The Muse, Everything is Plundered, and The Souls of All My Dears. The first concerns the gift of the muse, the tension and meaning of the creative process. The second ponders terrible extremities, puts them in a larger perspective, and reflects on human resilience. The last is a poignant tribute to Akhmatova’s own past, with her early years spent in Tsarskoye Selo where Pushkin had attended the Lyceum. Here, she sees her own place as a singer of poems. In my musical setting, scored for mezzo, flute, clarinet, violin, and cello, I sought to embody elements of the poetry, with a tone of voice that ranges from velvet to violent. The harmonic language likewise reflects a range from consonant, though not tonal, to austere and dissonant.

My musical setting, originally scored for Pierrot Ensemble, is also revised for soprano or mezzo (depending on vocal range and quality) and piano. As in the original, I sought to embody elements of the poetry, with a tone of voice that ranges from velvet to violent. The harmonic language likewise reflects a range from consonant and warm, to austere and dissonant. The original chamber version of Akhmatova Songs was commissioned and premiered by the Sistrum Ensemble at Strathmore Hall in Rockville, MD in 1986. It was recorded by soprano Lucy Shelton and Da Capo Chamber Players on Dreamtigers, a CD of Shatin’s chamber music (Innova 613).–JS

Press Quote:
“Judith Shatin’s powerful “Akhmatova Songs” are luminous settings of three poems by the iconic Russian poet. While handsomely contrasting in mood, all three songs boast crystalline text settings and an ear for darkly glittering instrumental sonorities. The arresting second song, “All Is Plundered,” speaks of how the void left by an unnamed catastrophe is filled by an improbable sense of hope. Shatin sets the text with gleaming vocal lines that soar high above a roiling cauldron of strings, woodwinds, and piano. Pamela Dellal was the excellent vocal soloist. Shatin’s work was a standout…” –The Boston Globe


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