Akhmatova Songs

Akhmatova Songs, Movement 2, Everything is Plundered Performed by Soprano Lucy Shelton & Da Capo Chamber Players

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

Chamber Score | Vocal/Piano Score Purchase Music

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 rhythm, timbre, and imagery, and I welcomed the opportunity to explore them.

I chose to set three poems: The Muse, Everything is Plundered and The Souls of All My Dears. All share themes of loss and transcendence, as does much of Akhmatova’s poetry. Having lived from 1889-1966, her creative years spanned many of the cataclysms of what she called “the real twentieth century.’

The first poem the gift of the muse, the tension and meaning of the creative process. The second ponders terrible extremities, situates them in a larger context 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. I sought to embody elements of the poetry in my music, with a tone of voice that ranges from velvet to violent. The harmonic language likewise reflects a range from consonant, though not traditionally tonal, to austere and dissonant. 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). In addition to the chamber setting for Pierrot Ensemble, there is a version for mezzo (or soprano, depending on vocal character) and piano. –JS

Poetry Translations by Sharon Leiter

1. The Muse

When late at night I wait for her arrival,
My life seems to hang by a thread.
What are homage, youth or freedom compared to
My dear guest with the flute in her hand?

And now she’s come. She sheds her heavy wrappings
And looks attentively at me. I guess,
“Are you the one who dictated to Dante
The lines of his Inferno?” She answers, “Yes.”

2. All is Plundered

All is plundered, betrayed, torn asunder,
The wing of black death gleams in flight.
All is gnawed by sorrowing hunger–
Why then have our hearts filled with light?

By day, wondrous woods near the city
Send cherries’ sweet breath drifting by.
At night the new galaxies glitter
From deep in the clear July sky.

And miracles walk near the houses
Adrift in their dirt and their stones–
That thing we’ve forever desired,
That no one has ever known.

3. The Souls of All My Dear Ones

The souls of all my dear ones are on high stars.
How good, there’s no one left for me to lose
And I can weep. The air of Tsarskoye Selo

Was made for songs to echo through.
Touching the bright September waters
A silver willow idles by the shore.
Out of the past, in silence,
My shadow comes to me once more.

So many lyres hang on these branches,
And yet. It seems, mine has a place here, too.
And now this shower, sparse and sunstruck,
Brings consolation and good news.

*Text used by permission of the author


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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