Songs of Love & Remembrance
16-song cycle for small ensemble and soloists
(1990)

 

- Instrumentation: -

2 violins
viola
cello
double bass
flute
clarinet
harp
soprano/mezzo-soprano/tenor/baritone soloists

- Duration: -

Approximately 40 minutes.

- Recordings & Soundclips: -

There is a good quality live recording of this work (enquire via Daniel X Music).

- Score: -

Available from composer - please enquire.

- Premieres/Performances: -

‘Songs of Love & Remembrance’ was premiered by The Keith Burstein Ensemble at The Purcell Room, Southbank, London, 1993.

- Composer’s comments: -

Assembled between 1990 and 1993, the sixteen songs of this cycle are divided into four sections of four songs, each sung in turn by mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone and high (very high, as in top F sharp) soprano.

The singers never sing together, and the effect is perhaps of a play shattered into its several characters with the audience left to infer internal relationships.The acerbic snapshots of intense emotion stand in an enigmatic relation to each other, but the stratospheric final songs for high soprano lead the music into ethereal heights that suggest, to me, an ascension through the glimpsed drama.

I wrote the words myself - always a delicate decision for a composer. Unless setting pre-existent poetry, the composer is likely to play an active role in the moulding of words, even if they are written by another or external source. But to actually create the words, as well as the music, is to risk an expressive tautology.

The two composers that come to mind in this regard are Tippett and Wagner. The former claimed to have been advised by T.S. Eliot to write his own words for the opera ‘Midsummer Marriage’ (which he had originally hoped that Eliot would pen) and the received wisdom is that it was a shame that Eliot didn’t do it. My own view is that it was only Tippett’s words that enabled him to realize the ravishing music (and therefore meaning, in the operatic sense) of ‘Midsummer Marriage’. In the case of Wagner, writing the libretti for the four ‘Ring Cycle’ operas in reverse order - and then setting them to music in forward order, over many years - raises an image of such heroic diligence (and again, music of such splendour) that all argument is nullified by the outcome.

Music (as has been famously said by Mendelssohn) is inexpressible not because it is more vague than words, but because it is more precise. I would err to that view, and to a suspicion that it is the music that gives birth to the words rather than the other way round. For many years (before the advent of surtitles) we have listened to opera without being sure of every word, and yet have been able to follow the drama through the music. Now that we do have surtitles, we only find in what infinite detail composers have sought to render the meaning of the words they set.

When working with Dic Edwards on our opera ‘Manifest Destiny’, I asked him to keep the text as concise as he could, music hugely expanding upon words; and, with dubiously dark humour, suggested he thought of each sentence as an unexploded bomb that I would detonate with musical meaning.

- Keith Burstein, 15th November 2009


 

 

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