Monday, January 28, 2013

Townsend: Songs from the Poets 4

This song, on a poem by the wonderful Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1889 - 1966), is one of my favorites. The story goes like this: Akhmatova was trapped in Leningrad along with Dmitri Shostakovich during the siege of the city during WWII. It was a horrible time: one of the most brutal sieges in history. I talk about it here in connection with the Symphony No. 7 of Shostakovich, composed at the time. At first Shostakovich did not want to leave, but finally he relented and was flown out on Oct. 1, 1941 after a month of shelling. The city suffered for 900 days altogether. On that same flight out was Anna Akhmatova who wrote her poem "Music" as a hommage to Shostakovich. Here is the poem:


There is a magic burning in it,
Cutting its facets diamond clear,
And it alone calms me in minutes
When others do not dare come near.

When my last friend cast down his eyes,
It was at my side at the grave,
It sang as thunder in spring skies
As if all flowers started raving.

When I chose the poem to set as a song, it immediately occurred to me to make my music also a hommage to Shostakovich. The obvious choice for a quote was the famous march theme from the first movement of his Symphony No. 7, so I suggest you follow the link above and listen to that symphony. The little quote you hear at the beginning of the song echoes again here and there. But Shostakovich's influence can be heard throughout in things like the harmony. Like the symphony, we end in a radiant C major. You may find the images disturbing. I have chosen a photo and a painting of Akhmatova and a photo of Shostakovich. But then there are two photos from the siege of Leningrad. These clash horribly with the song at that point. But I left them because I think the whole point of the poem (and the song) is to take us into another world with "magic burning in it" where we can escape the horrors of this world and experience beauty...

UPDATE: Anna Akhmatova's dates added.

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