INTRO: Lament, for double choir
for Double Choirs of 24 female voices &
optional COLLA PARTE brass choirs
(the score is an iPad performance score of seven pages: tap to advance....)
| listen to an mp3 of the poem LAMENT / KLAGE, in English & German, read by CLIFF CREGO,
followed by a simple rhythm/pitch performance model LAMENT mp3 [4.7 Mb]
| download performance score pdf [112 Kb / prints 7 pages A3 cardstock]
Music in Space
One of the most important features of Lament is its arrangement of the ensemble.
The 24 voices are grouped together in two complementary choirs, each with
six sopranos and six altos. The piece may be performed with or without a kind
of background group of 12 brass instruments (6 tp; 4 hn; 2 alto tb) The supporting
brass choirs play almost entirely sotto voce, which here should be taken literally as
meaning 'playing under the voices.' One should imagine the piece being sung in
a large, resonant space [perfect would be the DOMKERK in Utrect, the Netherlands]*:
In principle, there is nothing new in this spatial approach. Some of the compositions
within the Western classical music literature which come first to mind are, for example,
the vocal works of Hildegard von Bingen and, more especially, the choral music of
J.S. Bach. Consider, for example, the magnificent opening of the Bach Motet for
double choir, Komm, Jesu, Komm (Come, Jesus, Come: c. 1727).
Within this spatial design, the primary musical movement is one of calling out into
the surrounding silence of a single voice. This solo voice is answered in different
ways both by the collective as a whole, and—and this is perhaps somewhat unusual,
by being enlarged as other voices joining in, all singing in unison. This results in a
kind of rhythmic expansion and contraction of the sound. Below is an example of this
kind of expanding movement taken from the beginning of the piece. (The numbers (2),
(4), (5) represent the number of singers joining in on the figure):
This effect is then amplified as it is echoed throughout the entire ensemble, on both
the left and right sides of the performance space. This makes for a very open, many-
voiced or polyphonic texture:
The complement of this open texture is a very dense, dark, complex sonority. Here,
both the left and right choirs converge in rhythmic unison, following the text closely,
For those who are new to reading music, these two contrasting textures or sonorities
might be sketched in the following way:
Lastly, another important feature of Lament is its dramatic, extreme contrasts.
These follow the sometimes surreal imagery of the text and serve to articulate or
punctuate the musical flow. The fragment below, taken from the first third
of the piece, features such a sharp, radical change. I think of these not so much as
breaks, but rather a kind of leap—that is, the music reaches a kind of climax, throwing
the sound with great energy out into space, as it were. It then, as if somewhat dazed
from a fall, quickly recomposes itself and begins afresh [the longer the echo, the
longer one should 'stretch out' the pause between radical contrasts]:
The text of Lament is an English translation of a poem from The Book of Images.
by Rainer Maria Rilke. I have chosen to work with the English text simply because I wanted
to bring it to the vocal groups most likely to perform it 'closer to home.' But also I wished
to grant myself a certain degree of freedom in working musically with the sounds of individual
words and phrases. My basic attitude to the German originals is that the music in the sound
of German is already so abundantly there, so to speak, that they are best left respectfully alone.
(I remember once running out of the room upon hearing a symphonic version of a Rilke poem
I knew very well, Vorgefühl (Ich bin wie eine Fahne von Fernen umgeben...), by a famous
Rilke contemporary. The contorted contours of the soprano line seemed completely arbitrary
to me, torturing my ears. For an overview of Rilke's poetry set to music, visit the German
website: Lied Texts. Includes Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Hindemith, Stockhausen, Barber...)
Many things could be said about the quality of voice which reveals itself in Klage. Rilke
composed an abundance of different kinds of verse, from very strict (and sometimes some-
what rigid) classical 14-line sonnets, to strikingly modern sounding (also in the German)
free-form pieces. Klage is an example of the latter. The key features which concern me here,
given the musical context, are its variable length of the phrase and the magical way in which
irregular, unexpected rhyming patterns and meaning converge:
O wie ist alles fern
und lange vergangen.
Ich glauben, der Stern,
von welchem ich Glanz empfangen,
ist seit Jahrtausenden tot.
Ich glaube, im Boot,
das vorüber führ,
hörte ich etwas banges sagen.
Im Hause hat eine Uhr
geschlagen . . .
In welchem Haus? . . .
Ich möchte aus meinem Herzen hinaus
unter den großen Himmel treten.
Ich möchten beten.
Und einer von allen Sternen
müßte wirklich noch sein.
Ich glaube, ich wüßte,
welcher wie eine weiße Stadt
am Ende des Strahls in den Himmeln steht . . .
O How everything is so far away
Here is another example of this quality of movement, taken from a poem in The Book of Hours,
one which the North American poet and translator, Robert Bly, has made famous with his remarkable
performances. It is worth noting here perhaps that this highly original sequence of images, and
the manner in which sound and sense are somehow one, would most likely not have been possible
had Rilke started with some other type of pre-set form. On the other hand, it was probably the discipline
of the sonnet that gave him the tremendous technical virtuosity he needed to manifest the newer,
Nirgends will ich gebogen bleiben,
denn dort bin ich gelogen, wo ich gebogen bin.
Und ich will meinen Sinn
wahr vor dir. Ich will mich beschreiben
wie ein Bild, das ich sah,
lange und nah,
wie ein Wort, das ich begriff,
wie meinen täglichen Krug,
wie meiner Mutter Gesicht,
wie ein Schiff,
das mich trug
durch den tödlichsten Sturm.
Nowhere do I want to remain folded,
for where I am bent and folded, there I am lie.
And I want my meaning
true for you. In want to describe myself
like a painting that I studied
closely for a long, long time,
like a word I finally understood,
like the pitcher of water I use every day,
like the face of my mother,
like a ship
that carried me
through the deadliest storm of all.
In conclusion, just let me say that, more than any of these, for me, highly significant compositional
features, it is perhaps the depth of feeling ones senses in this poetry, now almost one hundred years old
and in my view without peer in the English language literature, that has moved me to
attempt to give it musical form.
* IF I WERE doing LAMENT in a resonant space like the DOMKERK, I would begin
with a long spatial drone on the openning c-sharp. I might have one soprano on stage.
And then have the voices move from back to front, very slowly. The two brass choirs
we be up in the choirs, all playing pp c-sharps of varying durations, with some subtle
crescendi & demenuendi, etc. All the while, the solo soprano might do very slowly
the English text, with the other voices sustaining the c-sharp with the German text
whispered as interpolations. Then, still over the voice and/or brass drone, I might have
all voices do the text, slowly, and still mp, the text in loose rhythmic unison. A bit of
silence, and then, further, with brass coming onstage, playing all the while the drone
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