• vn, vc, pf
  • Tenor
  • 25 min

Programme Note


In the last several years, Richard Danielpour has turned to Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926) upon two occasions as the superb source of poetic texts for songs. In 1992, he composed the cycle for soprano and mixed chamber ensemble, Sonnets to Orpheus, setting six poems from Rilke’s own collection of the same name written in 1922 and ’23. This year, he again took textual inspiration from Rilke, a “teacher” of artistic aesthetics he considers as important as any philosopher might be. Four Songs of the Night comprise a “night of the soul” cycle, treating love, loss and solitude, that, in Rilke’s words, are an eloquent revelation of the soul’s need to experience the darker facets of life in order to find wholeness and light.

Born to German parents living in Prague, Rilke is widely regarded, not as a modernist poet, but as the last of symbolist poets. To quote the words of Rilke scholar, Robert Hass, his intimate poems “have the feeling of being written from a great depth in himself,” speaking with a voice thatcall us “out of ourselves, or…into the deepest places in ourselves…” It is poetry of particularly “sculptural articulation,” rife with lyrical imagery, visual and aural metaphors, “actively made” in the same crafted sense as the concentrated sculpture of Auguste Rodin (whose secretary he became in 1902, and to whom his New Poems of 1907, 1908 were dedicated).

Love sons, from New Poems, First Part, 1907 is much like an extended orchestral movement. With heartfelt intensity, the poet wrestles with the seemingly unfathomable enigma of the inextricable, intimate bond of two souls, held in a spiritual, mystical union by a master “musician.”

Loving protection, loss, and absence, “more mysterious and hopeful to Rilke than any presence,” seems to take on the character of a faded memory in Lullaby, from New Poems, Second Part, 1908.

”You who never arrived…” is a poem written in Paris in 1914. Here, the inner emptiness that underlies so much of Rilke’s work assumes a more desperate quality, perhaps the real night-darkness of emotional loneliness.

Evening is one of the poems in the second edition of The Book of Pictures, undated, but possibly written in Sweden in the summer of 1904 (while he was associated with Rodin). The visual symbolism, conveying more a sense of immeasurable finite and infinite solitude than of loneliness, is expressed through majestic, yet intimate cadences.