• Richard Danielpour
  • Sonnets to Orpheus, Book 2 (1994)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)
  • fl, cl, hn, perc, pf, 2vn, va, vc, db
  • Baritone
  • 25 min

Programme Note

Work on Sonnets to Orpheus began on May 22, 1994, in Italy and was completed at Yaddo, an artists retreat in Saratoga Springs, New York, two months later on July 22, 1994. Book Two is intended as a continuation of my first volume of settings of Sonnets to Orpheus (which was written for Dawn Upshaw and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, which commissioned and premiered the work in 1992), but is in no way dependent on the first book for performance. With the exception of some additional percussion and a baritone soloist in place of a soprano, the instrumentation remains the same: flute, B-flat clarinet, French horn, piano, percussion, string quartet and double bass.

The idea of setting part of Rilke’s powerful work was made possible by Stephan Mitchell’s outstanding English translation. Mitchell’s work is imbued with an unadorned naturalness, always respectful of the meaning and especially the spirit of the poetry without ever becoming stiff or overtly formal. And while I have no problem with the German language (and especially Rilke’s abundantly rich German lyricism), I feel inclined as an American composer, writing for a largely American audience, to be setting English to music.

Rilke composed the Sonnets in a white heat of productivity after a long creative drought in February, 1922. He is said to have the first part containing 26 sonnets in three days (!). in his own words, he could do nothing but, "surrender, purely and obediently to the dictation of this inner impulse…” Indeed, if there is a theme that underlies the entire work (and particularly those sonnets that I have chose for my cycles) it is that of surrender – or the invitation to live fully by surrendering one’s a priori rigidities and hence ones fear of death and life. By including death, emptiness and even sadness into ones awareness instead of hiding from it or cosmetisizing it, Rilke believed one was more open to the possibility of being alive and living in truly creative, rather than neurotic, way.

And yet, the quest for grace made manifest in these great poems is cloaked with an extraordinary gentleness, compassion and intimacy (Mitchell’s translation further emphasizes this side of Rilke). It is for this reason that, notwithstanding the magnitude of expression in these poems, that I chose a smaller ensemble to that of an orchestra for the settings.

---Richard Danielpour