Songs of Love and Sorrow (for baritone and orchestra)
Songs of Love and Sorrow (for baritone and piano)
March 25 2010
Gerald Finley, baritone
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Jayce Ogren, conductor
1. Sonnet XLVI ("Des las estrellas que admiré,...")
2. Sonnet XII ("Plena mujer, manzana carnal, luna caliente...")
3. Sonnet LII ("Cantas y a sol y a cielo con tu canto...")
4. Sonnet LXIX (" Tal vez no ser es ser sin que tú seas...")
5. Sonnet LXXXII ("Amor mío, al cerrar esta puerta nocturna...")
NPR feature with audio excerpts (March 30 2010)
WBUR feature with audio excerpts (March 25 2010)
SchirmerNews article with vocal score excerpt (March 8 2010)
Following the premiere of the Neruda Songs in late 2005, James Levine and the BSO commissioned another work from me to be composed for my wife, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Lorraine died in July 2006 from breast cancer, and shortly thereafter I too was diagnosed with a severe cancer. I had no heart for composing at that time and wondered whether I would be able to compose any more at all, considering my condition. In the spring of 2007, following a pretty grueling regime of treatment, I had two months to contemplate the BSO commission before I had to go back again for more treatment. I initially thought I might write a cycle of farewell songs as a memorial to Lorraine and began by re-reading Neruda’s Love Sonnets. My idea was to compose a second cycle that could serve as a companion piece to the Neruda Songs, this time to be sung by a baritone.
As a curious aside, a few months later in the fall of 2007, on the very day that I was to receive 5 million of my own stem cells as a treatment for lymphoma, I heard the news that I was awarded the Grawemeyer Award for the Neruda Songs. That day also happened to be my 61st birthday.
Receiving the award was an encouraging sign but I still had no real desire to compose and instead busied myself with revising a suite of my opera, Ashoka’s Dream, and orchestrating my cantata, The World in Flower, a work that I had already completed before Lorraine died, one that was originally intended for her and Gerry Finley to perform. I did manage, though, to sketch out the beginning of a new song that later became the musical introduction to the present incarnation of the BSO song cycle, as well as the opening setting of the poem in the fourth song.
As Pablo Neruda writes and as I personally discovered to be the truth about love: “just as it never had a birth, it has no death; it is like a long river, only changing lands, and changing lips.” Love came to me again, unexpectedly, as I was recovering, and I married again. My wife, Rinchen, has been the cause for the resurgence of love and inspiration in my life. My other great joy was having more time than I expected to see my three daughters — Katherine, Kristina, and Elisabeth — grow into their womanhood.
I suppose that my life story of the past three years is not dissimilar to many others. The basic truths of love and sorrow are, I think, experiences that all of us understand very well. To have one without the other is not likely, but certainly it is our capacity to love that makes this human life so poignant.
For these reasons I chose the title, Songs of Love and Sorrow. My choice of the poems changed as I realized that this new song cycle, inspired by the poetry of Neruda, was about the fullness of all life experiences. Neruda penetrates the domains of love, sorrow, joy, and impermanence, and does so with such acuity, passion, and beauty.
Songs of Love and Sorrow is the fifth work I have had the opportunity to compose for the BSO since 1981. I feel that I have grown up as a composer with this orchestra and I think that my major works, if there are any, have been written for the BSO and with the sound of this orchestra in mind. I could not be more grateful for the opportunity to work once again with the great Boston Symphony Orchestra and two great artists, James Levine and Gerald Finley.
— Peter Lieberson