Posts in Category: Musical settings

From the Hill-Top by Tomas Tranströmer

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Belgian musician S.A. Barstow, A.K.A. Teun De Voeght, has just released an album of adaptations of Tomas Tranströmer poems as translated by Robin Fulton. This is one of the ten tracks from that album. You can listen to the others on his Bandcamp page.

Sonnet 97 by William Shakespeare

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I found this musical interpretation compelling; the accompanying kinestatic video isn’t bad, either. It’s a selection from The Winter E.P. – Shakespeare’s Sonnets by Hallam London, who is credited with composition, vocals, guitars, keyboards and all programming. The photos in the video were taken on Norderney Island in the North Sea by Nicola Moczek and Riklef Rambow. Visit the composer’s bandcamp page to hear more from the EP.

“Much Madness is divinest Sense…” by Emily Dickinson

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I watched this when it was first uploaded to Vimeo two years ago, but for whatever reason didn’t share it then. Perhaps I felt it was too far from the spirit of the poem as I understood it. Be that as it may, however, I think it’s important as an international and pop-cultural interpretation of Dickinson, and also may help clarify some of the differences between the related genres of music video and videopoetry.

Michal Jaskulski directs. The music is by Polish composer Andrzej Bonarek, who specializes in music for theater and film. The video garnered several awards, according to the description in Vimeo:

Los Angeles Movie Awards 2010 – Best Visual Effects in a music video, Award of Excellence
Canada International Film Festival 2010 – Royal Reel Award VSM 2010 festival – Special Recognition
Yach Film 2008 – Grand Prix nominee

IO game over by Sergio Garau

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This videopoem by Angelo Saccu, performed by Sergio Garau to music by Antonio Marra, betrays influences from all over: it’s equal parts concert video, sound poem and concrete/kinetic-text poem. I ran the YouTube description through Google Translate:

The violent encounter between political identities, economic, cultural, language here is staged through an ironic game of opposites. The ‘I’, translated into machine language 1 0 (zero), cut into pieces for binary digital misunderstood as grotesque chaos of contradictory slogans of contemporary power, explodes in a syncopated rhythm outside of himself. For tris doubly impossible breaks down the end of his world.

Three poems (Flute Boy, Marriage of Opposites and Half-caste) by John Agard

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John Agard is joined on stage by the flautist Keith Waithe, a fellow Guyanan, in an extract from a film by Pamela Robertson-Pearce called John Agard Live!, which was included as a DVD along with Agard’s 2009 collection Alternative Anthem, from Bloodaxe Books. (There’s also video of Agard reading the title poem.)

May by Karel Hynek Mácha

This is The Tone of a Broken Harp, The Sound of a Snapped String performed by the composer, Jiří Kadeřábek, and Fourbythree. It uses two brief excerpts from the poem, which may be read in its entirety here. Kadeřábek writes,

This piece is inspired by the dark, almost decadent level of the Czech romantic poem May by Karel Hynek Mácha. Poetic images of love and spring nature mix with description of ruin, despair and death. The quotations, used in the piece as well as in its title, have been taken from the latest English translation of the poem. The concept of the piece as well as the exact image of the video came to me, when I suddenly and unusually took a nap one afternoon.

My spirit – my spirit – and my soul!
that’s how his words, each one distinct,
escape from his clenched lips.
Before the voice reaches the ear
these awful words are once more nothing –
they die – as they were born.

It was late evening – first of May
was evening – the time for love.
The turtledove invited love
to where the pine grove’s fragrance lay.

The video is as effective as the music, I thought. It was put together by Avion Film and Sound Postproduction in Prague.

Epilogue (from Requiem) by Anna Akhmatova

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This film is an artifact from a performance called Black Over Red, “a multi art-form choral work combining live music, dance and video on a grand scale with a cast of 25.” It was staged in 2001, a co-production of the Latvian Radio Choir and the Scottish dance/theatre troupe Cryptic, directed by Cathie Boyd, who uploaded the video. The composer was Anthea Haddow.

Epilogue (from Anna Akhmatova’s Requiem)

1

I know now how the faces have fallen,
How from under lids gazes out terror,
How cuneiform’s coarse pages are
Incised by suffering upon their cheeks,
How curls from ashen and black turn
In a single moment completely silver,
And a smile withers on defeated lips,
And in dry laughter shudders fear.
So that now I pray not for myself only
But for us all, who stood there with me
In the intense cold and in July’s heat
Under that red and blinded wall.

*

The eternal flame, a memorial for the spilled blood of the innocent that burns throughout the middle, third minute in the bottom of the trinity of images that form this film, accompanied by the spine-tingling bass hum of the choir and the mournful vatic tones of Akhmatova’s own slowed down, staggering, ponderous reading, do honor in their faithfulness to her poem as a whole. The black (& white) documentary images of the upper third corner, while tonally appropriate, may be misleading to anyone who has no context for this, perhaps Anna Akhmatova’s best known single poem, through which she has become identified with the fate of all Russia. As she says in the prologue:

I remained with my own people then,
Where my people, in their misfortune, were.

Unlike the source images here, referencing the destruction visited upon Russia by the German Wehrmacht during WWII and, more specifically, some of the worst of it wrought upon Akhmatova’s adopted hometown, St. Petersburg during the 900-day siege in which a million people perished, most starving to death, the context of the poem is the auto-cannibalistic predation by Stalin and his henchmen upon his own people during the various purges of the late 30s. The red wall is that of the Crosses Prison, referred to earlier (in part 4,) outside which the women (mothers, wives, sisters) of the mostly male political prisoners day after day awaited news of the condemned. Again from the preface: “During the terrifying years of the Yezhov repression, I spent seventeen months in Leningrad prison lines.” And from part 4:

Three hundredth in line, care package in hand,
Under The Crosses prison wall you’ll stand
And with the heated waters of your tears
Dissolve the surface of Christmas-time ice.

The images of Orthodox churches and icons quite appropriately suggest the unifying theme of the poem as a whole which, in calendaric and apostolic fashion, consists of 12 parts and in which Akhmatova and her prisoner son are transformed into the universal mother and child so that what is symbolically enacted here is the Passion Play.

The concluding images of St. Petersburg are again faithful to the crux of the poem in that they represent a particularly Russian self-identification of the Poet with her People, Akhmatova as Russia’s conscience and Muse, a Mother Russia so to speak, an ethical, nurturing balance for the Fatherland that requires sacrifice. As she wrote in one of her most famous miniatures, contemporaneous with Requiem:

In Memoriam

And you, my close friends till Judgment Day!
I have been saved as though to mourn you,
To not be stilled as a weeping willow above
your graves but to cry aloud your names
For the whole world to hear. Enter the Saints;
All fall to your knees!–the light breaks through,
In smooth rows stream the citizens of Leningrad,
Living with the dead. For God there are no dead.

August 1942
Dyurmen’

*

NOTES

Other translations and musical settings of Akhmatova’s Requiem:

There’s an extensive literature comparing the available translations; here’s a summary by Wendy Rosslyn (via Google Books). See also the paper by George L. Kline. Lastly, I’m curious but have yet to track down Robert Lowell’s version that appeared in Atlantic Monthly 214 (1964) pp. 62-65.

Akhmatova may be heard reciting the Requiem in its entirety here [mp3] and may be seen reciting “Muse” in a YouTube snippet from a feature film. A complete collection of Akhmatova audio files in Russian are also on the web. Finally, here are five more of my own translations of Akhmatova miniatures.

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