Posts in Category: Musical settings

Velimir Khlebnikov: Children of the Otter

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Contemporary Russian composer Vladimir Martynov discusses his suite, Children of the Otter, which incorporates Tuvan music and throat-singing, and is based upon the “supersaga” of the same title (also translated as “Otter’s Children”) by the early 20th-century Russian futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov. The interview was conducted shortly before the premiere of the work in the city of Perm, near the Ural mountains, last September. The Vimeo page describes the background of the piece in considerable detail.

The story of “Children of the Otter” began in the summer of 2008 when producers Vladimir Oboronko and Alexander Cheparukhin, long-time friends and GreenWave Music partners, approached a renowned Russian contemporary composer Vladimir Martynov.

The idea was very simple: create a composition that would blend ancient sound of Tuvan folk music with the sound of contemporary chamber orchestra.

The Tuvan side of the music would be represented by Huun Huur Tu, the foremost Tuvan band, with which Cheparukhin had been working since the early 1990s and Oboronko joined him in 2005. The contemporary side of the music would be represented by Vladimir Martynov’s composing and Moscow chamber orchestra Opus Posth’s performing.

Vladimir Martynov agreed to work on the project during the first meeting. He knew Huun Huur Tu’s music, saw them live, and was excited about using contemporary composing techniques to blend the ancient Tuvan sound with avant-garde sensibilities of Opus Posth.

He wrote a composition for Huun Huur Tu, Opus Posth, and choir, and also incorporated poetry of Velimir Khlebnikov, famous Russian futurist poet of early 20th century. The composition was named “Children of the Otter” after the name of one of Khlebnikov’s poems.

Excerpts from the 75-minute composition. Again, see the video description for full details. A DVD of the performance is slated for release this month.

Ozymandius by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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This video is the work of Tasmanian “freelance visualisation consultant” Peter Morse. The music was composed by Glenn Rogers and performed by Alistair Foote, Penelope Reynolds and Samantha Podeu. Morse describes the project as follows:

The Video & Text

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s classic poem (1818) is used in the video in relation to romantic and Neoclassical architecture, with particular reference to Boullée and Speer, as a kind of critique of the ideology of power articulated by these architectures. The poem ‘Ozymandias’ is a vivid portrayal of the vanity of demagoguery and monumentalism, explored here as a trope for the moral ambiguities of these unbuilt architectures, that stand as fascinating historical symbols of the folly of certain types of power, albeit from varying political persuasions. The strong counterpoint of the ‘modernity’ of the score with the inflated Neoclassicism of the architecures is an attempt to dramatise the counterpoint of these different aesthetics, both of which have struggled for power in this last century. Ironically, these buildings will ever be as virtual as they are here: fictions of history re-imagined via computer simulation.

The Music

Ozymandias is mostly based on the enigmatic minor and the enigmatic major scales. These are rather unusual and obscure scales not generally associated with Western music. In the more polyrhythmic and densely orchestrated sections the inversions of both these scales are used. In some sections notes from the enigmatic scales act as pedal points (tonal centres). From these pedal points are used their associated harmonic series and their inversions to generate a palindromic type of effect. These techniques were largely employed as formal compositional methodologies and may not be obviously audible in the music.

Note: This was the ‘blurb’ from the “Liminal” interactive CD-ROM (2000). The video was made on a Mac in 1998, using 3D animation and compositing, with footage shot in Berlin.

“Falling ill…” by Anna Akhmatova

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A 1922 poem by Akhmatova turned into an art song by Russian-Israeli composer Zlata Razdolina, who is also the singer and videographer. According to her website, “Most of her repertoire of more than six hundred romances and songs is composed of the famous Russian classical poets, A. Akhmatova, N.Gumilyov, O. Mandelstam, M. Tsvetayeva, A. Blok, I. Severyanin, S.Yesenin and others.”

The English translation used for the subtitles is by Judith Hemschemeyer.

In-di-vi-sível (Indivisible) by Márcio-André

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Footage of a performance by Brazilian sound-poet Márcio-André. Brazil has had a thriving avant-garde poetry culture for decades, so I thought it only fitting to pay tribute to it here on Moving Poems at the end of a week featuring Brazilian videopoetry.

Many of Márcio-André’s projects don’t require a grasp of Portuguese to appreciate, being more sound than poetry. One that I found especially intriguing is his online Dot-Matrix Symphony. The instructions say (I think) to push play and then pause for all nine videos, then when they’ve all downloaded, start them going as close to simultaneously as possible.

Spleen by Charles Baudelaire

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Baudelaire’s famous poem from Flowers of Evil turned into a chanson by Léo Ferré, from a recital given in 1969. The Fench text and multiple English translations may be found here; I’ve appended the translation by Edna St. Vincent Millay, which may or may not be the best (I don’t know French), but is certainly the most song-like.

When the low, heavy sky weighs like the giant lid
Of a great pot upon the spirit crushed by care,
And from the whole horizon encircling us is shed
A day blacker than night, and thicker with despair;

When Earth becomes a dungeon, where the timid bat
Called Confidence, against the damp and slippery walls
Goes beating his blind wings, goes feebly bumping at
The rotted, moldy ceiling, and the plaster falls;

When, dark and dropping straight, the long lines of the rain
Like prison-bars outside the window cage us in;
And silently, about the caught and helpless brain,
We feel the spider walk, and test the web, and spin;

Then all the bells at once ring out in furious clang,
Bombarding heaven with howling, horrible to hear,
Like lost and wandering souls, that whine in shrill harangue
Their obstinate complaints to an unlistening ear.

— And a long line of hearses, with neither dirge nor drums,
Begins to cross my soul. Weeping, with steps that lag,
Hope walks in chains; and Anguish, after long wars, becomes
Tyrant at last, and plants on me his inky flag.

A Julia de Burgos (To Julia de Burgos)

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Julia de Burgos‘ poem to her public self (Spanish text here). Leonard Bernstein conducts the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival Orchestra in a television performance of a work he composed, Songfest, which borrows texts from various American poets. Daisy Newman is the soprano. In a 1986 review of a Deutsche Grammophon recording, Music critic Edward Greenfield wrote,

If I had to choose one work of Bernstein’s for my Desert Island, it would certainly be Songfest, a cycle of 12 American poems which in its sharpness of imagination brings out Bernstein’s finest qualities. Rather like Britten in the Nocturne and the Serenade, he combines musical ingenuity with illuminatingly poetic response to each poem. The result is not just witty and brilliant, as you would expect, but often intensely beautiful and deeply moving, as in the haunting Whitman love poem and the radiant setting for women’s trio of Anne Bradstreet’s poem ”To my dear and loving husband”.

To watch the entire song cycle on YouTube, start here.

I’m not sure which translation they used for the subtitles (perhaps Bernstein’s own?) but a better one, by Jack Agüeros, may be read here.

Metempsícosis by Juan Ramón Molina

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A poem by the great prophetic poet of modernismo, Juan Ramón Molina, turned into a heavy metal song (minus a few verses) by the Honduran band Delirium, in homage to the poet on the centenary of his death. The song is also currently available on the band’s MySpace page.

METEMPSÍCOSIS

Del ancho mar sonoro fui pez en los cristales,
que tuve los reflejos de gemas y metales.
Por eso amo la espuma, los agrios peñascales,
las brisas salitrosas, los vívidos corales.

Después, aleve víbora de tintes caprichosos,
magnéticas pupilas, colmillos venenosos.
Por eso amo las ciénagas, los parajes umbrosos,
los húmedos crepúsculos, los bosques calurosos.

Pájaro fui en seguida en un vergel salvaje,
que tuve todo el iris pintado en el plumaje.
Amo flores y nidos, el frescor del ramaje,
los extraños insectos, lo verde del paisaje.

Tornéme luego en águila de porte audaz y fiero,
tuve alas poderosas, garras de fino acero.
Por eso amo la nube, el alto pico austero,
el espacio sin límites, el aire vocinglero.

Después, león bravío de profusa melena,
de tronco ágil y fuerte y mirada serena.
Por eso amo los montes donde su pecho truena,
las estepas asiáticas, los desiertos de arena.

Hoy (convertido en hombre por órdenes obscuras),
siento en mi ser los gérmenes de existencias futuras.
Vidas que han de encumbrarse a mayores alturas
o que han de convertirse en génesis impuras.

¿A qué lejana estrella voy a tender el vuelo,
cuando se llegue la hora de buscar otro cielo?
¿A qué astro de ventura o planeta de duelo,
irá a posarse mi alma cuando deje este suelo?

¿O descendiendo en breve (por secretas razones),
de la terrestre vida todos los escalones,
aguardaré, en el limbo de largas gestaciones,
el sagrado momento de nuevas ascensiones?

Say what you will about heavy metal or Juan Ramón Molina; I think they’re a good fit for each other!

(UPDATE) Thanks to commenter Enrique (see below), here’s an English translation:

METEMPSYCHOSIS

I was a fish in the mirrors of the sonorous ocean wide,
where I beheld the glimmer of gems and metals;
that is the reason why I love the foam, the sourly
rocky shores, the briny gales, and the vivid choral reefs.

Then I was a treacherous viper of shifty tints,
magnetic pupils, and poisonous fangs; that is
the reason why I love the swamps, the shadowy trails,
the crepuscular wetlands, and the steamy forests.

Thereafter, I became a bird in a wild garden.
I had my entire iris painted on my plumage.
Yes, I love flowers, nests, the cool branches,
rare insects, and the green colors of landscapes.

Soon I turned into an eagle of bold and feral sight.
I had mighty wings and fine iron-wrought talons;
reason why I love the clouds, the stark mountain tops,
the boisterous winds, and the limitless skies.

I once became a brave lion of profuse mane,
of rapid yet strong backlash and a serene gaze;
that is why I love the plains where he roars
like thunder, the desert sands, and the Asian steppes.

Now (turned into a Man under obscure measures),
I feel within me the germs of future existences,
lives that shall rise and soar to find higher reaches,
or else should turn into entities of impure genesis.

Towards which distant star shall I direct my flight
when the time comes to look for another heaven?
On what venturous celestial body or grieving planet
shall my soul rest when I depart from this land?

Or is it that (by undisclosed reasons) descending
all the stairways of my brief terrestrial life,
in a limbo of long gestations, I shall lie in wait
for the sacred moment of renewed ascensions?

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