Cztery pieśni do poematów Anny Achmatowej (Four Poems by Anna Akhmatova), Op. 41 (György Kurtág)
Kurtág is a multilingual composer. Apart from his mother tongue, Hungarian, he has composed music to Russian, English, German, French, Romanian, Ancient Greek and Latin texts. In this rich, almost Babel-like mixture of languages, Russian plays a special role. In addition to the work featured in this concert, Russian is the language of his work for mixed choir, Omaggio a Luigi Nono (Op. 16), of the Messages of the Late Miss R. V. Troussova (Op. 17) for solo soprano and ensemble; Scenes from a Novel (Op. 19) for solo soprano, violin, double-bass and cimbalom; Requiem for the Beloved, consisting of four songs for soprano voice and piano (Op. 26); and of Songs of Despair and Sorrow, for double mixed choir and instrumental ensemble (Op. 18). The teaching of Russian was compulsory in Hungary in the decades of Socialism, and consequently there was some antipathy to the language. Kurtág being a child of his time, it was not in school that he learnt Russian, but in his fifties he discovered the charms of that language. Soon he was reading Dostoyevsky in the original, and the best of 19th- and 20th-century Russian poetry. The Russian-language compositions begin appearing in his œuvre from the turn of the 1970s and 1980s. (He composed Troussova between 1976 and 1980). For Kurtág, Russian is just as “sacral“ a language as Latin was for Stravinsky. Sacrality in this case also means the highest degree of individuality – the possibility of insight into the depths of life and death. As if Russian was the only language capable of expressing suffering. It is noticeable that a significant proportion of the Russian texts set to music by Kurtág are “ladies’ poetry“ – messages from the female soul. In the development of the intimate relationship between the composer and the Russian language, a major part was played by Kurtág’s personal acquaintance with Rimma Dalos, the Russian poetess living in Hungary who wrote the lyrics of Omaggio, Troussova, Scenes and the Requiem. He first set to music verses by Anna Akhmatova in 1979, in the second chorus of Omaggio.
The first performance of György Kurtág’s song-cycle written to poems by Anna Ahmatova took place on 3rd January 2009, in the Carnegie Hall, New York. Begun in 1997, this composition gained its definitive form only in 2008, because the young Russian singer for whom Kurtág intended the work, Natalia Zagorinskaya, lost her voice for a time. The exceptionally intimate relationship between the text and the music is evidence that Kurtág the composer originally imagined the songs as a single vocal solo; the parts for the instrumental ensemble, with their characteristic colours, only later became paired with the vocal solo. The Russian language and the identification with the female character make the Akhmatova songs an organic sequel or rather a belated successor to the song-cycles Messages of the late R.V. Troussova and Scenes from a Novel. At the same time, the style of the later composition, particularly the handling of the singing voice, has become much simpler, better clarified than that of the early cycles, without losing any of its power of dramatic expression. The first song, Pushkin, reacts sensitively to every word of the Akhmatova poem, which manages in seven concise lines to sum up the great Russian poet’s portrait. The second poem, To Alexander Blok, preserves the memory of a visit to the great contemporary poet, the music creating a folksy, dance-like Russian atmosphere, and brings to the surface the restrained but deep-seated eroticism of the poem. The subject of the next poem is Blok’s funeral, accompanied by the folk ensemble of cimbalom, violin and double bass. (The same apparatus comes to life in this work that Kurtág uses in the cycle entitled Scenes from a Novel.) Just as in Schumann’s cycle, after the erotic desire of the second song, now the female soul experiences the loss of the loved one, the stage of mourning. The closing song, entitled Voronezh, paints a desolate picture of the ice-bound city, the storms of history and the horrors of war. In the poet’s chamber, terror and the muse stand guard. Amid the horrors of the outside world, only creative work can provide a little relief – this is the musical message of the epilogue of the work.
Кто знает, что такое слава!
Какой ценой купил он право,
Возможность или благодать
Над всем так мудро и лукаво
Шутить, таинственно молчать
И ногу ножкой называть?...
7 марта 1943, Ташкенm
Я пришла к поэту в гости.
Ровно в полдень. Воскресенье.
Тихо в комнате просторной,
А за окнами мороз
И малиновое солнце
Над лохматым сизым дымом...
Как хозяин молчаливый
Ясно смотрит на меня!
У него глаза такие,
Что запомнить каждый должен;
Мне же лучше, осторожной,
В них и вовсе не глядеть.
Но запомнится беседа,
Дымный полдень, воскресенье
В доме сером и высоком У морских ворот Невы.
А Смоленская нынче именинница,
Синий ладан над травою стелется.
И струится пенье панихидное,
Не печальное нынче, а светлое.
И приводят румяные вдовушки
На кладбище мальчиков и девочек
Поглядеть на могилы отцовские,
А кладбище - роща соловьиная,
От сиянья солнечного замерло.
Принесли мы Смоленской заступнице,
Принесли Пресвятой Богородице
На руках во гробе серебряном
Наше солнце, в муке погасшее, -
Александра, лебедя чистого.
И город весь стоит оледенелый.
Как под стеклом деревья, стены, снег.
По хрусталям я прохожу несмело.
Узорных санок так неверен бег.
А над Петром воронежским – вороны,
Да тополя, и свод светло-зеленый,
Размытый, мутный, в солнечной пыли,
И Куликовской битвой веют склоны
Могучей, победительной земли.
И тополя, как сдвинутые чаши,
Над нами сразу зазвенят сильней,
Как будто пьют за ликованье наше
На брачном пире тысячи гостей.
А в комнате опального поэта
Дежурят страх и муза в свой черед.
И ночь идет,
Которая не ведает рассвета.
4 марта 1936
Who knows what such fame is like!
At what price did he buy the right,
The possibility or the paradise
To joke about it all so wisely and cunningly,
To be mysteriously silent,
And to call a foot a “footsie”?
7th March 1943, Tashkent
translated by Judith Hemschemeyer
For Alexander Blok
I came to the poet as a guest.
Exactly at noon. On Sunday.
Beyond the window, frost,
Quiet in the room’s space.
And a raspberry tinted sun
Above tangles of blue smoke...
How clearly the taciturn
Master turns, on me, his look!
His eyes are of that kind
Remembered by one and all:
Better take care, mind:
Don’t gaze at them at all.
But I remember our words,
Smoky noon, of a Sunday,
In that high grey house
By the Neva’s sea-way.
translated by A. S. Kline
Today is the name day of Our Lady of
Dark blue incense drifts over the grass,
And the flowing of the Requiem
Is no longer sorrowful, but radiant.
And the rosy little widows lead
Their boys and girls to the cemetery
To visit father’s grave.
But the graveyard—a grove of nightin-
Grows silent from the sun’s bright blaze.
We have brought to the Intercessor of
We have brought to the Holy Mother of
In our hands in a silver coffin
Our sun, extinguished in torment—
Alexander, pure swan.
Translated by Judith Hemschemeyer
For Osip Mandelshtam
And the town is frozen solid in a vice,
Trees, walls, snow, beneath the glass.
Over crystal, on slippery tracks of ice,
Painted sleighs and I, together, pass.
And over St Peter’s poplars, crows
A pale green dome there that glows,
Dim in sun-shrouded dust.
The field of heroes lingers in my thought,
Kulikovo’s barbarian battleground caught.
Frozen poplars, like glasses for a toast,
Clash now, more noisily, overhead.
As though at our wedding, and the crowd
Drinking our health and happiness.
But Fear and the Muse take turns to
The room where the exiled poet is banished,
And the night, marching at full pace,
Of approaching dawn, has no knowledge.
4th March 1936
translated by A. S. Kline