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Peter Lieberson

Publisher: AMP

The Six Realms (2000)
Publisher
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Category
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
2000
Duration
25 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Cello
Programme Note
Peter Lieberson The Six Realms (2000)
In addition to silk and other precious goods, the Silk Road helped disseminate Buddhism, one of its earliest, and most valuable, cultural exports. For almost thirty years, Peter Lieberson has been a devout Buddhist, having studied with the great Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist master he met in 1974. Says Lieberson, "Buddhism's appeal to me in the early 1970s was that it was not a religion in the conventional Western sense. Buddhism did not posit the existence of any external deity or savior or, for that matter, an individual personal ego...The basic message of the great Buddhist masters was: Be brave enough to experience existence without dogma or beliefs of any kind."

Lieberson left New York City in 1976 for Boulder, Colorado, to absorb the Tibetan master's wisdom, especially the concepts, experiences, and views of the Shambhala tradition as presented by Trungpa in his book Shambhala: the Sacred Path of the Warrior. "I went to a Buddhist seminary where I studied intensively for three months," Lieberson has said. "When I started writing music again, my style had changed...There was less sense of struggle...the horizon expanded. It's as if you had tunnel vision, and then you have panoramic vision. Studying Buddhism also affected my approach to composing [in that] I understand there's a kind of journey that's made." After completing his studies, Lieberson directed Shambhala Training, a meditation and cultural program, for a number of years, both in Boston and in Halifax, all the while building an international reputation as a composer. Observed writer Victoria Roth in 1989: "Since Lieberson's commitment to Buddhism is intensely personal, it is not reflected in compositions that sound 'Eastern'." Lieberson has devoted his time exclusively to composition since 1994. Although his musical language has not changed greatly, most of his works now deal with Buddhist subjects or concepts. It is a philosophy as life-giving for Lieberson as air itself.

At the request of Yo-Yo Ma, who had played in the 1992 premiere of King Gesar, Lieberson conceived a concerto for amplified cello and orchestra, entitled The Six Realms, that outlines a key Buddhist teaching: that differing states of mind and emotions color our view of the world and shape human experience. This philosophy is reflected in the piece's formal structure (see diagram below); each of the concerto's six continuous sections represents a different state of being.

The Six Realms is structured as follows:

  • 1. The Sorrow of the World (introduction)
  • 2. The Hell Realm (aggression: acute, self-perpetuating anger at the world and ourselves)
  • 3. The Hungry Ghost Realm (passion: the need to possess or continually consume; we are never satisfied because we can never get enough)
  • 4. The Animal Realm (ignorance: an obsessive need to control or to find security)
  • 5. The Human Realm (passion: the desire for something better, and a lessening of self-absorption, allows for the possibility of our becoming dignified humans who long for liberation from these six realms of existence. It is only from this realm that we are able to move on to achieve Enlightenment: the right way to view, and interact with, the world.)
  • 6. The God Realm (ignorance: blissful self-absorption of our godlike powers, until doubt sets in and shatters our confidence) and The Jealous God Realm (aggression: extreme paranoia and competitive drive; we never trust anyone or their motives)

  • Put simply, Buddhists believe that humans cycle back and forth, endlessly, through these six states, experiencing the concomitant afflictions that attach themselves to each level. In Lieberson's Six Realms, the cello soloist acts as emotional protagonist and the orchestra's "guide" — a cousin to the Romantic concerto's "hero" — leading all of us from realm to realm until we finally are able to liberate ourselves from this misery-inducing cycle. By simply letting go of the neurotic attachments in our lives, we become fully aware of our self-destructive behavioral and thought patterns, thereby achieving spiritual fulfillment as the realms collapse upon themselves. Counterbalancing this concerto's Eastern philosophy is Lieberson's Western, modernist musical language. Although not programmatic, the piece's subtle use of musical imagery allows the listener without any previous knowledge of Buddhist tenets to grasp its depiction of universal human experiences.


    Learn about other music from the Silk Road.




    • Ensemble
      Odense Symphony
      Soloist(s)
      Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, mezzo-soprano / William Purvis, horn / Michaela Fukacova, violoncello / Peter Serkin, piano
      Bridge Records:
    Performances
    Date
    Title
    Reviews
    Lieberson's The Six Realms unfolds like a rhapsody on Buddhist themes. The solo part is lyrical and impassioned throughout. The style of the writing is broadly romantic. The large orchestra is colorfully deployed, with just enough allusions to Chinese musical practices to be exotic without condescension. The music feels like a journey, without a great deal of obvious recapitulation, yet there's a deep coherence in the way Lieberson shifts from one of kind of motion or density to another. He's obviously a skilled composer, with a gift for orchestral drama.
    Robert Everett-Green , Toronto Globe and Mail,1/1/0001
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