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Richard Danielpour

Publisher: AMP

A Woman's Life (2007),
Text Writer
Maya Angelou
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
28 Minutes
Programme Note
Richard Danielpour A Woman's Life (2007),

October 16 2009
Angela Brown, soprano
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Leonard Slatkin, conductor
Pittsburgh, PA

Maya Angelou
from The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (Random House)

Composer Note:
A Woman’s Life was composed in the summer of 2007 for Angela Brown. It was Angela who premiered the role of 'Cilla' in my opera Margaret Garner in 2005, and while I was consistently impressed by her artistry and power onstage (she sang the role in Philadelphia and Cincinnati), I was especially taken with her graciousness and deep compassion for all of her colleagues. And so when she brought up the idea of my writing a cycle expressly for her I became instantly interested in finding the right combination of forces needed to bring such a thing into being.

When I asked Angela in 2006 if she had a preference of a poet who would provide texts for the cycle, she unhesitatingly mentioned Maya Angelou. At that time she didn't know that Dr. Angelou had been my friend and collaborator (in 1998 with a work entitled Portraits) and that I had also wanted to create a new piece with her.

I went to see Maya Angelou at her New York townhouse with my wife Kathleen in early July 2006 — I wanted to see if she would write texts that would show the trajectory of a woman’s life, from childhood to old age. When I asked her about this she informed me that she already had it and that she would read them to us.

And so without hesitation, holding our hands at her dining room table, she read beautifully and yet calmly from her collected poems eight poems which made a perfect cycle fulfilling my intention. It was honestly one of the greatest performances I have witnessed in my life and it was all I needed, along with seven of the eight poems she read, to write this cycle of songs.

— Richard Danielpour

I. Little Girl Speakings
II. Life Doesn't Frighten Me
III. They Went Home
IV. Come and Be My Baby
V. Let's Majeste
VI. My Life Has Turned to Blue
VII. Many and More

  • Ensemble
    Nashville Symphony
    Angela Brown
    Giancarlo Guerrero
Danielpour tracks the heart-on-the-sleeve directness of Angelou’s lines with his open-hearted, colorful and sometimes frankly sentimental settings. His melodies unfold from the lush, spacious innocence of childhood through the calypso agitation of dawning sexuality to the woozy, jazzy fever-dream of barrooms and those big cars. This Woman’s Life reaches its fullest flowering in “Let’s Majeste,” when Angelou’s language and Danielpour’s response to it reach a peak of wisdom, celebration and a poignant awareness of life’s transitory joys. As the speaker addresses her beloved — “And coupled we’ll await/the ages’ dust to cake my lids again” — the orchestra answers with a gorgeous, anthem-like solemnity. The poem’s quizzical ending earns one of those sweet, unresolved chords that Poulenc sometimes employs. Then, in the mordant “My Life Has Turned to Blue” that follows, the music tactfully recedes, with spare textures sustained over a haunting subliminally sustained pedal-point. A harp and vibraphone strike up a far-off, gently syncopated conversation that captures the poem’s distant, wintery chill. “The once green laws/glisten now with dew. Red robin’s gone,/Down to the South he flew.”
Steven Winn, SF Classical Voice,25/01/2013
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