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Peter Lieberson

Publisher: AMP

Songs of Love and Sorrow (for baritone and orchestra) (2010)
Text Writer
Pablo Neruda
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
25 Minutes
Programme Note
Peter Lieberson Songs of Love and Sorrow (for baritone and orchestra) (2010)
Related works:
   Songs of Love and Sorrow (for baritone and orchestra)
   Songs of Love and Sorrow (for baritone and piano)

March 25 2010
Gerald Finley, baritone
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Jayce Ogren, conductor
Boston, MA

Pablo Neruda

1. Sonnet XLVI ("Des las estrellas que admiré,...")
2. Sonnet XII ("Plena mujer, manzana carnal, luna caliente...")
3. Sonnet LII ("Cantas y a sol y a cielo con tu canto...")
4. Sonnet LXIX (" Tal vez no ser es ser sin que tú seas...")
5. Sonnet LXXXII ("Amor mío, al cerrar esta puerta nocturna...")

NPR feature with audio excerpts (March 30 2010)
WBUR feature with audio excerpts (March 25 2010)
SchirmerNews article with vocal score excerpt (March 8 2010)

Composer note:
Following the premiere of the Neruda Songs in late 2005, James Levine and the BSO commissioned another work from me to be composed for my wife, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Lorraine died in July 2006 from breast cancer, and shortly thereafter I too was diagnosed with a severe cancer. I had no heart for composing at that time and wondered whether I would be able to compose any more at all, considering my condition. In the spring of 2007, following a pretty grueling regime of treatment, I had two months to contemplate the BSO commission before I had to go back again for more treatment. I initially thought I might write a cycle of farewell songs as a memorial to Lorraine and began by re-reading Neruda’s Love Sonnets. My idea was to compose a second cycle that could serve as a companion piece to the Neruda Songs, this time to be sung by a baritone.

As a curious aside, a few months later in the fall of 2007, on the very day that I was to receive 5 million of my own stem cells as a treatment for lymphoma, I heard the news that I was awarded the Grawemeyer Award for the Neruda Songs. That day also happened to be my 61st birthday.

Receiving the award was an encouraging sign but I still had no real desire to compose and instead busied myself with revising a suite of my opera, Ashoka’s Dream, and orchestrating my cantata, The World in Flower, a work that I had already completed before Lorraine died, one that was originally intended for her and Gerry Finley to perform. I did manage, though, to sketch out the beginning of a new song that later became the musical introduction to the present incarnation of the BSO song cycle, as well as the opening setting of the poem in the fourth song.

As Pablo Neruda writes and as I personally discovered to be the truth about love: “just as it never had a birth, it has no death; it is like a long river, only changing lands, and changing lips.” Love came to me again, unexpectedly, as I was recovering, and I married again. My wife, Rinchen, has been the cause for the resurgence of love and inspiration in my life. My other great joy was having more time than I expected to see my three daughters — Katherine, Kristina, and Elisabeth — grow into their womanhood.

I suppose that my life story of the past three years is not dissimilar to many others. The basic truths of love and sorrow are, I think, experiences that all of us understand very well. To have one without the other is not likely, but certainly it is our capacity to love that makes this human life so poignant.

For these reasons I chose the title, Songs of Love and Sorrow. My choice of the poems changed as I realized that this new song cycle, inspired by the poetry of Neruda, was about the fullness of all life experiences. Neruda penetrates the domains of love, sorrow, joy, and impermanence, and does so with such acuity, passion, and beauty.

Songs of Love and Sorrow is the fifth work I have had the opportunity to compose for the BSO since 1981. I feel that I have grown up as a composer with this orchestra and I think that my major works, if there are any, have been written for the BSO and with the sound of this orchestra in mind. I could not be more grateful for the opportunity to work once again with the great Boston Symphony Orchestra and two great artists, James Levine and Gerald Finley.

— Peter Lieberson

Reflective, desolate, seductive, Lieberson captures the essence of Pablo Neruda's evocative poetry with a light touch. Always, the rhythm of the dance laces its way under Finley's pliable, expressive voice. But something powerful and lonely underlies these songs and Finley's voluptuous, occasionally transfigured baritone, which speaks of a deep hurt that finds its expression in a final, aching "Adios."
Sarah Urwin Jones, The Times (London),27/03/2012
Like Neruda Songs, Songs of Love and Sorrow is Neo-Romantic, with lush harmonies and orchestral textures supporting vocal lines that are often gorgeous in their melodic flow. The reflective tone of Neruda’s apostrophes to love means that the new work does without wild mood swings, yet Lieberson achieves variety through multiple means, such as contrasting linear writing in one song with a more chordal accompaniment in another. He has a winning way of singling out key lines of text for special treatment, as when focusing on a lover’s voice in “Cantas, cantas”, set to exuberant descending fourths. The cycle begins with a haunting theme for cello solo, which returns affectingly in the vocal line of a later song.
George Loomis, Financial Times,31/03/2010
The text setting is crystalline throughout, the declamation wide-ranging but always comprehensible, the accompaniment richly supportive and never overpowering. Gerald Finley, baritone, was an ideal communicator, with an obvious and full understanding of the expressive text.
Mark DeVoto , Boston Music Intelligencer,27/03/2010
The cycle is strong throughout, but it also builds to a heightened emotional pitch in the fifth and final song, in which the composer, through Neruda’s verse, seems to be addressing both his past and present loves as the baritone sings, “I don’t know who it is who lives or dies, who rests or wakes, but it is your heart who distributes all the graces of the daybreak.’’ The orchestral writing is remarkably subtle and rich. The final word is farewell. Finley was superb in this first performance, and Ogren did an honorable job filling in on short notice. Schubert and Sibelius rounded out the program. But the night belonged to Lieberson.
Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe,26/03/2010
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