About this Recording
8.555138 - MARTINU: Epic of Gilgamesh (The)
English 

The Epic of Gilgamesh, an oratorio for soprano, tenor, baritone and bass soloists, choir and orchestra, was written at Nice and completed in 1955. It is dedicated to Maja Sacher, the wife of Paul Sacher to whom he had been indebted as a patron and then as a generous benefactor during his final years of illness. Martinů made use at first of the English translation of the ancient Babylonian epic by Campbell Thompson, a version that has seriously dated since its original publication in 1928 and 1930. A Czech translation of the English followed. The poem had its source in ancient Sumeria, to be expanded later in the Akkadian language of Babylonia. The hero, Gilgamesh, although the subject of legendary exploits, actually ruled in Babylonia about 2700 B.C. In the poem he is accompanied by Enkidu, a wild man tamed by a courtesan and his constant friend and companion in his adventures. Enkidu rejects the advances of Ishtar, the goddess of love, and when they kill the bull she sends to punish them, the gods take revenge by killing him. Gilgamesh, in grief, seeks a means of restoring his friend to life, and finally learns from his shade about the world of the dead.

The oratorio is in three parts, the first based on Tablets 1 and 2 of the twelve tablets preserved from the library of King Ashurbanipal of Assyria (669-630 B.C.), the second on Tablets 7, 8 and 10 and the third on Tablet 12. The remarkable setting of the ancient poem by Martinů captures the joy and grief of the ancient world, where death was sudden and inexorable. It is scored with considerable delicacy and subtlety to evoke the past in an eclectic use of modes and telling contrasts of the sung and spoken word that add considerably to the underlying drama.

The first part of the oratorio, Gilgamesh, opens mysteriously (1), the chorus leading to the entry of the bass soloist praising Gilgamesh, the matter taken up by the chorus again (2). The bass soloist describes the creation of Enkidu (3) intoning without accompaniment, except for the addition at one point of a single clarinet note. The chorus goes on to describe Enkidu’s way of life in the desert (4) and the tenor, speaking, tells how a hunter had met him and been afraid. His father advises him to use a courtesan to lure Enkidu to the city (5) and the chorus launches into a lively account of how Enkidu approaches the well where the hunter and courtesan await him (6). The tenor soloist then urges the girl to reveal her beauty to the wild man (7) and to an orchestral accompaniment of increasing excitement the chorus tells how she seduces him. The bass soloist, assisted by the chorus, resumes the narrative (8), explaining that the cattle now turned away from Enkidu, who had lost his primitive innocence. The woman addresses him (9), praising his god-like beauty in rhapsodic terms and leading him to Erech and to Gilgamesh and to the delights of the city, now with the women’s voices of the chorus, sustaining a wordless accompaniment. The tenor then declaims Enkidu’s willing response (10), and the chorus goes on to describe Enkidu’s approach and the great contest of Enkidu and Gilgamesh.

The second part, The Death of Enkidu, opens with muted trumpets in music of spare and mysterious texture (11). The women’s voices of the chorus sing of the power of death. The bass soloist, speaking, then tells of Enkidu’s premonition of death (12), the tenor, as Enkidu, singing of his ominous dream. He continues to describe his meeting with the Queen of the Underworld (13), the chorus repeating its warning of the power of death. Then, without accompaniment, the chorus tells of Enkidu lying on his death-bed (14). The orchestra adds its own ominous comment (15) and the baritone soloist, as Gilgamesh, grieves at the approaching death of his friend. The chorus, again unaccompanied, describes further Enkidu’s death-bed (16), followed by the lament of Gilgamesh. The chorus warns him that there is no remedy for death (17) and the orchestra adds its own hymn of mourning. The baritone soloist, Gilgamesh, now tells of his wandering in the desert in sadness (18), seeking death himself. The chorus urges him to desist (19), since death is allotted by fate.

The third part, Invocation, starts with a hushed orchestral introduction (20), after which the soprano soloist asks Gilgamesh why he is grieving (21). He replies, bemoaning the death of Enkidu (22). In speech, accompanied by wordless women’s chorus, the sorrowing of Gilgamesh is described (23), framed by a wordless lament in which the soprano soloist joins. Now the chorus urges Enkidu to rise from the dead (24). Gilgamesh goes to the temple of Enlil and begs his intercession (25), but in vain. He beseeches the Moon God (26), but again in vain. Then he turns to Eia (27), and all join to beg that Enkidu may rise from the dead. This is urged even more strongly (28) and the spirit of Enkidu emerges from the earth. Questioned now, he tells what he has seen in the Land of the Dead (29), Enkidu's spirit represented by the bass soloist. The work ends in the mood of mysterious and archaic fatalism in which it has been largely set, Enkidu’s final response echoing through the caverns of the Underworld.

Text

Part 1

Gilgamesh

[1] Bass solo & chorus

Gilgamesh!
He who the heart of all matter hath proven,
let him teach the nation!
He who all knowledge possesseth shall school all the people.
He shall his wisdom impart and so shall they share it together

[2] Gilgamesh!
Leaveth no son to his father,
leaveth no maid to her mother,
nor a spouse to a husband!
He is our shepherd, masterful, dominant!
He leaveth no son to his father! No maid to her mother!
Nay! Nor a spouse to a husband!
O he's our shepherd, our master!
Dominant! Masterful Gilgamesh!

[3] Bass solo

To the appeal of their wailing Goddess Aruru gave ear,
She fingered some clay, on the desert, she moulded it:
thus on the desert Enkidu made she a warrior.
In the way of a woman he snooded his locks,
sprouted luxuriant growth of his hair
like the awns of the barley,

[4] (Chorus) nor knew the people nor land.
With gazelles did he pasture on herbage.
Along with the beast did his heart delight at the water,
with the cattle.

Speaker

Then did a hunter come face to face with him,
one, two, three days, at the place where the beast drank water.
Sooth his face o’ermantled with terror.
Unto his steading he went dismayed, affrighted,
and his face was one of one who hath gone a far journey.
then his father said to him:

[5] Bass solo

Go, my hunter, take with thee a courtesan girl.
When he the cattle shall gather again
to the place of their drinking
so shall she put off her mantle,
the charm of her beauty revealing.
Then shall he spy her, will embrace her,
and his cattle will deny him.

[6] Chorus

Forth went the hunter, took with him a courtesan girl.
One day, two days, they sat by the place.
Then at last came the cattle and there was Enkidu also.
With the cattle did he pasture on herbage.
Along with the beast did his heart delight of the water,
Enkidu!

[7] Tenor solo

‘Tis he, o girl, ‘Tis he! 0 discover thy beauty,
in no wise be bashful, ravish the soul of him!
O, loosen thy mantle so that he clasp thee,
and with the wiles of a woman shalt ply him.
His animals will deny him, to his breast he has held thee.
Bashful she was not, ravished the soul of him,
loosing her mantle. Ah!

[8] Bass solo & chorus

Then he turned his face to his cattle,
how they scampered away! Him! Yes!
Enkidu! Fled from his presence the beast of the desert ...
Enkidu losing his innocence, so the cattle fled from him.
He hath attained his full growth, and hath broadened wisdom!
Sat he again at the feet of the woman
and thus unto Enkidu spake she:

[9] Soprano solo

Yea, as I see thee, like to a God, Enkidu, shalt be,
like a God, comely thou art!
Why with the beast dost thou range over the desert?
Come with me! I will guide thee!
I’ll lead thee to Erech the high walled,
to the temple sacred, where highest in power,
Gilgamesh is! Come, come!
Where the people array in festal attire,
gorgeous, each day is a revel!
Dancing girls, come, o come with me!
Come, where people array them gorgeous in festival attire,
priests clashing their cymbals and dancing girls,
flown with their wantoning gleeful. Come!

[10] Tenor solo

The advice of the woman struck home in his bosom.
Up then, o girl, to the temple, the holy and sacred,
invite me, where highest in power Gilgamesh is!
I will summon him, challenging boldly. I too am mighty!
Entered Enkidu Erech of a truth,
like to Gilgamesh is he of a truth!
There doth he block up the passage to Gilgamesh,
with his foot he barred up the door.
Gilgamesh rushed to attack him.
They grappled and roared like a beast! O!
The door trembled, the wall crumbled. O!
They grappled and struggled and snorted and strangled,
they grappled and roared like a beast! The wall crumbled!

Part II

The Death of Enkidu

[11] Chorus

Who, my friend, is unconquered by death?
The God liveth in the daylight,
but mortals, their days are numbered.
Who, my friend, is not defeated by death?
A God liveth in the daylight,
but mortals, their days are numbered, yes!

[12] Speaker

Gilgamesh and Enkidu now become devoted friends.
But Enkidu is sick, Enkidu dreamt,
that the Gods have taken counsel together
that Enkidu is to die!
Enkidu came in the night to discover
his heaviness unto his friend.

Tenor solo

A dream I have seen in my night-time:
the firmament roaring echoed the earth ...
I by myself was standing, when I perceived a man;
all dark was his face, and was likened unto ...
his face and nails like claws of a lion.
Me did he lead to the darkness,
from which he who entereth cometh forth never.
Aye, by the road on the passage,
whereof there can be no returning
unto the dwelling whose tenants
are ever bereft of the daylight.
Sitting in the darkness,
never the light will they see ..dust..dust.

[13] When I entered in the house of the dust,
the Queen of the Underworld she saw me,
she lifted her head, she saw me ...

Chorus

Who, my friend, is not defeated by death?
A God liveth in the daylight, but mortals,
their days are numbered, yes!

[14] Enkidu lay for a day, yea, a second,
lying on his bed was a third and fourth day and fifth,
sixth and seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth,
while Enkidu lay in his sickness,
eleventh, aye, till the twelfth on his bed was Enkidu lying.

[15] Baritone solo

Unto me hearken, o Elder, to me shall ye listen!
‘Tis that I weep for Enkidu, bitterly crying
like to a wailing woman.
Enkidu, who chased the wild ass, the pard of the desert!
He who chased the wild pard of the desert!
O, what is this slumber now that hath overcome thee!
For now art thou dark, nor art able to hear me?

[16] Chorus

Enkidu raised not his eyes, his heart made no beat.
Enkidu lay for a day, yea, a second,
lying on his bed was a third and fourth day and fifth,
sixth and seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth,
while Enkidu lay in his sickness,
eleventh, aye, till the twelfth, on his bed was lying!

Baritone solo

He, who endured all hardships with me,
whom I loved dearly, who endured all hardships with me,
is now perished! Gone to the common lot of mankind,
and I have bewailed him day and night long!
But my friend cometh not to my call,
he like a worm hath lain on his face ...
I too, shall 1 not die like Enkidu also?
Sorrow hath entered my heart,
I fear death as 1 range o’er the desert! ...

[17] Chorus

Gilgamesh why runnest thou,
the life which thou seekest, thou canst not find,
the Gods death allotted to man,
of death is the day not revealed.

[18] Baritone solo

The hap of my friend lay on me heavy.
O, ‘tis a long road that I range o'er the desert.
Yea, of my friend the hap lay heavy upon me!
O, how to be silent? How to give voice?
Enkidu I have so loved, like to the dust has become!
Shall I not also lay me down like him,
through all eternity never returning?

[19] Chorus

Gilgamesh, why runnest thou?
The life which thou seekest, thou canst not find.
Shall we for ever build houses,
for ever set signet to contract?
Brothers continue to share, or among foes always be hated?
Will for ever the stream bring a torrent?
Sleeping and death are alike,
from death servant and master, they mark no distinction,
when once they have reached their span allotted.
For death is the day not revealed, not revealed!

Part III

Invocation

[20] Introduction

[21] Soprano solo

Gilgamesh, why is thy force so wasted?
Why is thy face sunken?
Why hath thy spirit a sorrow, thy cheerfulness surcease?
Like one who hath gone a far journey, so is thy face.

[22] Baritone solo

The hap of my friend lay on me heavy.
Yea, of my friend the hap lay heavy upon me!
O, how to be silent, how to give voice?
O, how shall I act? Where shall I hie me?
A Demon hath ravished my courage!
And Death in my bedchamber broodeth.
Death is wherever I listen!
O, how shall I act? Where shall I hie me?

[23] Speaker

Gilgamesh having failed to learn the secret of eternal life
is now calling up his dead friend.
Cried he for Enkidu out of the earth to ascend.
Cried he: Not the Plague hath seized him, nor fever,
but only the earth!
Nor the God hath seized him, but only the earth!
Neither fell he there where was battle of mortals.
‘Twas only the earth which hath seized him!
Enkidu, I pray thee, to rise from the earth!

Chorus

Enkidu, rise from the earth!

[24] Soprano solo & chorus

The earth seized him and not the plague.
It was only the earth which hath seized him,
not the Plague God, only the earth.

Speaker

Gilgamesh, he went all alone unto the temple of the God Enlil!

[25] Baritone solo & chorus

Enlil, my Father, the Death hath stricken me also
down to the earth,
the death to the earth hath stricken me also!
Shall I not lay me down like him?
Through all eternity never returning?
Not the Plague hath seized him, only the earth.
Not a God hath seized him, only the earth.
It was only the earth that seized him.
O, Enkidu, rise from the earth!
No answer did Enlil, the father, vouchsafe.

[26] Moon God, my Father, open a hole in the earth,
that the spirit of Enkidu may from the earth issue forth!
It was only the earth that hath seized him.
Enkidu, rise from the earth!
No answer did Moon God vouchsafe.
Enkidu, rise from the earth!

[27] Ea, my Father, open a hole in the earth,
that the spirit of Enkidu may from the earth issue forth
and I can talk with my friend.
Enkidu, Enkidu! Rise from the earth!!
Ea! Open a door in the earth!
Enkidu, Enkidu! Rise from the earth!

[28] ‘Twas the earth which hath seized him,
only the earth, o earth.
Enkidu, rise from the earth! O!

[29] Baritone & bass soli, with chorus

God gave ear to his speaking, opened a hole in the earth,
and the spirit of Enkidu issued forth from the earth
like a wind. They embraced and...
Tell me, my friend, I pray thee, o tell me
what thou hast seen of the laws of the Underworld!
Tell me, my friend, o tell me!
He who fell in ... didst thou see him?
Aye, I saw! I saw!
He who falleth from a pole, didst thou see him?
Aye I saw!
He whom death . . . didst thou see him?
I saw, I saw.
He is at rest upon his bed: limpid water cloth he drink.
Then the hero, slain in fight, didst thou see him?
Aye, I saw. O’er him his wife in bitter woe.
He whose corpse in desert lieth, didst thou see him?
Aye, 1 saw, I saw!
Not in earth doth rest his spirit.
He whose ghost hath none to tend,
didst thou see him?
Aye, I saw, I saw!

EPOS O GILGAMEŠOVI


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