|About this Recording
8.559176 - EBERHARD: Piano Concerto / Prometheus Wept
Dennis Eberhard (b.1943)
A few years ago I had the extraordinary opportunity to meet the exceptional Russian pianist Halida Dinova. She had just finished recording the piano works of Scriabin and asked me if I would help her decide the order in which they would appear on her soon to be released CD. After spending eight intense hours working together, I came away from that eventful meeting overwhelmed. Halida's powerful interpretation of Scriabin's work, the depth of feeling she was able to evoke and the profound sensitivity she expressed by her playing had planted a seed in my mind. As I began to follow her career and hear her perform more often she increasingly impressed me by her ability to summon the deepest emotions from the music she performed, bringing it to life in a way that I had never heard. I was also strongly drawn to her as a creative artist who shared my musical values and aesthetic sensibilities. I began to think about writing a piece for her, one that would exploit her very special qualities and make a forceful impact. I decided upon a piano concerto.
I was working on the second movement when I heard the news that the Russian submarine Kursk had experienced some kind of accident and that it and its crew were stranded at the bottom of the Barents Sea. The early but fading hope of rescue, the heroic international efforts exerted to save the men and the ultimate human tragedy brought about by the death of one hundred eighteen sailors made this incident intensely poignant. I was at once terribly moved and inspired. It became obvious to me that the meaning of this work was fatally bound to this tragedy. I decided immediately to dedicate the piano concerto to the memory of those men who perished in August 2000.
It was then that I remembered the powerful poem Babi Yar by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. For a reason then unknown to me, I began to pore over his poetry. Suddenly, I came across a brief poem entitled Requiem for Challenger. I was stunned. The poem drew up from deep within my psyche the terrifying image of that tragic explosion that I witnessed on television that fateful morning in 1986. I was especially shaken by the irony of Yevtushenko's imagery that depicted the massive explosion as "...this great white swan of death made from the last breath of seven evaporated souls...1" I could not help but draw a parallel between this terrible event and the Kursk disaster.
From the very onset of this project, I had been searching for a nexus, a common thread that I could weave into a musical fabric that would somehow link and fuse our two cultures together and would give meaning to this piece. I had discovered that connection. Sadly it had come full circle. A work whose conception had been inspired by a Russian technological disaster as seen through the eyes of an American composer had become entwined with the memory of an American technological disaster as seen through the eyes of a Russian poet. Both events shook the world.
That haunting image of a great white swan spreading its bellowing plumes as it incredibly evaporates, falling to earth, as the Kursk fell to the bottom of the sea, taking with it the memories of once living beings is devastating. Its awesome shadow cast upon the face of the earth makes us shudder. At the same time, it reminds us that both life and art are a continuum. We are but parts of that continuum. We live, we die and yet we remain alive in the memories of those we have touched.
Today these two incidents are dwarfed by the horrific events that occurred in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania on 11th September, 2001. These events touched people from all nations, and galvanized humanity, drawing it together through a shared vision of the future and a renewed sense of compassion for one another. Shadow of the Swan is a celebration of our indomitable human spirit.
After being commissioned by Performers and Artists for Nuclear Disarmament to write a short piece for string orchestra in remembrance of the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I began to search for a title that would evoke the sense and feeling I hoped to express. I was strangely drawn to the mythical Titan, Prometheus. The Greek playwright Aeschylus in his drama Prometheus Bound tells us that Zeus, the creator, was dissatisfied with the race of human beings that he had made, thinking them to be flawed and inferior. He therefore decided to destroy them and create a new race of people. Prometheus, the first of the intelligent Titans, felt that there was potential in humankind and elected to champion them. In doing so, he defied Zeus by giving them the secret of fire. I imagine Prometheus returning to earth at the end of the twentieth century expecting to marvel at the wonders wrought by humanity. Instead he finds that they have taken his gift to its ultimate extreme and unleashed it against themselves and their world. I imagine Prometheus horribly shaken, saddened and disappointed. In his remorse, I see a tear slowly emerging from his great eye.
I turned my searching eyes To the sun, as if An ear above would hear my lament, A heart like mine, distressed, Pleading for pity.
From Goethe's Prometheus (translated by Renata Cinti)
When Prometheus Wept was first performed in 1998, it was preceded by a dramatic presentation of a Russian Orthodox styled chant sung in Slavonic by the bass Michael McMurray. Inspired by his visit to Chernobyl in 1996, McMurray, an anti-nuclear activist, decided to put together this short chant based on texts taken from Revelations that would bring attention to the disaster. Beginning with the passage that introduces the seven angels with the seven trumpets and closing with the appearance of the star called Wormwood, the chant depicts the end of the world. Most interestingly the Slavonic text was modified by substituting the Ukrainian word for Wormwood, "Chernobyl" so as to link the chant to the apocalyptic melt-down that occurred in the Ukraine. The effect of the pairing of these two pieces was so striking that I decided to make my own version of the chant and combine the two into one piece. In the new version the text to the chant is extended to include a warning of doom given to the inhabitants of the earth by an angel. There is no printed music for this segment of the piece. Instead the bass begins on his lowest note and chants in Russian in the Russian Orthodox Liturgical manner, rising chromatically, and closes when he reaches his highest note. Although one segment is based upon a biblical text and the other taken from mythology, the two seemingly disparate elements combine to create a powerful indictment against the senseless abuse of atomic energy and give a stern warning to those who would continue to play with fire.
Revelations 8: 6-13
And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.
The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.
The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and springs of water - the name of the star is Chernobyl - a third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.
The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night.
As I watched, I heard an angel that was flying above call out in a loud voice: "Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth..."
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