About this Recording
8.559792 - DANIELPOUR, R.: Songs of Solitude / War Songs / Toward the Splendid City (Hampson, Nashville Symphony, Guerrero)

Richard Danielpour (b. 1956)
Songs of Solitude • War Songs • Toward the Splendid City


Songs of Solitude was composed in the days shortly after September 11, 2001, in the house that once belonged to Aaron Copland in Peekskill, N.Y. The house had been converted into a one-composer-at-a-time retreat, and the two projects that I had planned to work on were (1) the final edit of An American Requiem, a 60-minute oratorio for chorus, soloists, and orchestra, and (2) a new work for Thomas Hampson and The Philadelphia Orchestra. I arrived on the evening of September 10 at the Copland House and laid my Requiem score out on the table. Composed between September 2000 and June 2001, the work was born out of a number of interviews I had conducted with more than 60 American veterans who had fought in different wars throughout the 20th century.

On the morning of September 11, I called Deborah Horne at my Manhattan-based publisher, G. Schirmer, to find out when I would have to turn in the proofed, engraved score of my Requiem. Of course, I never received an answer to that question, as Deborah, looking out her office window, proceeded to relate the events that immediately followed after two planes had hit the World Trade Center.

After checking to make sure that all my family was alive and well, I focused on the work at hand, which was to edit the score of my Requiem. The editing took about a week. Around September 18, I began looking once again at the poetry of William Butler Yeats, which I thought would be suitable for the cycle that I would set for Thomas Hampson. I realized that, strangely enough, many of the poems I had brought with me also included images of war; in particular, The Second Coming was frequently being read on National Public Radio in the weeks following 9/11. I decided that, if I had written a Requiem that unconsciously anticipated the events of 9/11, I should at least write another work that would respond to the events of that horrible day. The plainness of the Copland House inspired a new sense of economy and sparseness in my own composition, as did Yeats’ poetry.

Thomas Hampson, who is just as much a scholar as he is an artist, was most helpful to me about many issues, including the ordering of the poems. Of the poems that had received first-draft settings, there were two that never made it into the final set of six orchestral songs. The first draft of the work was composed rather quickly, and the final orchestral score was completed a few months later, in January 2002. (It was the last work I completed before beginning work on the opera Margaret Garner with the Nobel laureate Toni Morrison.) Hampson gave the première in Philadelphia on October 22, 2004, with David Robertson conducting The Philadelphia Orchestra. He performed it again in March 2015, with the Nashville Symphony and Giancarlo Guerrero. It is from those performances in Nashville that this recording was made.

Written nearly seven years later, War Songs traveled a rather circuitous route to its final realization. I had received a commission from Thomas Hampson’s Hampsong Foundation in September 2008 to compose a series of songs for baritone and piano—a new undertaking for me, even though I had written several orchestral song cycles for other voice types. I chose seven of Walt Whitman’s Civil War poems, from the section of Leaves of Grass titled “Drum Taps.” As with many of the poems that I set to music, I had held onto these for many years, waiting until the appropriate time to meet these monumental works.

At the same time that I was writing this cycle, I had another commission from the Curtis Institute to write a piece for baritone, viola, and piano. I had chosen the Whitman text Come Up From the Fields Father for this work, and I had both commissions completed by late October of 2008. Come Up From the Fields Father was premièred in May 2009, in Philadelphia, but as I awaited the première of the other cycle, I had the idea of orchestrating four of the original seven voice-and-piano songs and merging them with a version of Come Up From the Fields Father, this time involving a cello obbligato. Come Up From the Fields Father would be the culminating song in the cycle, which followed the other songs: Hush’d Be the Camps To-day, Look Down, Fair Moon, Reconciliation, and Year That Trembled and Reel’d Beneath Me. The structural idea behind pairing the songs was that the first four would be roughly equal in length to the last movement.

The Manhattan School of Music Orchestra, led by George Manahan, gave the first performance of the orchestrated version of Come Up From the Fields Father on March 1, 2012, in New York, with Thomas Hampson and cellist David Geber. The full cycle of War Songs was premièred in March 2015, with Giancarlo Guerrero conducting the Nashville Symphony with Thomas Hampson.

The motivating force for this cycle and in particular for Come Up From the Fields Father originated from seeing a series of photographs printed in The New York Times of all the young men and women who had been killed in the Iraq War. The subject matter of the poem pertains to a family that has received a letter informing them that their son has been killed in the war. The nucleus of the poem is centered around the mother’s grief.

Nowadays, we understand war basically through motion pictures and mass media, and we’re shielded from truly understanding the hellish reality of war. War Songs is my effort to shine a light on the real brutality of war and the effect it has on those surviving the loss of loved ones.

While Toward the Splendid City was composed as a portrait of New York, the city in which I live, it was written almost entirely away from home. Work on the piece began in Seattle in the spring of 1992 and was completed in mid-August of that year in Taos, New Mexico. At the time I was nearing the end of a yearlong residency with the Seattle Symphony and had serious second thoughts about returning to New York. Life was always complicated in the city and easier, it seemed, everywhere else. I was, however, not without a certain pang of nostalgia for my hometown, and as a result Toward the Splendid City was driven by my love-hate relationship with New York. It was, needless to say, a relationship badly in need of resolution. Eventually, upon returning to Manhattan, I began to understand that the humanity and the difficulty of New York were inseparable—and that if in the difficulties of urban life humanity is to be embraced, then the inconveniences must also be accepted.

The work’s title comes from the heading of Pablo Neruda’s 1974 Nobel Prize address, in which he included the following: “We must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence, to reach forth to the enchanted place where we can dance our clumsy dance and sing our sorrowful song—but in this dance or in this song there are fulfilled the most ancient rites of our conscience in the awareness of being human.”

Toward the Splendid City is, in addition to being a portrait of New York, a tribute to its Philharmonic Orchestra.

Richard Danielpour

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