About this Recording
8.572729 - PIGOVAT, B.: Requiem, "The Holocaust" / Poem of Dawn (Serova, Croatian Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra, Guerini)

Boris Pigovat (b. 1953)
Holocaust Requiem • Poem of Dawn


Boris Pigovat was born in Odessa, and studied at the Gnessin Russian Academy of Music in Moscow. Between 1978 and 1990 he lived in Tadjikistan. During this time, he won a diploma of special distinction at the 1988 International Composers Competition in Budapest, for his trombone quartet Musica dolorosa No. 2.

Pigovat relocated to Israel in 1995, and took Israeli citizenship. He has won several distinguished national awards: the 1995 ACUM Prize (Association of Composers, Authors and Publishers of Music in Israel) for The Holocaust Requiem; the 2005 ACUM Prize for Song of the Sea, a work for symphonic wind band, and the 2000 prize of the Prime Minister of the State of Israel. His compositions have been performed throughout the world, with the wind band work Massada featuring at the 2000 ISCM World Music Days in Luxembourg, and the 2003 WASBE (World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles) Conference in Jönköping, Sweden. The world premiere of The Holocaust Reqiuem took place in Kiev in 2001, at a memorial event dedicated to the Babi Yar massacres in the Ukraine in 1941. The ‘picture for symphonic wind band’, Wind of Yemen, was performed at the 2003 Asian Music Festival in Tokyo, and at the 2009 WASBE Conference in Cincinnati. Song of the Sea, written in the same genre, was premiered at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 2005. Most recently, Music of Sorrow and Hope was commissioned and premiered by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and Zubin Mehta, at the IPO’s 75th Anniversary Festival in 2011. Poem of Dawn received its first performance at the Settembre dell’Accademia event at the Teatro Filarmonico di Verona in 2013, played by Anna Serova and the Croatian Radio & Television Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Nicola Guerini.

Pigovat’s Holocaust Requiem (1994-95) was initially conceived for a standard ensemble of soloists, chorus and orchestra, with the addition of a speaker. In exploring possible texts—both traditional and modern—the composer came to the decision that simplicity and directness were the key to this composition, and became concerned that unfamiliar texts might overpower, or detract from, the musical and emotional force of the work. He thus recast the Requiem as a work for orchestra and solo viola, an instrument notable for its ‘human’ voice, and the intimacy and richness of its tone.

Although the Requiem is therefore a purely instrumental composition, Pigovat has named its four movements after sections of the Latin Mass text. In part, this symbolises the emotional states depicted in each part of the piece: deep sorrow in Requiem aeternam; terror, fear and suffering in the Dies irae; acceptance and sadness in the Lacrimosa; and hope in the closing Lux aeterna. But there is also a clear intention to conjure the impression of voices in the textural, melodic and rhythmic formulae of this music. The solo viola clearly chants the words ‘Requiem aeternam’ in its opening solo, for instance, and the ‘Requiem’ pattern is taken up by other instruments as this section progresses. Following this rather quiet first half, the Requiem aeternam becomes more agitated—piano, percussion, and dark low winds and strings ratchet up the pace and tension—culminating in a series of brutal timpani strokes. The viola then restates its opening melody, bringing the music back to the grief-laden tone with which the work began. The second movement begins with discordant strings, over which the trombones perform the main theme, as if stating the opening line of the text: ‘Dies irae, dies illa solvet saeclum in favilla, teste David cum Sybilla’ (‘The day of wrath, that day will dissolve the world in ashes as foretold by David and the sibyl’). Another melodic formula in this movement, presented by low string and wind instruments, is associated with the traditional Jewish prayer Shma Israel (‘Hear, O Israel’). As with the Reqiuem aeternam, the music becomes increasingly brutal as it progresses, and eventually seems to play itself into silence.

Despite the deep melancholy of its text, there is an uncharacteristic anger to the Lacrimosa. Pigovat explains that ‘after finishing the Dies Irae, I realised that I could not compose a traditional Lacrimosa—horrors of the Holocaust do not leave space for quiet sadness and acceptance. There is no place here for hushed mourning—only a scream, the scream of anger and pain; and then, when there is no strength to scream any more, and all the tears are spent, the scream is turned to a groan.’ These powerful emotional transitions are rendered by the solo viola, in its extended, virtuosic cadenza, which occupies almost half the length of the Lacrimosa. When the orchestra finally rejoins the soloist, the music is that of quiet madness, a kind of surrealist waltz. Only after the viola has finished, the strings enter with quietly impassioned music of mourning, which hints in places at Mozart’s Lacrimosa (K626). The closing Lux aeterna continues in this vein, recalling the viola melody of the Requiem aeternam. In the final minutes of the work, we are offered at last a glimpse of rest and salvation for those who have perished—in the words of the Latin text, ‘Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and may everlasting light shine upon them.’ The viola then closes the piece with the ‘Shma Israel’ theme.

The Holocaust Requiem received the ACUM prize in 1995, and was premiered in Kiev in 2001. This concert was dedicated to the sixtieth anniversary of the massacre of over 33,500 Jews at Babi Yar, a ravine in the Ukrainian capital. It is considered to be one of the largest single massacres in the history of the Holocaust.

Poem of Dawn was composed in 2010 for violist Anna Serova, to whom it is also dedicated. The piece was inspired by Nikolaj Kun’s Legendy i Mify Drevnej Gretsii (Legends and Myths of Ancient Greece, 1914):

The morning is near… There is a faint light in the East. Aeos and Pyrios, the morning stars and harbingers of Dawn, shine brightly in the East. There is a gentle breeze. The light in the East glows brighter and brighter… In vivid colours, on rosy wings, Dawn is soaring into the illuminated sky, drenched in rosy light. Dawn pours dew from her golden urn onto the Earth, and the dew sprinkles the grass and flowers with glistening, diamond-like drops. All is fragrant, all around. The waking Earth happily greets the sun god, Helios.

Pigovat’s Poem is written using the style and compositional methods of the Russian Romantic school, which he believed to be particularly well-suited to the warm, expressive sound of Serova’s viola playing. Sparkling percussion, harp and pizzicato strings depict the twinkling of Aeos and Pyrios, and high woodwind provide the little eddies of a morning breeze. The viola’s solo rôle is one of many colours, from sweeping gestures of Dawn moving upwards into the ether, to floating harmonics and feathery trills. Pigovat’s rich tonal palette is redolent of early Debussy, not least in its sense of fantasy and spaciousness—Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, in particular comes to mind. The sheer warmth and light of the Poem stands in stark contrast to the dark anger and grief of the Holocaust Requiem, two strikingly different sides of both Pigovat’s compositional approach, and his conception of the viola as a protagonist and solo ‘voice’.

Adapted from the composer’s notes by Katy Hamilton

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