Paul Hall - The Juilliard School, New York, NY
Brenda Patterson, soprano / Juilliard School / Sean Shepherd
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) composed the Neue Gedichte or New Poems in two volumes while living in Paris during his most prolific period of writing, the years just after his employment by Auguste Rodin as a secretary. In both volumes, known as breakthrough poetry and some of his earliest mature work, he explores the materiality of objects in the world in a more active and deliberate tone than that of earlier works like The Book of Hours.
The idea for a Rilke Cycle came about when I was in Switzerland in the summer of 2002, when all of Europe was experiencing some chaotic weather (one may remember headlines of devastating flooding in Italy and Eastern Europe). I chose to end my long trip by heading to the mountain village of Zermatt for a few days, and spent them inside while an August blizzard dumped a foot of snow outside my hostel door. There was a somewhat makeshift little lending library in the lounge of this particular lodge, most of which was in German. Here I found a two-language version of the Duineser Elegien (1923), a late work for Rilke. (He started it in 1910, but difficulties in completing it led to a 12 year hiatus from writing.) The book was in bad shape, but it was a trusted companion for the next two days. Upon return to the US, I dug up every book of his that I could find, and eventually settled on poems from the first part of the Neue Gedichte.
Each of the four poems evokes an instant as well as an object—the details in a Notre Dame cathedral column, the interaction of a bird and a tree branch, the marred innocence of those both old and young. Of the New Poems, I found these to be the most haunting and intimate, and chose to set them together. I found that setting the poems in the original German proved to be appropriate for what I wanted to express. Many thanks go to Dr. Edward Snow of Rice University, author of the English translations that appear in the program, for all of his help.
New Poems – 1907 was premiered November 17th, 2003, in Paul Hall at the Juilliard School. The composer conducted, with mezzo-soprano Brenda Patterson and Juilliard instrumentalists performing.
— Sean Shepherd
This program note may be reproduced free of charge in concert programs with a credit to the composer.