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Music Text

Alexander Blok

Abbreviations (PDF)

This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the UK, countries of the Commonwealth (excluding Canada) and the Republic of Ireland.

World Premiere
Moscow Conservatory Bolshoi Hall, Moscow
Vishnevskaya, Oistrakh, Rostropovich & Vainberg /
Repertoire Note

1.Song of Ophelia  2.Gamayun, the Bird of Prophecy  3.We were together (That Troubled Night)  4.The City Sleeps (Deep in Sleep)  5.The Storm  6.Secret Signs  7.Music

Early in 1967, Shostakovich was asked by the great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and his wife the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya to write them a ‘vocalise’ they could perform together. He responded by setting Alexander Blok’s beautiful early love-poem, ‘Ophelia’s Song’. In a sudden rush of creativity over the next 3 days (and fired, he said, by a stiff shot of brandy), he then immediately set another early Blok poem for voice and piano for himself to perform with Vishnevskaya and then another for violin and voice to draw in a third friend, David Oistrakh.  In the third and fourth songs he combined cello and piano, then violin and piano, in the sixth the violin and cello together and only in the final seventh song, a hymn to music, is the soprano at last accompanied by the complete piano trio.

The result is an extraordinarily intense sequence: sweet and deeply personal meditations about love, intimacy, friendship and the power of art, all surrounded and threatened by prophetic intimations of disaster and the darkness of the night (nearly every poem is a nocturne). This most unusual work is one of Shostakovich’s greatest tributes to some of the closest musical friendships of his life.

Note by Gerard McBurney

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