poems

A COLLABORATION IN SPACE AND TIME

Poems - A Collaboration in Space and Time is a sonic exploration of Mihai Eminescu's charming world of poetry as translated by Corneliu M. Popescu in his 1978 volume, Poems. Throughout this album, poems are used as the starting point to the compositional process, either as spoken word performance or in song form. From the haunting, ritual-like chants of Guardian Angel, to the glitchy textures of You Never Knew My Soul, this album explores 19th century poetry from unexpected musical perspectives.

Original artwork by Petra Martin

THE CREATIVE PROCES AS SHAPED BY THE SPOKEN WORD


Throughout history, music and poetry have been associated in various forms: either in religious rituals or in secular songs, in the stories of bards, or in nursery rhymes. However, in most modern examples of existent literature, this syncretic bond seems to be often neglected, as the there is no sense of balance between the two art forms – one of them always ends up being an accessory to the other. The purpose of this project is to explore the compositional techniques that can be employed in order to achieve a greater level of coherence in integrating spoken word with music, as well as the non-musical tools that may be used in doing so. This matter is addressed by looking into issues such as conveying the ethos of a poem through music and methods of translating it into a live performance.

THE POET


Mihai Eminescu (1850-1889) is a Romanian poet representative of the Romantic movement, undoubtedly the most outstanding Romanian literary figure. To understand Eminescu’s iconic status in Romanian literature, one must first understand his unofficial, inalienable title: the national poet. In the Romanian collective consciousness, this title is absolutely synonymous and interchangeable with the poet’s name: if you mention either one of them to anyone, their immediate and automatic response will be the other. His poetry deals with themes such as love, nature, death, history and cosmogony. Apart from the occasional instances in which the poet appears to indulge in these matters, they often end up being filtered through the perception of a detached observer, a succeeding quality in that of a solitary genius.

THE TRANSLATOR


Corneliu M. Popescu (1958-1977) was born and during Romania's communist regime. In a culturally isolated country, where access to English literature and dictionaries was restricted, Popescu not only managed to learn the language but, in his adolescence, did so to such an extent that he was able to flawlessly translate some of Romania’s most valuable literary works. Having established that, one can only speculate on the amount of passion and dedication his work required, which makes him, in my opinion, an outstanding literary personality worthy of cultural acknowledgement. In 1977, Popescu died in the catastrophic earthquake that destroyed most of Bucharest and remained deeply engrained into the Romanians’ collective memory. He was only 18.

GUARDIAN ANGEL

Înger de pază
Guardian Angel is an acapella piece inspired by the liturgical music of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The musical style, called Byzantine chanting, consists of a drone note to which several vocal interventions are added to support the liturgical text, which is read by a priest in an almost musical-like manner, similar to opera recitatives. Traditionally, the only musical instrument allowed in the Orthodox Church is the human voice. The poem’s daring theme suggests an association of identity between divinity – the Guardian Angel – and the telluric plane, illustrated by the object of the author’s carnal desire - the girl. In further exploring the slightly blasphemous tone of the poem, I decided not only to give the part to an actress, as opposed to an actor, but also to make the female voice the focal point of this piece. This aesthetic choice comes in direct opposition with the vigorous rules of the Church, which is notoriously restrictive towards women, stating that all hymns are to be sung by men. This poem is read by Hannah Briggs.
When my soul lay awake late last night, did it seemThat I saw my good angel come down as in a dream,Engirdled with moonlight and silver star gleam,And hover above me with wings wide outspread.But you, when he spied, in your snowy white dress,O child of sweet wonder, and secret caress,Quite awed and astonished my guardian fled.Good child, are you demon that just at one glanceOf your eyes through their lashes thrown softly askanceMy angel and friend left his long vigilance?O guardian angel, come back, do not fleeFor this girl. . . ! But no, let your long lashes fall,That your pale lovely features again I recall,For you... you are he.

SONNET / LOVING IN SECRET

Iubind în taină
Sonnet is an exploration into the degrading effects that lust can have on the human soul. Throughout the poem, an almost destructive passion is depicted in a potential confession. It is not clear, however, whether the love is reciprocated or not, as there is no indication of the loved one’s response. It is precisely this uncertainty that I wanted my music to convey. The way I see it, the poem remains an account of the unfulfilled desire and desperate imploration that unrequited love eventually stirs in one’s heart. This poem is read by Clare Bennet.
Loving in secret, I did silence holdDeeming in this your clemency would dwell,For when my searching eyes on yours fellA world of shattered dreams they did behold.I can no more. My aching love must tellThe mystery that does my heart enfold,I wish I could drown within the radiance coldOf that sweet soul that knows my own so well.But look, my lips are parched with despair,A thirsty fever does my eyes infest,Sweet maiden, you, with long and golden hair.But let your gentle breath my anguish wrest,Your smile, with drunken joy, my soul ensnare;Oh, end my pain at last... come to my breast.

DROWSY BIRDS

Somnoroase păsărele
Somnoroase Pasarele, the original version of Drowsy birds, is probably the most recited poem in Romanian children’s literature. Children of all generations, including me, have at least encountered it or had to recite it by heart as part of some sort of school assignment or festivity. From the start, I decided Drowsy Birds was going to be a song because its length and structure perfectly fit the song form. However, it was the notoriety of the poem as a standard in children’s literature and its nocturnal ethos that determined me to shape it into a lullaby. The bucolic scenery of nature at dusk, which depicts the purity of the elemental world, untouched by the burdens that accompany mundane life could only be conveyed by a cradle song.

Drowsy birds at even gliding, Round about their nests alight, In among the branches hiding . . . Dear, good night!
Silence through the forest creeping, Lullaby the river sighs; In the garden flowers sleeping. . . Shut your eyes!

Glides the swan among the rushes To its rest where moonlight gleams, And the angels whisper hushes. . . Peaceful dreams!
O'er the sky stars without number, On the earth a silver light; All is harmony and slumber . . . Dear, good night!

YOU NEVER KNEW MY SOUL

Tu nu mă cunoști
For me in all existence nowhere such wealth abidesAs in the tender secret your gentle beauty hides;For on what other wonder than that of your sweet charmWould I a lifetime squander of meditation calmOn legends and on musing, and thus a language mouldThat it with fleeting cadence your loveliness enfoldWith chains of flowing images, and on it dreams bestowThat it ne'er till time's ending shall to the darkness go?
Today when all my being to your being is bound,When hid in every sorrow for me a joy is found;When you to me more lovely than marble do appearAnd in your eye is kindled a ray of starlight clearThat while I gaze upon you I feel I must go blindWith so much shining wonder that floods upon my mind;Today when is my longing so tender and so trueAs is the very charm itself that does your form endue,And stronger is the yearning that our two hearts have knownThan light that yearns for darkness, the chisel for the stone;When my desire is boundless, so gentle and so highAs on the earth is nowhere, and nowhere in the sky;When everything about you for me is magic spell,A smile, a word, a gesture, no matter ill or well;When you are the enigma of life for me the whole,Your words now show me plainly you never knew my soul.

Worded as a confession, the You Never Knew My Soul offers a vivid portrayal of young, passionate love exploring its emotional implications in-depth. However, the impression of a pristine romance begins to disintegrate as the poem unfolds, when the occasional conflicting lines, such as “(…) I feel I must go blind”, or “the chisel [yearns] for the stone”, briefly expose fugitive facets of the destructive nature of said love. Ultimately, the facade collapses with the last words “(…) you never knew my soul.”, which act as an unexpected conclusion, even though faintly prefigured throughout the homonymous poem. This is a synth-based textural piece meant to recreate the seemingly idyllic tableau that the poem depicts.



One wish alone have I: In some calm land Beside the sea to die; Upon its strand That I forever sleep, The forest near, A heaven clear Stretched o'er the peaceful deep.
No candles shine, Nor tomb I need, instead Let them for me a bed Of twigs entwine.

ONE WISH ALONE HAVE I

Mai am un singur dor
That no one weeps my end, Nor for me grieves, But let the autumn lend Tongues to the leaves, When brooklet ripples fall With murmuring sound, And moon is found Among the pine-trees tall,
While softly rings The wind its trembling chime And over me the lime Its blossom flings.



As I will then no more A wanderer be, Let them with fondness store My memory. And Lucifer the while, Above the pine, Good comrade mine, Will on me gently smile;
In mournful mood, The sea sing sad refrain. . . And I be earth again In solitude.
One Wish Alone Have I is a testament-like poem that explores the acceptance of one’s death in a tranquil account of the poet’s ideal funeral. What is curious about this poem is that, as a child, its Romanian version was never one of my favourites. However, I chose to work with it because, in my opinion, the English translation is surprisingly more profound and expressive than the original. The idealisation of death as a return to nature and the proclivity towards peaceful remoteness made me visualize this piece as a funeral song, similar to Nathan Barr and Lisbeth Scott’s Take Me Home or the well-known Amazing Grace. Although these pieces were not written exclusively for this purpose, they are generally perceived as such by the public.