The verses of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda have a strange pull among composers. The gamut of artists so drawn include jazz vocalist Luciana Souza; bands like The Brazilian Girls, Six Pence None The Richer, and Rachel’s; and numerous contemporary classical composers including Osvaldo Golijov, Peter Lieberson and Daniel Catán [curiously, both Catán and Lieberson died this month, both of whom were former students of Milton Babbitt, who died last month]. This eclecticism of this group is either completely random or totally universal. Therein lies the mystery.
The recent passing of one such composer, Peter Lieberson, sparked a bit of press this week, which led me to investigate his music. Lieberson’s 2006 masterpiece “Neruda Songs” features five poems scored for orchestra and voice, brilliantly performed by his now-deceased wife Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under James Levin). It left me gobsmacked; it’s gorgeous. The recording also has the weight of being a posthumous recording, released shortly after Ms. Lieberson succumbed to Breast Cancer in 2006. But even without all this tragedy, it’s a stunningly beautiful recording. Here’s a video clip of the closing track:
What follows is an excerpt of Neruda’s poem “I Like for You to be Still” (translated), which was the basis for a track on the Brazilian Girls 2004 debut album.
I like for you to be still: it as though you were absent,
and you hear me from far away and my voice does not
It seems as though your eyes had flown away
and it seems that a kiss had sealed your mouth.
As all things are filled with my soul
you emerge from the things, filled with my soul.
You are like my soul, a butterfly of dream,
and you are like the word Melancholy.