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ClassicsOnline Home » DANIELPOUR, R.: Darkness in the Ancient Valley / Lacrimae Beati / A Woman's Life (Plitmann, Brown, Nashville Symphony, Guerrero)
Award-winning composer Richard Danielpour has been championed by musicians ranging from Leonard Bernstein to the Emerson String Quartet. Lacrimae Beati owes its origin to Mozart’s Requiem and was conceived after a perilous flight in 2002. Darkness in the Ancient Valley, a symphony in five movements inspired by recent events in Iran, utilises a wide range of Persian folk-melodies and Sufi rhythms. A Woman’s Life is a cycle of poems by Maya Angelou which charts a moving trajectory from childhood to old age.
Richard Danielpour (b 1956)
Darkness in the Ancient Valley • Lacrimae Beati • A Woman’s Life
Award-winning composer Richard Danielpour, one of the most gifted and sought-after composers of his generation, has attracted an impressive array of champions; his commissioners include such celebrated artists as Yo-Yo Ma, Jessye Norman, Dawn Upshaw, Emanuel Ax, Fredericka von Stade, Thomas Hampson, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, Gil Shaham, Sarah Chang, Philippe Entremont, the Guarneri and Emerson String Quartets, the New York City and Pacific Northwest Ballets, the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia, Vienna Chamber and Stuttgart Radio Orchestra, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and National Symphonies, Orchestre National de France, Chamber Music society of Lincoln Center, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and many more. With Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison he created Margaret Garner, his first opera, which had a second production at New York City Opera. He has received the American Academy Charles Ives Fellowship, a Guggenheim Award, Bearns Prize from Columbia University, and numerous grants and residencies. A devoted mentor and educator who has had a significant impact on the younger generation of composers, he is on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music and Curtis Institute.
Darkness in the Ancient Valley (2011)
Darkness in the Ancient Valley is a symphony in five movements, commissioned by the Nashville and Pittsburgh Symphonies. The fifth movement, which includes a soprano voice, was written for Hila Plitmann. The text comes from an English translation of a Rumi poem (Divan 1559), and involves a woman who refuses to retaliate against her husband, or lover, in spite of his abusive and cruel behavior. The voice of this woman is for me a metaphor for the voice of the people of Iran who have endured much under the present regime, but who nonetheless refuse to retaliate with violence.
This 30-minute work was inspired by recent events in Iran, in particular the way its people, especially the women, have been brutalized. This is of particular interest to me because my parents were born in Iran and my family lineage on both sides goes back for well over 20 generations. Born in the US, I spent a year in Iran (1963–64), and although I was just a child, I remember much about that year. In addition to learning Farsi, that time laid the bedrock of my understanding about the world which deepened as I matured.
Sadly, the experience in Iran was for various reasons an unpleasant one, and I had fallen in love with Western music and culture, so as I grew into adulthood I kept my Persian heritage at a distance. In recent years, however, I have become engrossed in this ancestral legacy and deeply interested in the way the people of Iran and the whole of the Middle East are pleading to be heard in the face of oppressive regimes.
The work is in its way a kind of secular liturgy (Lamentation – Desecration – Benediction – Profanation – Consecration), with much of the music drawing on sources stemming from Persian folk melodies and Sufi rhythms. And while this is clearly the music of a 21stcentury American composer, it is the music of an American composer with a Middle Eastern memory.
Lacrimae Beati (2009)
Lacrimae Beati means “Tears of the Blessed One,” the blessed one in this instance being Mozart. The title also refers to the source material for this ten minute work—the Lacrimosa from Mozart’s Requiem. It is generally assumed that the first eight bars of the Lacrimosa are among the last that Mozart wrote. For nearly 30 years I have thought about those bars, and the circumstances in which that music and most of the Requiem were composed.
In the second half of 2002 I was living in Berlin on a Fellowship from the American Academy in Berlin. At the time, I was orchestrating the first act of my first opera Margaret Garner. On Friday October 27 I flew to Vienna to see a performance at the Vienna State Opera that my friend and colleague Thomas Hampson was involved in; my plan was to stay in Vienna for the weekend and return to Berlin on Sunday evening. On the morning of Sunday October 29 I wanted to visit the cemetery in which Beethoven was buried, and had a taxi take me from my hotel. I wound up not at the Central Cemetery, where Beethoven is in fact buried, but at an 18th century cemetery named St Marks. With the cab waiting for me outside, I walked up and down each row of graves, slowly realizing that I was in the wrong graveyard. In a frantic moment, I tripped over a tree stump and fell flat on my face. When I picked myself up, I found myself a few yards away from a single granite gravestone in a clearing with the name “Mozart” inscribed on it. (Obviously, this tombstone marked the general area in St Marks where it was believed that Mozart was buried along with others in a mass grave in 1791.)
Later that evening I flew in a fifty-seat Lufthansa mini-jet that found itself in the midst of 200 mile an hour headwinds. The plane shook violently, the pilot issued a severe warning and I kept hearing, as if it were a tape loop in my mind, the Lacrimosa from Mozart’s Requiem. We were indeed in the middle of a hurricane-like storm, but the two pilots in charge heroically brought the plan down safely. Driving back to the American Academy in Berlin, I saw several large trees which had been uprooted. I realized I was fortunate to be alive. Lacrimae Beati is as much about the Requiem of Mozart and his struggle to complete the work as it is about my experience of it in the air on October 29, 2002.
A Woman’s Life (2007)
A Woman’s Life was composed in the summer of 2007 for Angela Brown who premièred the rôle of Cilla in Margaret Garner (2005). While I was consistently impressed by her artistry and power onstage (she sang the rôle in Philadelphia and Cincinnati), I was especially taken with her graciousness and deep compassion for all of her colleagues. And so when she brought up the idea of my writing a cycle expressly for her I was immediately interested in finding the right combination of forces needed to bring such a thing into being.
When I asked Angela in 2006 if she had a preference of a poet who would provide texts for the cycle, she unhesitatingly named Maya Angelou. At that time she did not know that Dr Angelou had been my friend and collaborator (in 1998 with Portraits) and that I had also wanted to create a new piece with her.
I went to see Maya Angelou at her New York townhouse with my wife Kathleen in early July 2006; I wanted ask her if she would write texts that would show the trajectory of a woman’s life, from childhood to old age. She said she had already such a suite of poems and that she would read it to us.
And so without hesitation, holding our hands at her dining room table, she read beautifully and yet calmly eight poems which made a perfect cycle, fulfilling my intention. It was honestly one of the greatest performances I have witnessed in my life and it was all I needed to write this cycle of songs. The première performance was with the Pittsburgh Symphony in October 2009, with Leonard Slatkin conducting and, of course, Angela Brown singing.
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DANIELPOUR, R.: Darkness in the Ancient Valley / L...