LAMENTO. For pop contralto and orchestra (2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 French horns, 2 Trumpets, 1 trombone 1 tuba, 1 harp, 3 percussion, timpani, and strings). 2012. Commissioned by CBC Radio for Sarah Slean and Symphony Nova Scotia. Texts by the composer. Duration: 24 minutes. Score and parts available through the composer.

View the CBC videos of LAMENTO:
 


Lamento for pop singer (contralto) and orchestra is a cycle consisting of three songs built on top of a chromatically descending bass line, known in classical music as the "lamento bass." The composition was commissioned by CBC Radio for Canadian pop diva Sarah Slean and Symphony Nova Scotia and it received its premiere performance in April of 2012 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The idea for Lamento came to me after reading an article by Alex Ross, the music editor of the New Yorker magazine, on the history of the lamento bass, the best known example of which is the aria "When I am Laid in Earth" from Henry Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas. It was Ross who, through this article, brought to my attention that the lamento bass, after a protracted absence, had migrated into the popular music of the 20th Century in such classics as Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin and Hotel California by the Eagles,[1] among others. It seemed natural that both this memorable baseline and the unforgettable Purcell aria should act as the guide for my cross-genre compositional experiment. The lamento bass is reputably a stylized musical rendering of the mourning human voice and the Purcell aria is uttered by the opera's lead female character immediately before she takes her own life due to broken heart.  

The first two songs of Lamento are two contrasting studies of the female mind confronting the loss by death of a lover. "When This is Over," the first song, focuses on the agonizing transformation from initially resenting the "pull" from the other side to ultimately seeking it. In the lyrics, this song plants the dark seeds of suicide and the personal experience of mental illness, which are more fully explored in the last song of the cycle. In the music, the dark clouds of orchestral dissonance give way to a jazz-like verse, which alternates with a chorus in a distant key, a key that reveals its affinity to the Purcell aria halfway through the song in the strings under a jazz trumpet solo.  

"My Song", the second song of the cycle, could not be more different in character from the first. While personal loss is still pronounced, the memory of the departed becomes a source of power, even when frailty is claimed. The music is more symmetrical and strophic (this is the most "pop" of the three songs.) The lamento bass appears only in the chorus section and it is atypically extended beyond a chromatically descending octave, thus causing harmonic progressions reminiscent of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff and other late nineteenth century composers. Accepting personal loss is here equated with empowerment climaxing with the words "I'm calling to you" set to music reminiscent of Elgar-like triumphalism. Viewed from a different angle, the celebratory nature of this song, especially the way it is sandwiched between two much darker ones, may also signify denial—one's refusal to accept the inner devastation caused by an adverse turn of fortune. Which of the two it is depends entirely on one's personal outlook.  

"Despair," the third song and the darkest of the three, can be best described as self-reflection of a suicidal mind. It is the most complex and eclectic of the three songs. Musical genres change suddenly, while high percussion lines remain unchanging over sharp tempo changes by means of metric modulation. Purcell's aria is ever-present, either as instrumental accompaniment or in its entirety at the end of the song. In the middle, conspiratorial references to treatment of mental disease are linked with sound samples reminiscent of musical experiments during the Weimar Republic just before the dawn of Nazism (Kurt Weill and Alban Berg come to mind) which eventually surrender to the darkest of all thoughts that, after we die, we can only remain alive to the extend that we remain in other people's memories. The repeated request by the singer to "remember me" is finally taken outside the representational space of the song and into direct experience, as she makes a full circle asking remembrance, first from the musicians of the orchestra, and finally from the audience.

Let me close this note by saying that my own outlook on life and death is invariably luminous, spiritual and optimistic. In this juncture of my spiritual development, however, I felt the need to personally undergo a psychological rite of passage through the waters of Hades, perhaps in order to confront the darkness lurking in me and better understand my own and only adversary hiding somewhere inside the left side of my brain. In this sense, the composition of Lamento has been a spiritually cathartic experience. I hope it becomes a similar experience to the work's musical interpreters and listeners.


[1] As a matter of fact, the harmonies of both songs are all in root position but their sequence implies a virtual lamento baseline.



LYRICS
by Christos Hatzis

 

 

When this is Over

It's hard to know when this is over
when life is clearly beyond repair
and quite impossible, my love.

It's hard to know when it is time to go,
to start afresh, to never look back,
to call it a day, my love.

It's hard to know when this is over
my love.

It's hard to know when this crazy world will end
when the only things left
are belated regrets and memories
too painful to sustain, my love.

It's hard to know when this crazy world will end
my love.

I need to forget you and I don't know what to do
I have tried so hard to let you go
but your shadow calls me home to you.

I feel your shadow always stalking me
I feel your eyes burning on my back
but when I turn around you're gone.

What strange dimension are you calling from?
How can I get there? How can you get here?
How can we get back together?

I feel your shadow always stalking me
my love.

I need to forget you (4x)
my love.

I know you're gone and I must follow you
I must muster the strength
to forsake all the things that hold me earthbound
and flee from the pain my love.

I know you're gone and I must follow you
my love.

I tried to forget you but I don't know how to
I don't want to ever let you go
let your shadow guide me home to you.

 

 

My Song

It's morning. It's morning again.
The world comes alive outside the window:
children circle around an old song,
the song we had forgotten all along.

Good morning. Good morning again.
Your shadow fades next to my pillow;
light takes away your gentle fire,
brings in a world I don't desire.

Sometimes I wake up
and I see dark fields blooming
I reach out to touch you
in the mist of the dawn

and when I am connected
with your boundless energy
the whole world becomes you
and nothing at all can go wrong

This morning, this morning is new.
New like the snow that turns the world white.
New like this void you left behind
nothing can fill my troubled mind.

I'm calling. I'm calling to you.
I dream of when we're reunited;
when all floats in everlasting light
transforming the darkness of this night.

Sometimes I wake up
and I see dark fields blooming
I reach out to touch you
in the mist of the dawn

and when I am connected
with your boundless energy
the whole world becomes you
and I find the strength in my song,
in my song.

 


 

Despair

I often wonder what an abrupt exit must feel like;
How hard can it be to just pull the plug
And why all things dark must be experienced
after I'm born and before I die.

I feel conflicted by the cries of dying loons
under insurgent moons.
The anthropology of pain
runs in my veins.

I feel abandoned, even when surrounded by friends
I fear a nothingness, which nothing transcends.
Oh why is that point in my centre so frail,
precarious, out of control?

And when I think that I've regained control at last
I'm lost inside my past:
the love that haunted me back then
my bitter end foreshadows, 
relentlessly pushing me over the edge.

Remember me!

Now I am always medicated;
chemically contaminated;
my thoughts subdued; my angst abated;
the urge for self-destruction rated
low.
Waiting sedated for the blow.

A white-washed mind in an asylum
controlled with current and with Valium
in monochrome white dominion
slowly dissolving into a trillion
tiny particles of light.
Dreading the next insurgent night.

I know the time nears
when all options will have played out,
and no more prizes within my reach
I dread that day of reckoning 
mercifully postponed for
when I am laid in earth. . .

. . . when all memory suddenly disappears
like it was never there;
every recollection gone,
forever gone;

when no destiny lying beyond the grave,
beyond all hope,
can be called to play the role
of saving grace.

Remember me,
your thoughts alone
will keep me alive.

 

When I am laid in earth
let my wrongs create
no trouble in thy breast.
Remember me
but, ah, forget my fate*.

 

* [The texts of the last stanza are by Nahum Tate (1652, Dublin – 30 July 1715, Liberty of the Mint) was an Irish poet, hymnist, and lyricist, who became England's poet laureate in 1692. He wrote the libretto for Henry Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas and the five lines are from the aria "When I am Laid in Earth" from the end of that Purcell opera.]

 


Premiere performance: April 13, 2012, 7:30 PM. Sarah Slean, vocalist; Symphony Nova Scotia under the direction of Berhard Gueller. Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, Dalhausie Centre for the Performing Arts; Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.


Reviews and Comments:

 It is an absolute thrill and honour to be working on this groundbreaking collaboration with such a gifted, universally admired composer. I first heard Christos' music when working with the Art of Time Ensemble, and I was instantly drawn. There is a passionate intensity in his work that ignites and engages musicians of all disciplines. It's complexity and sophistication never overwhelm the rich emotional landscapes it so powerfully creates.  The music is dazzling but never opaque - one can appreciate his work intellectually and also feel it on a deeply spiritual level. It speaks to the head, the heart, and the soul. Lamento fits beautifully into that canon.  In it's fearless exploration of mental illness, Christos has musically rendered the bitter poignancy of grief, the fragile beauty of hope, the suffocating agony of despair, all while the entire orchestra is pushed to new virtuosic ground. As a singer with a taste for the dramatic, this is a dream project.  Not only is the music beautiful, challenging and emotionally potent, it is rife with interpretive possibility.  I am truly honoured that Christos has reached out across genre borders to entrust me with this delicious and rewarding task. In Lamento, the collision of classical and pop is what I believe it should be - not an amalgam or hybrid, but a chemical reaction between the best elements of both genres,  one that creates an entirely new form, a new aesthetic, a new standard of excellence. I am equally honoured to premiere Lamento with such an incredible orchestra and such a distinguished conductor. With this work, the way has been paved for more daring, innovative collaboration between musical worlds. Christos has opened new doors with this work, and I am so thrilled and humbled to be a part. Sarah Slean commenting for a Promethean Editions newsletter. April 2012.

 There are few projects that I have seeded over my 22 years with the CBC that I can look on with more satisfaction than this wonderful collaboration between Christos Hatzis and Sarah Slean,” says CBC’s Jeff Reilly. “When one embarks on these types of projects, those that bring musicians together from different stylistic backgrounds, one can never be quite sure of the results… After many attempts to make a collaboration of this nature really work, I believe we have finally hit the bulls eye. Combining the incredible passion, craft, and open mindedness of Sarah Slean with the extraordinary skill, flexibility, and experience of Christos Hatzis is truly creating musical synergy. There is real communication and understanding between these two. The results of this fusion of talent is proof that contemporary pop can join with contemporary concert music in ways that bring gifts to both worlds – a wider, more appreciative audience to contemporary music and a broadening and deepening of the expressive possibilities of pop. Jeff Reilly (Lamento producer) in http://www.musicnovascotia.ca

In the second half of the concert Slean sang Lamento, for pop singer and orchestra, written for her by Canadian composer Christos Hatzis. The three songs track the end of a love affair from the woman’s point of view, from breakup (When This is Over) through denial and grief (My Song) to mental disintegration and suicide (Despair). The cycle is musically based on Purcell’s Lament. The score is marvellously colourful and dramatic and the final song, Despair, despite its gloomy mood, articulates the approach the woman’s insanity and suicide so interestingly that it fulfils Aristotle’s definition of tragedy as a cathartic purging of the emotions of fear and terror by uniting us with their hidden cause. At the end of the last song, the lights in the hall were turned out and the audience rose to its feet for a prolonged ovation. Not really traditional pops concert fare, you might say. And yet Slean’s voice, with its hints of Edith Piaf and even Lotte Lenya, invokes the innocence of vulnerability and leads to feelings of compassion. The concert ended with Slean’s song Parasol, arranged by Hatzis for voice, solo violin and orchestra. It featured SNS concertmaster Robert Uchida and opened with a startlingly virtuosic cadenza. His virtuosity and Slean’s playfulness resulted in another standing ovation, despite Parosol’s words, "And no you can’t play that in this serious hall / only apes wearing capes get the curtain call." Slean knew an encore was wanted but told us she didn’t have one, so she and Uchida and the orchestra, brilliantly led by Bernhard Gueller, would play Parasol again, and again it got a standing ovation. Stephen Pedersen, THE CHRONICLE HERALD (Halifax, Canada). 2012 04 16.

 CONGRATULATIONS ON LAMENTO. I heard it was a great success. J. played me the 3rd movement, it moved me to tears my friend, it is the most incredible music I have heard in a long time, it woke me up. I came in touch with things deep down that I thought I had put away, such a remembering. God touched you and Sarah deeply in this music. Thank you so much for this great gift. P. T. Halifax, NS.

 I am really blown away by your pop songs! Great melodies, beautiful, touching text, and what fantastically imaginative, colourful and unpredictable orchestral accompaniment (unpredictable in a subconsciously logical way, as in: it is always surprising and odd, but makes perfect sense on some subliminal, inacticulable  level, revealing hidden layers of meaning)! The songs really do blur the line between pop and classical, constantly moving back and forth on a continuum between the two. The last one could really function as a pure "classical art song". Sarah sounds great. I like her voice a lot, especially the low, dark register, as when she goes down to "my love" in the first song. . . Congratulations! . . . It 's a hole new road, and who knows: maybe one of the roads out of a tricky corner for "classical" music as such?... N. P. Toronto

 . . . what an amazing concert that was! . . Besides her own music from “Land and Sea” (if you don’t have it, get it!) Sarah also performed the premiere of the CBC commissioned collaboration with Canadian composer Christos Hatzis. “Lamento” is based on the well known aria “When I am Laid in Earth” from Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas. Oh my, how sad, how full, how amazing! The despair was palatable in the room. Such excellent talent. Dorothée Rosen, Haliax (posted at http://dorotheerosen.ca)

 

 Twitter posts before and after the premiere:

Symphony Nova Scotia@SymphonyNS
People are streaming in for the concert with @sarahslean. It's going to be brilliant - especially the amazing Lamento by @christoshatzis!

Sarah Slean@sarahslean
Struggling to find "the right words"... Thank you Halifax, @ChristosHatzis , @SymphonyNS ... Going to sleep a Blissful Baroness...

Symphony Nova Scotia@SymphonyNS
Standing ovation at the Cohn! That was absolutely incredible. Thank you so much @sarahslean and @christoshatzis!

Beth C@sandonthebreeze
@sarahslean and Symphony Nova Scotia were beyond words. Transcendent, amazing, unforgettable. But I'm sure I'll find the right words... ;)

Lauren Bryant-Monk@jl_nicegirl
The @sarahslean concert was amazing. I especially enjoyed the surprise World Premiere of Lamento by @ChristosHatzis. So beautiful and smart

Jeffrey Komar@jeff_komar
@sarahslean @ChristosHatzis @SymphonyNS "Lamento" was #friggenamazing! #ilovenewmusic #somuch

Greg Guy@GregGuyCBC
Magical night at The Cohn with @SarahSlean, composer @ChristosHatzis and @SymphonyNovaScotia#cbcns

Christos Hatzis@ChristosHatzis
I would like to thank @jeffreilly @CBCradio and @SymphonyNS for commissioning #Lamento. Without support for the arts, the world turns silent

Evan R. Phinney@evanphi
@ChristosHatzis thanks for writing such a beautiful piece. #lamento was beautiful.

 

 Facebook posts

Yvonne DeRoller That was the best pops concert I have ever played here Christos. Magic! Thank you so much!

 



 

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