Verre de Venise

tenor, piano, string quartet

Duration 16’
Instrumentation tenor, 2 violins, viola, cello, piano
First Performance  18 June 2010, Orford Church, Aldeburgh Festival; Ben Johnson (tenor), The Benyounes String Quartet, Aline Piboule (piano)
Co-commissioned by Aldeburgh, Aix-en-Provence, and Verbier Music Festivals
Further Performances
26.6.10 Verbier Festival, Eglise, Verbier, Switzerland, Gijs can der Linden tenor, Aline Piboule piano, Benyounes String Quartet
21.7.10 Aix-en-Provence Festival, Hôtel Maynier d’Oppède, Aix-en-Provence, France, Gijs can der Linden tenor, Aline Piboule piano, Benyounes String Quartet
25.10.11 Oxford Lieder Festival, Holywell Music Room, Oxford, UK, James Gilchrist tenor, Anna Tilbrook piano, Barbirolli String Quartet
2.7.12 West Cork Festival, Robin Tritschler tenor, Paavali Jumppanen piano, RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet
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Although best known for his German poetry, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a substantial body of poetry in French – nearly 400 poems – written mainly between 1922 and 1926. Critics generally agree that it is lighter and more playful than his work in German, whilst retaining Rilke’s signature qualities of lyricism, ambiguity and nostalgia at its core. Poulin, whose translation I include here, writes:

“These French poems bear the unmistakable stamp of Rilke’s masterful impetus and imagination at the fullness of his maturity. And at the heart of these poems is much the same vision as that found in the Sonnets and the Elegies: the poetic transformation of the world as a result of intense attractiveness to the things of this world.”
(A. Poulin, Jr., 1986)

The collection of poems chosen for this cycle all attend to this proximity to nature and often incorporate or allude to ethereal images such as angels or heaven. Rilke creates vastness- paradoxically evoking a sense of spaciousness within exceptionally miniature forms. The open-ended, fragmentary nature of his writing, allows the text to float as if suspended, providing only momentary feelings of completeness. It has been said that for Rilke, the poem records at best “a fleeting instant when the work of art and life are mutually realised”.
(‘Uncertain Poetries: Selected essays’, 2005, M. Heller)