What’s the connection between classical music and classic poetry? That was theme some of us decided to explore with #ClassicsaDay. For April 2018 we posted examples of settings of poetry in classical music, works inspired by poetry, and more. Here’s an annotated list of the works I posted for the third week of #PoetryMonth.
Sergei Rachmaninoff – The Bells, Op. 35
(The Bells – Edgar Allen Poe)
Poe’s poetry inspired composers all across Europe. Rachmaninoff’s setting is a Russian translation by Konstantini Balmont. Poe’s 1848 poem has four parts. Rachmaninoff’s choral symphony also has four movements, corresponding to the structure of the poem.
John Tavener – The Lamb
(The Lamb – William Blake)
William Blake was virtually unknown during his lifetime. The rich, mystical, and sometimes otherworldly aspects of his poems, prints, and paintings became well-known in the late 19th Century, and continue to be so today. John Tavener’s setting of “The Lamb” is, in some ways, as mysterious as Blake’s original 1789 poem.
Sergei Prokofiev – Five Poems by Anna Akhmatova, Op. 27
(Poetry by Anna Akhmatova)
Anna Akhmatova was one of the most popular and influential poets in Russia. Her deeply personal poems seemed to personify the Russian character. When Prokofiev set five of her poems in 1916, Akhmatova’s poetry was readily available. In 1922 Soviet authorities banned her works, and they remained so until the 1950s. She then returned to public favor, and works like Prokofiev’s “Five Poems” were safe to perform.
Antonio Salieri – Armida
(Gerusalemme Liberata – Torquato Tasso)
Salieri was one of many composers who wrote an opera based on Torquato Tasso’s character. In his epic 1574 poem Gerusalemme Liberata, Armida was a Saracen sorceress. She enchants the Crusader Rinaldo to stop the invasion of Jerusalem. Armida falls in love with Rinaldo, releases her hold. After his victory, Rinaldo returns to her. The story has been set by Handel, Haydn, Lully, Vivaldi, Gluck, Dvorak, and Rossini — among others.
Hector Berlioz – Harold en Italie, Op. 16
(Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage – Lord Byron)
Lord Byron’s massive 4-part narrative poem was completed in 1811. The story of the brooding Romantic hero appealed to Berlioz and his friend Niccolo Paganini. Paganini commissioned Berlioz to write a work based on the poem, and this 4-part symphony was the result. Berlioz wrote a viola obbligato part to represent Childe Harold on his journey.