EBERHARD: Piano Concerto / Prometheus Wept
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Dennis Eberhard (b.1943)
Shadow of The Swan (Piano Concerto)
Prometheus WeptA few years ago I had the extraordinary opportunity tomeet the exceptional Russian pianist Halida Dinova.
She had just finished recording the piano works ofScriabin and asked me if I would help her decide theorder in which they would appear on her soon to bereleased CD. After spending eight intense hoursworking together, I came away from that eventfulmeeting overwhelmed. Halida's powerful interpretationof Scriabin's work, the depth of feeling she was able toevoke and the profound sensitivity she expressed by herplaying had planted a seed in my mind. As I began tofollow her career and hear her perform more often sheincreasingly impressed me by her ability to summon thedeepest emotions from the music she performed,bringing it to life in a way that I had never heard. I wasalso strongly drawn to her as a creative artist whoshared my musical values and aesthetic sensibilities. Ibegan to think about writing a piece for her, one thatwould exploit her very special qualities and make aforceful impact. I decided upon a piano concerto.
I was working on the second movement when Iheard the news that the Russian submarine Kursk hadexperienced some kind of accident and that it and itscrew were stranded at the bottom of the Barents Sea.
The early but fading hope of rescue, the heroicinternational efforts exerted to save the men and theultimate human tragedy brought about by the death ofone hundred eighteen sailors made this incidentintensely poignant. I was at once terribly moved andinspired. It became obvious to me that the meaning ofthis work was fatally bound to this tragedy. I decidedimmediately to dedicate the piano concerto to thememory of those men who perished in August 2000.
It was then that I remembered the powerful poemBabi Yar by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. For a reason thenunknown to me, I began to pore over his poetry.
Suddenly, I came across a brief poem entitled Requiemfor Challenger. I was stunned. The poem drew up fromdeep within my psyche the terrifying image of thattragic explosion that I witnessed on television thatfateful morning in 1986. I was especially shaken by theirony of Yevtushenko's imagery that depicted themassive explosion as \...this great white swan of deathmade from the last breath of seven evaporated souls...1"I could not help but draw a parallel between this terribleevent and the Kursk disaster.
From the very onset of this project, I had beensearching for a nexus, a common thread that I couldweave into a musical fabric that would somehow linkand fuse our two cultures together and would givemeaning to this piece. I had discovered that connection.
Sadly it had come full circle. A work whose conceptionhad been inspired by a Russian technological disaster asseen through the eyes of an American composer hadbecome entwined with the memory of an Americantechnological disaster as seen through the eyes of aRussian poet. Both events shook the world.
That haunting image of a great white swanspreading its bellowing plumes as it incrediblyevaporates, falling to earth, as the Kursk fell to thebottom of the sea, taking with it the memories of onceliving beings is devastating. Its awesome shadow castupon the face of the earth makes us shudder. At thesame time, it reminds us that both life and art are acontinuum. We are but parts of that continuum. We live,we die and yet we remain alive in the memories of thosewe have touched.
Today these two incidents are dwarfed by thehorrific events that occurred in New York City,Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania on 11thSeptember, 2001. These events touched people from allnations, and galvanized humanity, drawing it togetherthrough a shared vision of the future and a renewedsense of compassion for one another. Shadow of theSwan is a celebration of our indomitable human spirit.
After being commissioned by Performers andArtists for Nuclear Disarmament to write a short piecefor string orchestra in remembrance of the victims of theatomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I beganto search for a title that would evoke the sense andfeeling I hoped to express. I was strangely drawn to themythical Titan, Prometheus. The Greek playwrightAeschylus in his drama Prometheus Bound tells us thatZeus, the creator, was dissatisfied with the race ofhuman beings that he had made, thinking them to beflawed and inferior. He therefore decided to destroythem and create a new race of people. Prometheus, thefirst of the intelligent Titans, felt that there was potentialin humankind and elected to champion them. In doingso, he defied Zeus by giving them the secret of fire. Iimagine Prometheus returning to earth at the end of thetwentieth century expecting to marvel at the wonderswrought by humanity. Instead he finds that they havetaken his gift to its ultimate extreme and unleashed itagainst themselves and their world. I imaginePrometheus horribly shaken, saddened anddisappointed. In his remorse, I see a tear slowlyemerging from his great eye.
I turned my searching eyesTo the sun, as ifAn ear above would hear my lament,A heart like mine, distressed,Pleading for pity.
From Goethe's Prometheus(translated by Renata Cinti)When Prometheus Wept was first performed in 1998,it was preceded by a dramatic presentation of a RussianOrthodox styled chant sung in Slavonic by the bassMichael McMurray. Inspired by his visit to Chernobylin 1996, McMurray, an anti-nuclear activist, decided toput together this short chant based on texts taken fromRevelations that would bring attention to the disaster.
Beginning with the passage that introduces the sevenangels with the seven trumpets and closing with theappearance of the star called Wormwood, the chantdepicts the end of the world. Most interestingly theSlavonic text was modified by substituting theUkrainian word for Wormwood, "Chernobyl" so as tolink the chant to the apocalyptic melt-down thatoccurred in the Ukraine. The effect of the pairing ofthese two pieces was so striking that I decided to makemy own version of the chant and combine the two intoone piece. In the new version the text to the chant isextended to include a warning of doom given to theinhabitants of the earth by an angel. There is no printedmusic for this segment of the piece. Instead the bassbegins on his lowest note and chants in Russian in theRussian Orthodox Liturgical manner, risingchromatically, and closes when he reaches his highestnote. Although one segment is based upon a biblicaltext and the other taken from mythology, the twoseemingly disparate elements combine to create apowerful indictment against the senseless abuse ofatomic energy and give a stern warning to those whowould continue to play with fire.
Dennis EberhardRevelations 8: 6-13And the seven angels who had the seven trumpetsprepared to sound them.
The first angel sounded his trumpet, and therecame hail and fire mixed with blood, and it washurled down upon the earth. A third of the earthwas burned up, a third of the trees were burnedup, and all the green grass was burned up.
The second angel sounded his trumpet, andsomething like a huge mountain, all ablaze, wasthrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned intoblood, a third of the living creatures in the seadied, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a greatstar, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on athird of the rivers and springs of water - the nameof the star is Chernobyl - a third of the watersturned bitter, and many people died from thewaters that had become bitter.
The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a thirdof the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and athird of the stars, so that a third of them turneddark. A third of the day was without light, andalso a th