MARTINU: The Epic of Gilgamesh

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The Epic of Gilgamesh, an oratorio for soprano,tenor, baritone and bass soloists, choir and orchestra, was written at Nice andcompleted in 1955. It is dedicated to Maja Sacher, the wife of Paul Sacher towhom he had been indebted as a patron and then as a generous benefactor duringhis final years of illness. Martinů made use at first of the Englishtranslation of the ancient Babylonian epic by Campbell Thompson, a version thathas seriously dated since its original publication in 1928 and 1930. A Czechtranslation of the English followed. The poem had its source in ancientSumeria, to be expanded later in the Akkadian language of Babylonia. The hero,Gilgamesh, although the subject of legendary exploits, actually ruled inBabylonia about 2700 B.C. In the poem he is accompanied by Enkidu, a wild mantamed by a courtesan and his constant friend and companion in his adventures.

Enkidu rejects the advances of Ishtar, the goddess of love, and when they killthe bull she sends to punish them, the gods take revenge by killing him.

Gilgamesh, in grief, seeks a means of restoring his friend to life, and finallylearns from his shade about the world of the dead.

Theoratorio is in three parts, the first based on Tablets 1 and 2 of the twelvetablets preserved from the library of King Ashurbanipal of Assyria (669-630B.C.), the second on Tablets 7, 8 and 10 and the third on Tablet 12. Theremarkable setting of the ancient poem by Martinů captures the joy andgrief of the ancient world, where death was sudden and inexorable. It is scoredwith considerable delicacy and subtlety to evoke the past in an eclectic use ofmodes and telling contrasts of the sung and spoken word that add considerablyto the underlying drama.

Thefirst part of the oratorio, Gilgamesh,opens mysteriously (1), the chorus leading to the entry of the bass soloistpraising Gilgamesh, the matter taken up by the chorus again (2). The basssoloist describes the creation of Enkidu (3) intoning without accompaniment,except for the addition at one point of a single clarinet note. The chorus goeson to describe Enkidu's way of life in the desert (4) and the tenor, speaking,tells how a hunter had met him and been afraid. His father advises him to use acourtesan to lure Enkidu to the city (5) and the chorus launches into a livelyaccount of how Enkidu approaches the well where the hunter and courtesan awaithim (6). The tenor soloist then urges the girl to reveal her beauty to the wildman (7) and to an orchestral accompaniment of increasing excitement the chorustells how she seduces him. The bass soloist, assisted by the chorus, resumesthe narrative (8), explaining that the cattle now turned away from Enkidu, whohad lost his primitive innocence. The woman addresses him (9), praising hisgod-like beauty in rhapsodic terms and leading him to Erech and to Gilgameshand to the delights of the city, now with the women's voices of the chorus,sustaining a wordless accompaniment. The tenor then declaims Enkidu's willingresponse (10), and the chorus goes on to describe Enkidu's approach and thegreat contest of Enkidu and Gilgamesh.

Thesecond part, The Death of Enkidu,opens with muted trumpets in music of spare and mysterious texture (11). Thewomen's voices of the chorus sing of the power of death. The bass soloist,speaking, then tells of Enkidu's premonition of death (12), the tenor, asEnkidu, singing of his ominous dream. He continues to describe his meeting withthe Queen of the Underworld (13), the chorus repeating its warning of the powerof death. Then, without accompaniment, the chorus tells of Enkidu lying on hisdeath-bed (14). The orchestra adds its own ominous comment (15) and thebaritone soloist, as Gilgamesh, grieves at the approaching death of his friend.

The chorus, again unaccompanied, describes further Enkidu's death-bed (16),followed by the lament of Gilgamesh. The chorus warns him that there is noremedy for death (17) and the orchestra adds its own hymn of mourning. Thebaritone soloist, Gilgamesh, now tells of his wandering in the desert insadness (18), seeking death himself. The chorus urges him to desist (19), sincedeath is allotted by fate.

Thethird part, Invocation, starts with ahushed orchestral introduction (20), after which the soprano soloist asksGilgamesh why he is grieving (21). He replies, bemoaning the death of Enkidu(22). In speech, accompanied by wordless women's chorus, the sorrowing ofGilgamesh is described (23), framed by a wordless lament in which the sopranosoloist joins. Now the chorus urges Enkidu to rise from the dead (24).

Gilgamesh goes to the temple of Enlil and begs his intercession (25), but invain. He beseeches the Moon God (26), but again in vain. Then he turns to Eia (27),and all join to beg that Enkidu may rise from the dead. This is urged even morestrongly (28) and the spirit of Enkidu emerges from the earth. Questioned now,he tells what he has seen in the Land of the Dead (29), Enkidu's spiritrepresented by the bass soloist. The work ends in the mood of mysterious andarchaic fatalism in which it has been largely set, Enkidu's final responseechoing through the caverns of the Underworld.




[1]Bass solo & chorus


Hewho the heart of all matter hath proven,

lethim teach the nation!

Hewho all knowledge possesseth shall school all the people.

Heshall his wisdom impart and so shall they share it together


Leavethno son to his father,

leavethno maid to her mother,

nor aspouse to a husband!

He isour shepherd, masterful, dominant!

Heleaveth no son to his father! No maid to her mother!

Nay!Nor a spouse to a husband!

Ohe's our shepherd, our master!

Dominant!Masterful Gilgamesh!

[3]Bass solo

Tothe appeal of their wailing Goddess Aruru gave ear,

Shefingered some clay, on the desert, she moulded it:

thuson the desert Enkidu made she a warrior.

Inthe way of a woman he snooded his locks,

sproutedluxuriant growth of his hair

likethe awns of the barley,

[4](Chorus) nor knew the people nor land.

Withgazelles did he pasture on herbage.

Alongwith the beast did his heart delight at the water,

withthe cattle.


Thendid a hunter come face to face with him,

one,two, three days, at the place where the beast drank water.

Soothhis face o'ermantled with terror.

Untohis steading he went dismayed, affrighted,

andhis face was one of one who hath gone a far journey.

thenhis father said to him:

[5]Bass solo

Go,my hunter, take with thee a courtesan girl.

Whenhe the cattle shall gather again

tothe place of their drinking

soshall she put off her mantle,

thecharm of her beauty revealing.

Thenshall he spy her, will embrace her,

andhis cattle will deny him.


Forthwent the hunter, took with him a courtesan girl.

Oneday, two days, they sat by the place.

Thenat last came the cattle and there was Enkidu also.

Withthe cattle did he pasture on herbage.

Item number 8555138
Barcode 747313513826
Release date 03/01/2002
Category 20th Century
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Composers Martinu, Bohuslav
Martinu, Bohuslav
Conductors Kosler, Zdenek
Kosler, Zdenek
Orchestras Slovak Philharmonic Chorus
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
Slovak Philharmonic Chorus
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
Disc: 1
Part III: Invocation
1 Bass Solo and Chorus: Gilgames!
2 Gilgames!
3 Bass Solo: Vyslysela stiznost bozska Aruru
4 (Chorus): Cloveka neznal ni vlast
5 Bass Solo: Sam uz nechod
6 Chorus: Sam uz nejde lovec
7 Tenor Solo and Chorus: Zeno, hle, on!
8 Bass Solo and Chorus: K stadu kdyz pak pohledl
9 Soprano Solo: Ja k tobe vzhlizim
10 Speaker: I souhlasil v nitru svem
11 Chorus: Nam vsem v udel
12 Speaker: Gilgames a Enkidu
13 Tenor Solo: Ja pak vesel v onu tmu
14 Chorus: Enkidu trapil se den
15 Baritone Solo: Narek slyste muj, vy starci!
16 Chorus: Enkidu nic nevidi
17 Chorus: Gilgames, kam chvata?
18 Baritone Solo: Skon pritele meho zdeptal mne
19 Chorus: Gilgames, kam chvata?
20 Introduction
21 Soprano Solo: Gilgames, odekdy sily pozbyl?
22 Baritone Solo: Mne pritele skon podlomil
23 Speaker: Gilgames, jenz nevnikl
24 Soprano Solo and Chorus: To hlina jest
25 Baritone Solo and Chorus: Enlile, muj otce!
26 Spes, vladce luny
27 Eo, spln zadost!
28 Hlina zeme ho zahy odnala nam
29 Speaker, Baritone and Bass Soli with Chorus: I vys
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