Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Shostakovich - From Jewish Folk Poetry, Opus 79a

After the successful premiere of his First Symphony in 1926, Dmitri Shostakovich was the darling of the Communist Government in Russia. But with the rise in power of Stalin the political climate changed. In 1936 Shostakovich was no longer the pride of the Soviet government. This was the year of the beginning of the Great Purge of anyone that the paranoid Stalin considered a rival or a danger to his authority. This purge affected the leadership of the Red Army, members of government,  all areas of Soviet life including the arts. Shostakovich lost many friends and colleagues in the years 1936-1938 and he feared for his own life as well.

Shostakovich managed to weather the storm of 1936 and by the time of the outbreak of World War Two his reputation had improved considerably, so much so that Stalin used his music as propaganda in the Russian war effort. But Shostakovich was not one to stay out of trouble for long. In 1948 he was denounced again. He lost his position at the Conservatory along with a considerable part of his income and once again he expeected to be hauled off in the middle of the night, never to return. He wrote film scores and other works to try and rehabilitate his official image again, but by this time Shostakovich also was writing works that were not meant for performance. He wrote these works purely out of an inner need to do so.  One of these private works was the song cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry.

Antisemitism in Russia ran so deep that it was considered a tradition. Shostakovich was not raised in this tradition by his liberal-minded parents, and as a result he was sensitive to the plight of Jewish people all his life. This deepened late in 1944 as news about the Nazi death camps was being brought to light. Stalin was also carrying out a campaign against the Jews in Russia beginning in 1948, when they were removed from public life with many being executed.

Shostakovich took his text from a collection of Jewish Folk Poetry that was published in 1947. He set eight songs and after a private performance he wrote three additional songs to lyrics he thought would be more acceptable to the authorities. But by that time antisemitism was running rampant with the government and the song cycle didn't have its premiere until 1955 after Stalin's death. The original version of the song cycle is for soprano, mezzo-soprano and tenor with piano accompaniment. Shostakovich orchestrated the songs later for chamber orchestra and it is this version heard at the link.

1) Lament For A Dead Child
Sun and rain, shine and mist, the fog has descended,
the moon has grown dim.
Whom did she give birth to?
To a boy, to a boy.
And how did they name him?
Moyshele, Moyshele.
And in what did they rock Moyshele?
In a cradle.
And what did they feed him with?
With bread and onions.
And where did they bury him?
In a grave. Oy, little boy in the grave,
 in the grave, Moyshele in the grave.

Shostakovich was influenced not only by Jewish poetry but by Jewish klezmer  music. This influence can be heard in many of his compositions and especially in this song cycle.
2) The Thoughtful Mother And Aunt
Bye, bye, bye, to the village, Daddy go!
Bring us an apple, so our eyes won’t hurt! Bye…
Bye, bye, bye, to the village, Daddy, go!
Bring us a chicken, so our teeth won’t hurt! Bye…
Bye, bye, bye, to the village, Daddy, go!
Bring us a duck, so our chest won’t hurt! Bye…
Bye, bye, bye, to the village, Daddy, go!
Bring us a goose, so our stomach won’t hurt! Bye…
Bye, bye, bye, to the village, Daddy, go!
Bring us some seeds, so our crown won’t hurt! Bye…
Bye, bye, bye, to the village, Daddy, go!
Bring us a rabbit, so our fingers won't hurt! Bye…

3) Lullaby
My son who is the most beautiful in the world,
sleep, but I’m not sleeping.
Your father is in chains in Siberia,
The Tsar holds him in prison,
Sleep, lu-lu-lu, lu-lu.
Rocking your cradle, your mother sheds tears.
Later you will understand yourself what grieves her heart.
Your father is in far Siberia, and I suffer in misery.
Sleep while you’re still carefree, and lu-lu-lu, lu-lu-lu.
My grief is darker than the night, sleep, but I’m not sleeping.
Sleep, my beautiful, sleep, my son, sleep, lu-lu-lu, lu-lu-lu.

4) Before A Long Parting
Soprano: Oy, Abram, how will I live without you?
Me without you, you without me,
how will we live apart?

Tenor: Do you remember when we were under the porch,
what you told me in secret?
Oy, oy, Rivochka, let me kiss your lips, my darling!

Soprano: Oy, Abram, how will we live now?
Me without you, you without me,
oy, such a door without latch.

Tenor: Do you remember when we were walking hand in hand,
what you told me on the boulevard?
Oy, oy, Rivochka, let me kiss your lips, my darling!

Soprano: Oy, Abram, how will we live now?
Me without you, you without me,
How will we live without happiness?
Tenor: Oy, Rivochka, how will I live without you?
Me without you, you without me,
How will we live without happiness?

Soprano: Do you remember when I was wearing a red skirt?
Oy, as I was beautiful then! Oy, Abram ,! Oy, Abram!
Tenor: Oy, oy, Rivochka, let me kiss your lips, my darling!

5) A Warning
Listen, Khasya, You must not go out,
Do not adventure out,
Don’t date anyone,
Take care, take care!

If you go out, and if you
walk until morning, oy,
Then you will weep bitterly,
Khasya! Hear! Khasya!

6) The Abandoned Father
Mezzo-soprano: Heleh the old man put on his coat.
His daughter ran off with a policeman.

Tenor: Tsirélé, girl! Come back to your father,
I will give you a beautiful dress for your wedding.
Tsirélé, girl! I will buy you earrings and rings for your fingers.
Tsirélé, girl! And a fine young man,
a young man I will give you also.
Tsirélé, girl!

Mezzo-soprano: I do not need clothes, I do not need rings.
I will marry my policeman. Mr. Policeman Please, hurry, hurry up and drive
This old Jew away!
Tenor: Tsirélé, girl! Come back to me!
Tsirélé, girl! Come back to me!
Oy, come back to me, come back to me.
Tsirélé, girl!

7) The Song of Misery
The roof sleeps sweetly in the attic under the straw.
In the cradle sleeps a child without swaddling, all naked.

Hop, hop, higher, higher!
A goat eats straw from the roof!
Hop, hop, higher, higher!
A goat eats straw from the roof, oy!

The cradle is in the attic,
In it a spider weaves misfortune.
It sucks away my happiness,
Leaving me only misery.

Hop, hop, higher, higher!
A goat eats straw from the roof!
Hop, hop, higher, higher!
A goat eats straw from the roof, oy!

A rooster is in the attic,
With a bright red comb.
Oy, wife, borrow for the children
A piece of stale bread.

Hop, hop, higher, higher!
A goat eats straw from the roof!
Hop, hop, higher, higher!
A goat eats straw from the roof, oy!

8) Winter
My Sheyndl is lying on the bed,
with a sick child.
There is not a branch to warm the cottage,
and the wind howls around the walls.
Ah ... 

The cold and the wind have returned,
There is no strength to suffer in silence.
Cry and weep, my children,
winter has returned.
Ah ...

9) A Good Life
Of wide fields, dear friends,
I did not sing songs long ago.
Not for me did the fields bloom,
Not for me did dew-drops flow down.

In a narrow cellar, in humid darkness,
Lived I once, worn out by misery.
And a sad song ascended from the cellar,
Of grief, of my unparalleled suffering.

Kolkhoz river, flow joyfully,
Quickly give my regards to my friends.
Tell them that my home is now in the kolkhoz.
A blossoming tree stands under my window.

Now the fields bloom for me,
They feed me with milk and honey.
I’m happy, and you tell my brothers:
I’ll write songs to the kolkhoz fields.

10) The Young Girl's Song
In a meadow near the forest, from dawn to dusk,
we keep the kolkhoz herd.
And I'm sitting there on a hill, with my little flute,
and I can’t stop to watch enough the beauty of my country.
Trees covered in bright foliage stand so gracefully and so delicately,
in the fields wheat ripens full of goodness and delight.
Oy, oy, Lyou-Lyou!

Now a branch smiles at me, and then a wink,
and a feeling of great joy lights a spark in my heart.
Then sings my little flute! Together we sing quietly!
Mountains and valleys listen to our song full of joy.
But do not cry, my flute! Forget the sorrows of the past,
and let your tunes flow gracefully into the country.
Oy, oy, Lyou-Lyou!

The kolkhoz makes me happy, do you hear? My life is so full!
More cheerfully, more cheerfully, my flute, you must sing!

11) Happiness
I boldly took my husband’s arm,
So what if I’m old and my date is old, too!
I took him with me to the theatre,
And we bought two tickets to the pit.

Sitting there with my husband late into the night,
Everyone succumbed to the happy thoughts
About what wealth surrounds
The Jewish shoemaker’s wife.

Oy, oy, oy, oy, what wealth surrounds
The Jewish shoemaker’s wife. Oy!

And to the whole country will I tell
About my happy and bright lot!
Doctors, doctors, have become our sons – 
A star shines above our heads!

Oy, oy, oy, oy, a star shines,
A star shines,
A star shines above our heads!
Doctors, doctors,
Have become our sons! A star shines
Above our heads. Oy!

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