Powerful, moving, emotional – but not Prog
Symphony No 3 – Symphony of Sorrowful Songs
I’ve had this album for many years now, I can’t recall what drew me to it but I’m thankful for whatever or whoever did.
Quite simply this an astonishingly moving piece of work and one which, if not listened to in the right mindset, could quite easily be emotionally devastating.
I’m not going to critique this album from a musical or technical point of view as I do not have those skills, nor do I profess to know enough about this genre to compare this to other classical works.
The title is enough to warn you this is not music to listen if you are looking for upbeat, stirring music. For that look elsewhere. For a deeply profound and challenging hour where you can lose yourself entirely I highly recommend you set time aside and connect with this work of beauty.
There are three movements with each one based on motherhood, separation and loss.
The first and third movements are from the perspective of a mother mourning a lost son whilst the second movement (my personal highlight) is from the perspective of a young 18 year old girl mourning separation from her parents whilst in a Gestapo cell.
The piece starts very quietly and as described in the liner notes :
“the instrumental voices enter in a stairway of fifths that rises through four octaves and eventually encompasses all eight pitches in the Aeolian mode (on E) characteristic of the 24-bar cantus firmus”
If that description is too technical (it is for me…) all I can is you are drawn into the music by gentle waves of gorgeously textured strings that lap at your consciousness. Then at the 13 minute mark the soaring soprano voice of Dawn Upshaw is like sun breaking through the clouds, illuminating darkened hills then just as quickly, the clouds form again and we are left with the sweeping vocals dripping with sorrow, pain and longing.
The build-up of tension is almost unbearable and yet quite, quite beautiful.
The words to this first lament include the heart-breaking words as follows :-
My son, my chosen and beloved
Share your wounds with your mother
And because, dear Son, I have always carried you in my heart
And always served you faithfully
Speak to your Mother, to make her happy
Although you are already leaving me, my cherished hope
After this powerful vocal recital which at 16 minutes in reaches a hugely powerful and moving section, we are left with graceful strings like deep ocean waves swelling and surging but never breaking, giving us time to reflect and gather our thoughts. Eventually the sonorous cello’s draw this stunning movement to a close.
The second movement is based on an inscription found in a Gestapo cell in Zakopane written by an imprisoned 18 year old girl which read :
No, Mother, do not weep
Most chaste Queen of Heaven
Support me always
“Zdrowas Mario” (‘Ave Maria” in Polish)
This is my favourite piece.
Tere is a surprisingly bright start, to reflect the youth of the subject matter perhaps, but then events take a dramatic turn very quickly as the soprano of Dawn Upshaw comes in early on adding a foreboding tone alluding to the darkness of the cell. The notes refer to an ‘imprisoned tone’ in her voice but which provides “a single shaft of vernal sunlight’ as the piece progresses.
I understand this movement was performed live in almost complete darkness with subtle lighting effects. I cannot imagine how moving this piece must be in a darkened concert hall.
Again, the only way I can describe this is like waves or looking at a range of mountains that endlessly roll on and on. It is soothing yet haunting, peaceful yet disturbing. There is an aching sense of loss and grief that can be overwhelming at times.
The third and last movement continues the themes of sorrow and loss and is based on a Silesian folk song of a mother looking for her son after the Silesian uprisings.
The overall theme musically is similar and continues the ebb and flow of lush sweeping strings and soaring soprano but there is a little more complexity in this piece which provides a further 17 minutes of stunning, powerful music.
So, I highly recommend this work and as a more modern counter-part, I would also recommend the works of MONO – a Japanese group who utilise many of the same moods, tones and swathes of tidal sound, albeit with more modern instruments.
Thanks for listening !