Song of the Day: October 6

This week’s Song of the Day curator is Russian soprano and international star Dina Kuznetsova. You can hear Dina in NYFOS’s upcoming show From Russia to Riverside Drive on November 8 (Boston) and November 10 (New York), performing songs by Rachmaninoff, alongside some of the Jazz Age music that Rachmaninoff heard during his time living in New York.

from Dina Kuznetsova:

Some of my most important musical experiences have come from participating in programs with New York Festival of Song, and this entry has a connection to Michael Barrett’s own from the previous week. One of the most beloved programs I’ve ever done was was created for NYFOS by Steven Blier and Michael Barrett, and dedicated to the relationship Dvořák had with the American Spiritual. The emotional roller coaster of alternating Dvořák’s songs and traditional Spirituals with their deep well of human experiences, and of finding the connections between them, has stayed with me for many years.

The whole program is dear to my heart, but one song in particular comes to my mind with haunting regularity, with its seemingly simple melody and straightforward emotion. When I began researching it, I saw that it followed Dvořák throughout his life and he kept reworking it; so maybe it stayed with him, too.

The song is the last song of Pisne Milostne, op. 82 (“Love Songs”), 1888; text is by Moravian poet Gustav Pfleger-Moravsky

The translation is as follows:

O dear soul, the only one
That still lives in my heart.
My thoughts surround you,
Though evil fate separates us.
If I were only a singing swan,
I would fly to you and reach you.
With my very last sigh
I would sing out my heart for you,
yes, with my last sigh.

Dvořák first wrote the melody for his early song cycle, Cypresses. He was 24 at the time and in love. The piano accompaniment, and even the melody itself, were slightly different from their final form. Those songs were not published, but in 1887 Dvořák turned back to them, rearranged some of them for a string quartet, and in 1888 reworked them again to create the cycle, Pisne Milostne. Here is an excerpt containing the song, performed by Delme String Quartet:

So often, especially when I am alone, in nature, maybe hiking, and my mind empties of stress and extraneous noise, this melody and these words come to me with their vision of beauty and devotion—“O dear soul, the only one…”

Here is Bernarda Fink singing it:

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