songs from Solomon's garden

Matthias Pintscher: songs from Solomon’s garden
for Baritone and Chamber orchestra

With songs from Solomon’s garden, Pintscher has once again set a song from the Shir-ha shirim, the Song of Solomon. Written for Thomas Hampson and the New York Philharmonic, with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra as co-commissioner, Pintscher has set the high exultation of the second part, and lets this flow into a vision of Solomon’s fertile garden.

"The starting point of the composition is the text: the aura, archaism and intensity of the songs in their concentration. The language is so expressive, because it is so compressed. The words are islands of expression, they circle within themselves and are so rich in substance, that each word radiates towards the next. There is so much space for sound in them, for music. The text allows other parameters, the sound, to join together without corrupting the autonomy of the words” (Matthias Pintscher). In its beauty, mysteriousness and ambiguity, scarcely any other work of literature in western culture has held such an unbroken fascination for over two thousand years - genuine love poetry for the metaphor, rich in imagery, of God’s relationship to his chosen people. The shir ha shirim, the Song of Songs is a multi-faceted song to love itself, yet its high tone seems to be acquainted with all the depths of passion in an entirely worldly way. In 2008 Matthias Pintscher first set the fifth song in she-cholat ahava ani (For I am sick of love) for mixed unaccompanied choir, and now, with songs from Solomon’s garden for Baritone and Chamber orchestra, has set the second song, which is one of the brightest of the eight songs. And although the text is full of rejoicing, cries and evocations, it nevertheless contains the phrase “for I am sick of love”, which tells that love also knows sorrow, and that those who sing here have also experienced a condition without love. This “ki cholat ahava ani” is the only portion of the text which Pintscher repeats in his composition, like an exclamation mark after a central set phrase.

In the text, several speakers can be discerned, a man and a woman, a constantly meandering change of perspectives which suggests the fact that the text itself is the meeting point. This play between roles is set in Pintscher’s composition in the dialogue between baritone and orchestra, which nestles around the text like a projection screen. “The Hebrew language provides rhythmic and gestural patterns, which for me evoke previously untapped musical gestures. And these are then reflected in the orchestra, which is an equal partner in the dialogue with the solo voice. The sung and the instrumental text communicate and comment on each other. The singer, for example, projects gestures into the sound space of the ensemble, which takes them up as in antiphony, transforms, colours, extends or shortens them. The orchestra is like a magnifying glass to what is contained in the sound of the word, like a prism which scatters the expressive content in various directions.”

Three times, the dialogue between voice and instruments, which play with an increasing intensity of expression, leads into orchestral continuations – two linking passages and an epilogue – which underline what has happened before, and continue the images. “So much is revealed: when the last word is spoken, a vision of the fertile garden of Solomon opens up, reflecting something of my memory of how I experienced the country of Israel. Aleatoric elements, small particles, independent voices combine together into a vegetative microcosm which opens up to the horizon in perspective. The end is simply an image, as if looking through a window into the distance, and there is simply the turbulent land with its fruitfulness, its beauty, its riches.” The first performance of songs from Solomon’s garden
took place on 16 April in New York with Thomas Hampson and the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Alan Gilbert. Co-commissioner of the work was the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, which gave the first German performance in Frankfurt on 23 April with Dietrich Henschel, conducted by Lucas Vis.

© Marie Luise Maintz