I hope you’ve had a chance to watch the production of Eugene Onegin I shared with you on Saturday. Tchaikovsky’s adaptation of Pushkin’s novel in verse is stunning.
I got to wondering who else had set Pushkin’s verse to music. The Cambridge Companion to Pushkin states that about 500 composers have set Pushkin’s poetry to music, yielding thousands of art songs and choral pieces. Many of the composers are Russian, but I wondered if any non-Russian composers had taken up the challenge.
So who was brave enough to try? Benjamin Britten. And he succeeded spectacularly.
Britten wrote the song cycle The Poet’s Echo (Op. 76) in 1965 for Galina Vishnevskaya, soprano and wife of cellist Mstislav Rosropovich. The song cycle contains six songs: Echo, My Heart, Angel, The Nightingale and the Rose, Epigram, and Lines Written During a Sleepless Night. The links take you to Vishnevskaya’s recording on YouTube.
The sound quality of this reproduction of the recording is not optimal; however, if it is the Decca recording, which I believe it is, Vishnevskaya sings and Britten himself is at the piano. I also enjoyed the performance of the song cycle posted to YouTube and performed by Lene Strindberg.
An eerie moment occurred during the first performance of the song cycle at the Pushkin House Museum. During the last song, Lines Written During a Sleepless Night, the clock spontaneously struck midnight in time with the performance. Was it the poet’s echo?
Kahn, Andrew, ed. and Gasparov, Boris, chapter author. The Cambridge Companion to Pushkin. Cambridge University Press, 2006-2007. http://universitypublishingonline.org/cambridge/companions/chapter.jsf?bid=CBO9781139001250&cid=CBO9781139001250A017 .
Image attribution: Alexander Pushkin by Pyotr Sokolov, [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pushkin_Alexander_by_Sokolov_P..jpg