Thursday, July 16, 2015

Scenes from Cavafy

Che fece...il gran rifiuto*

For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It’s clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,

he goes forward in honor and self-assurance.
He who refuses does not repent. Asked again,
he would still say no. Yet that no—the right no—
undermines him all his life.
That poignantly topical poem is by C.P. Cavafy**. Dimitri Mitropoulos, who is better known as a conductor, was the first to compose Cavafy settings - audio sample via this link - while John Tavener also paid homage in his 'Tribute to Cavafy', but the soundtrack for this post is provided by another composer. In their indispensable 'Composing a World: Lou Harrison, Musical Wayfarer' Leta E. Miller and Frederic Lieberman describe how: "For 'Scenes from Cavafy' (1980), Lou Harrison paraphrased selections from the Alexandrian poet, which he then set for male chorus, baritone solo, gamelan, psalteries, and harp in a celebration of homosexual love". My header photo was taken a few weeks ago in the hills above Sougia in the south of Crete. The iPod soundtrack was provided by Gamelan Pacifica's recording of 'Scenes from Cadafy' and also to hand was the invaluable 'A Greek Quintet', an anthology of poems by C.P. Cavafy, Angelos Sikelianios (who was also set by Dmitri Mitropoulos), George Seferis, Odysseus Elytis, and Nikos Gatsos in translations by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard.

* The title is taken from Dante's Inferno, III, 60, and means "who made...the great refusal".
** Poem is reproduced from the official website of the Cavafy archive in the translation by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

2 comments:

Pliable said...

While writing this post I listened again to Nimbus' 3 CD box Lou Harrison: Music for Orchestra, Ensemble & Gamelan which featured in a 2011 post - http://goo.gl/IYQcA3

It struck me again how wrong it is that Lou Harrison is pigeon-holed as a 'gamelan composer'. His orchestral music would appeal to a very wide audience, if it was but given a chance. His Elegiac Symphony featured here - http://goo.gl/zPm9qx - and his scandalously underperformed Piano Concerto here - http://goo.gl/WF3dAp

Pliable said...

It is interesting re-reading the prediction that I made two weeks ago that the US would play a role in solving the Greek economic crisis - http://goo.gl/IBVgtw - and then reading this article in today's Guardian - http://goo.gl/mQZUZt