for soprano, viola, and cello
Text by Beverly Lafontaine
premiered September 15, 2003
Gwendolyn Lytle, soprano; Cynthia Fogg, viola; Tom Flaherty, cello
Bridges Hall, Claremont, California
Scenes from Sarajevo is based on six poems by Pasadena poet Beverly Lafontaine.
In a world with instantaneous dissemination of words and pictures, the cruelty and hardships that humanity inflicts upon itself are commonplace, although the details vary from one time and place to the next. The siege of Sarajevo has its own unforgettable imagery that no one exposed to the media in the early 1990s can easily forget: innocent people crossing a city bridge sporadically shot by snipers. A cellist playing alone in a town square, in defiance of the shells exploding around him. The news of many long-missing men discovered alive (or sometimes dead) only by their appearance on the television. Bodies floating down the river through the center of town. Ms. Lafontaine’s poems eloquently convey these scenes from various perspectives, often with an entirely unexpected intimacy and compassion. We see through the eyes of worried and grieving husbands, wives, children, and even a sniper.
I have long been attracted to the folk music of the Balkan region, and this setting reflects that, with drones, the mild dissonance of conflicting modes, and changing meters. The harmonic language of Ravel’s Chansons Madécasses was also in my mind, possibly because of its text. The ethnic tensions underlying the text of Ravel’s piece are perhaps more suppressed, but their ultimate violent outcome is never in doubt.
Scenes from Sarajevo is dedicated to Gwendolyn Lytle and Cynthia Fogg.
The day gathers into this hour,
Once, on a tv show an actress played a job-seeker who'd majored in Serbo-Croation lit. A joke. Des Moines didn't get it. The show died. The actress went on to other roles. Eventually Serbs and Croats began slaughtering each other. Both sides claimed innocence. Blood became top soil. The world referred to the country in the past tense. Local heroes became war criminals. Poets were silent. A cellist played alone in a crumbling square.
The woman's arms are above her head,
Minutes click into place with optic acuity,
My eye stutters, seeks a warm place (the consequence)
Minutes blinking into place are numbered.
Your face, your face on the television.
Wife, wife, child, child.
On the water a waltz. A skim of white dresses, black shiny boots.
If the river had memory it would remember stars in the sky like notes of music on a page.
Not this. Not this:
Fear in jagged flight.
© Beverly Lafontaine