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The Surviving Angel: three poetic reflections | Steven Sérpa

The Surviving Angel: three poetic reflections

for soprano, countertenor and baritone soloists, children’s voices and orchestra (2013)



Duration: 30 min.

Instrumentation: S,CT,Bar,children's voices(S,S,A); 3(3=picc).afl.2.corA.2.bcl.2.dbn;; timp.perc(3); hrp; pft; strings

Text: English, compiled by the composer
Rafael Alberti (translation by Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno)
Psalm 143 (from The Webster Bible, 1833)
Sura 93 (from The Holy Qur’an, translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, 1935)

Program Note:
1. Elegy in April and September
2. The Surviving Angel
3. By the Morning Light

My composition The Surviving Angel takes its title from the final poem of Rafael Alberti’s 1928 publication Sobre los àngeles (Concerning the Angels). It is a reflection or meditation on that poem but also on three other texts over the composition’s three movements. These movements are tightly knit, sharing thematic and harmonic material. In the first movement I sought to capture the essence of the poem “Elegy in April and September” by Wilfred Owen written in 1918. This orchestral movement features a central canon on a lamenting melody which seeks to embodies the war-time sorrow of Owen’s text while contemplating sad events of our own time, specifically the terrorist attacks happening all over the world. This work was finished a week before the bombings at the Boston Marathon, and sadly, the title of Owen’s poem seems prophetic since those events on April 15th, 2013. The second movement is introduces the baritone soloist in a setting of Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno’s masterful translation of Alberti’s “The Surviving Angel.” The third movement contemplates two sacred texts in relation to our world since 9/11, with its on-going war and cultural turmoil. I have brought together these texts in response to Alberti’s own celestial considerations. Lines from Psalm 143, sacred to both the Jewish and Christian faiths, are combined with lines from Sura 93 of Islam’s Holy Qur’an. The blending of the texts is itself a meditation on the one God that all three faiths worship, with religion sadly a major component to hostility now and since the beginning of recorded history.


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