Ladino Songs of Love and Suffering
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This piece was born as a commission from two of the composer’s colleagues. But it also reflects the interest in folklore that Adolphe acquired from his parents, both of whom were professional folk dancers (in addition to being teachers in academic disciplines). He grew up listening to many diverse genres of folk music in his parents’ collections, including Ladino folksongs—which made an indelible impression on him at an early age. The texts for this work are derived from well-known Ladino folk poetry. Adolphe, however, retained only the words and discarded the traditional melodies attached to these poems. The music is freely composed, without reliance upon preexisting musical folk material.
The composer has written the following note on this work:
In 1983, Lucy Shelton and David Jolley asked me to compose a work for soprano, French horn, and guitar. The instrumental combination was a bit daunting, for blending the soft-spoken guitar with the deeply resonant horn seemed an acoustic nightmare. Add a soprano, and where are you? However, I soon began to think of the instruments as three of the purest sounds available, and the easy pairing of voice and guitar could perhaps be lent an air of mystery and distance by the evocative tone of the horn. Having just had the premiere of my opera The False Messiah at New York’s 92nd Street Y, I was still thinking in terms of ecstatic Sephardi melismas—Shabtai Zvi, the 17th-century “False Messiah,” had ended up in Istanbul, after all. The idea that this trio would be well suited to Ladino-inspired music seemed right. The guitar was clearly the perfect instrument for Judeo-Spanish timbres and rhythms, the voice would tell the stories of love and loss, and the horn would provide the mournful echoes and amplify the passionate outcries. And so, with the help of Isabelle Ganz, who had performed and recorded much Ladino music, I selected verses from ancient poems that could have been written yesterday. The work was premiered on November 28, 1984, at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, by Lucy Shelton, David Jolley, and David Starobin. Soon after, it was performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington by Shelton, Jolley, and guitarist Eliot Fisk, the performers in this recording, whom I thank for their passionate and intelligent virtuosity.