|I. With great intensity - strained, sometimes violent
|II. As if in a dream
|III. Very fast, rhythmic and precise; Suddenly mysterious
|IV Calm and stately
Inspired in part by the writings of Italian poet and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi, Shelia Silver's To The Spirit Unconquered is, in her words, "about the ability of the human spirit to transcend the most devastating of circumstances, to survive and to bear witness." Commissioned by the Guild Trio, it was premiered in 1992 and subsequently recorded for the CRI label in 1996.
Silver designed each movement to reflect a different aspect of the concentration camp experience Levi conveyed in his writings, though she confesses to having added a bit of optimism not present in Levi's work. In the first movement, marked "With great intensity—strained, sometimes violent," fear is expressed. Dark tremolos in the strings and crashing dissonant piano chords create a strong sense of foreboding. "As if in a dream," the second movement, focuses on memory and its importance to camp victims' survival. Here, piano lines often seem to float above swooning strings. At other times, the different instruments play off one another like flashes of memories passing by in the mind. The third movement, "Very fast, rhythmic, and precise," a scherzo, depicts barbarism. The rhythm is quick and syncopated, with staccato stabs and angular melodies. Only a pause separates the third movement from the finale, "Calm and stately," which, with its soaring melodies, represents the spirit's transcendence.
In a 1998 interview with the Milken Archive, Silver claimed To the Spirit Unconquered as her most successful piece to date, stating that it had been widely performed and had won over audiences skeptical of modern music.
Performers: Janet Orenstein, Violin; Patricia Tao, Piano; Brooks Whitehouse, Cello
This recording is under license from New World Records/CRI.
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