instrumentation: amplified voice (range: F#3 to E5), live electronics and chamber orchestra
duration: 8 minutes
written in: 2011
text: Alex Temple
“Nightmarish… It’s like a Buñuel film in miniature, and it achieves perfection.”
The love songs of the 1940s and 50s are pleasant and light-hearted on the surface, but a closer look often reveals a deeper strangeness. Songs like “I Only Have Eyes For You,” “Till There Was You,” “Laura” and “Some Enchanted Evening” paint a very unsettling picture of romance if you take the surreal imagery in their lyrics literally. They describe people who are blinded to the physical world by the intensity of their love, or by the fact that they have not yet found someone to bring that world to life — people who are haunted for years by visions of lovers lost, or of people they glimpsed only once and have never even spoken to. The music is similarly surreal, with its excessive reverb, rhythmic dislocation and dynamic imbalance between the voice and the orchestra, and stylized, emotionally detached spoken-word passages. But the genre’s dreamlike quality is always subtle, covert, audible only to those who are listening for it. Liebeslied brings it to the foreground, and allows it to deform the mid-century love song almost beyond recognition.
Liebeslied was commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra for the opening concert of the 2011 SONiC Festival, a nine-day series of concerts dedicated to music written in the 21st century by composers under 40. It was written for ACO and vocalist Mellissa Hughes.
Mellissa Hughes, voice and electronics
American Composers Orchestra (George Manahan, cond.)
Live at Zankel Hall, New York, NY, 10.14.11