SUNSET AT NOON
SUNSET AT NOON remembers the untimely or tragic passing of individuals who lost their lives to terminal illness, or were the victims of mankind’s indifference, prejudice and neglect. Six works spanning two decades from 1995 to 2015 are as diverse by genre as the men, women and children to whom the works are dedicated. Some were personal acquaintances. Many are nameless and unknown.
Some Realms I Owned, piano (2010)
Some Realms I Owned for piano is inspired by Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, One Art, and was written in memory of a friend lost to cancer. It heralds the album’s shared theme of reflection yet celebration in the shadow of lives passed, here to a cherished wife and mother.
Some Realms I Owned was commissioned in 2010 by the Allen Wilkinson Greer family in memory of Nancy Carroll Greer (1929-2009), a mother, wife, and also a very dear friend of mine for many years. We first met while registering voters in front of Starbucks one Saturday. Nancy admired Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry in particular the poem, One Art, which is the inspiration behind this work. The first movement takes its title from the line “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.” The title of the second movement in French is borrowed from Baudelaire’s poem, Le Cygne, and translates to English as “to those who have lost what will never be found.” The final movement “Even losing you…” is again titled after the poem, One Art, and it musically quotes one of my previous works, The Triumph of Death, also about love and loss. Some Realms I Owned was given its first performance by me privately for the family on the first anniversary of Nancy’s passing in 2010. The premiere was beautifully given by Chiharu Naruse at the PARMA Music Festival in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on August 14, 2014. —Sergio Cervetti, July 2014
And The Huddled Masses, clarinet quintet (2015)
The title And the Huddled Masses naturally brings to mind the indelible image of 19th century immigrants greeted by the Statue of Liberty’s silent promise for a brighter future. Then there are today’s unwelcome migrants and refugees fleeing war-torn homelands to be confronted by closed borders.
Two years ago a clarinetist friend of mine suggested that I write a clarinet quintet since the literature of this genre is rather limited. It was an appealing challenge. Added impetus came when I read the tragic story of a young Ecuadorian girl who made the desperate journey from her native country to join her parents, illegal immigrants living in New York, and then committed suicide at the Mexican border when her entry was thwarted by immigration authorities. Because I was an immigrant to the U.S., under kinder, different circumstances in 1962, and because of today’s plight of Middle Eastern immigrants in Europe, I felt the need to express my thoughts and feelings in this work for clarinet and string quartet.
The elusive and introspective melodies, wavering harmonies, and disciplined elegance in the first and third movements that bracket the second movement’s ostinato 7/8 rhythm, reverently celebrate surely cherished but often unfinished lives. The final movement is an elegy for this young girl lost in the struggle faced by illegal immigrants today. A quote from Mozart’s canon, Ach, zu kurz ist unsers Leben Lauf, appears in order to reflect on the brevity of life and how suddenly it can be extinguished.
With no geography of discrimination that can originate due to nationality, creed, race or the state of one’s heart, mind, body and soul, there is some measure of comfort that music abolishes borders. Significantly this work was recorded in Havana in 2016 at a moment in U.S. and Cuban history when borders are opening up following restoration of diplomatic relations in 2014 after a long period of acrimonious isolation. —Sergio Cervetti, May 2016
Ofrenda Para Guyunusa, harpsichord (2011)
Ofrenda para Guyunusa is an offering to a 19th century Charrúa Indian who was captured in Uruguay and exhibited in a Paris carnival. The harpsichord’s crystalline sound suggests the look of a music box figurine who, in cruel contrast, is captive because she is an exotic heathen.
Ofrenda para Guyunusa for harpsichord is interpreted by María Teresa Chenlo who has premiered and performed Cervetti’s works for harpsichord world-wide, including Candombe and the harpsichord concerto Las Indias Olvidadas-The Forgotten Indies which was commissioned by and premiered at the Alicante Festival in 1992. Spain’s music magazine, RITMO published an interview in April 2016 (No. 895) and asked her about their artistic relationship and collaborations. An excerpt is translated below.
RITMO, April 2016, No. 895, Madrid, Spain, María Teresa Chenlo Interview
The Uruguayan-Spanish harpsichordist, who in her art encompasses the world-wide tradition of music written for the instrument from the baroque to the present, speaks with us about her recent recording of works by Sergio Cervetti with two dedicated to her: Las Indias Olvidadas-The Forgotten Indies (a concerto for harpsichord in four movements that reminds us of the existence of the tribes and indigenous inhabitants of South America, mainly forgotten today) and Candombe (a national dance of Uruguay with African origins).
The contemporary harpsichord literature is being enriched by these works by Cervetti that are conceived with you in mind. Do you feel like a model posing for a painter?
I do not know if I am a model; sometimes he calls me his muse, I am a professional with the tremendous responsibility to faithfully interpret what the composer has written and transmit everything he wants to express. Our relationship and friendship have motivated him to write not only two works for harpsichord (Las Indias Olvidadas and Candombe) but five more, all of them quite beautifully and well-written, very idiomatic for the instrument, capturing all of its peculiarities.
Sunset At Noon, violin and viola (1995)
Sunset at Noon, four epitaphs for violin and viola, is a neo-romantic-minimalistic glimpse of the gifted personalities of Cervetti’s New York University students who died during the early days of the AIDS epidemic. After witnessing the premature passing of several of his talented students, one response came as a work in memory of these men who died young. Sunset at Noon was premiered by Israel Chorberg, violin, and Harold Coletta, viola, on June 27, 1996 at the Landon Gallery in New York City. The Music Connoisseur (Vol.4, No.3, Fall 1996) wrote the following.
The Cervetti work stood head and shoulders above all else—life-affirming, muscular and alive, a ‘rage against the dying of the light’ fine-tuned and heightened to a kind of Olympian protest. The choice of violin and viola struck me (Marlene Harding) as a metaphor for the teacher-student relationship.
I Can’t Breathe, piano & percussion (2014)
I Can’t Breathe for piano and percussion, which palpitates to raise the dead and rally the living, is dedicated to the memory of a victim of police brutality who uttered those words in 2014 before dying. “I can’t breathe” is the plea that Eric Garner uttered before his death while being subdued by police in Staten Island, New York in July 2014, another victim of senseless, deadly physical force, and an all too frequent occurrence in recent years.
Lux Lucet In Tenebris, a cappella choir (2002)
Lux Lucet in Tenebris (Light Shineth in Darkness) closes the album “in memory of” with a benediction. It is the motto of the Waldensian Church where Cervetti was baptized. The text is the Gospel of St. John 1:1-7. This a cappella motet, after the preceding secular works, comes as refuge and meditation in a sacred realm, and affirms that the way to light is through darkness as music offers a benevolent beacon in these pieces bound by genesis and commemoration.
Lux Lucet in Tenebris is my second setting of this beloved text from the Gospel of St. John 1:1- 7. The first was written in 1969 while living in Berlin and later performed at the Gaudeamus Music Week in Holland in 1970. At that time I was exploring new vocal techniques and modular forms of music writing. It was also dedicated to my mother who was a Waldensian, or more properly a Vaudois since she was of French extraction. Upon hearing it my mother was taken aback and sweetly asked me to write another one with some glimmer of melody. I was not ready then to acquiesce, perhaps being too busy becoming an avant-garde composer. But after thirteen years after her passing in 1989, I decided that it was time to revisit the motto of the Waldensian Church in which I was baptized and write the motet that my mother wanted. It was premiered on March 25, 2006, as part of the Centennial Celebration of the American Waldensian Society, at Rutgers Presbyterian Church in New York City and sung by the Rutgers Presbyterian Church Choir. —Sergio Cervetti, September 2013.
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