Notes & lyrics
MORTAL DREAMS presents distinct vocal settings of an inner universe belonging to four imaginations that span the unbridled to the sublime. It includes operatic-like fragments of letters written by and to the iconic dancer Isadora Duncan, a devoted mother’s aria recognizing her child’s autism, a minimalist duet on the brevity of life, and a monologue on the hypnotic prospect of wielding power that were once in the transitory realm of dreams, hopes, desires, and secret fantasies. We humans harbor personal, private thoughts. Perhaps they are mere impressions that exist in either the heights or the depths of our volatile minds. Among them is Isadora Duncan’s final line from Desire, the first fragment from the song cycle Four Fragments of Isadora: “I feel like a mortal transferred to Paradise, beyond mortal dreams.” How fortunate and captivating to find her inner world revealed by letter and then immortalized in song.
Four Fragments of Isadora
for Soprano and Piano (1979)
Dedicated to Stuart and Elizabeth Hodes
I. Desire - Isadora to Craig, Venice, September 1907
II. Illness - Isadora to Craig, Nice, March 1907
III. Death of the Children - Isadora to Craig, Neuilly-sur-Seine, April 1913; Corfu, July 1913
IV. Farewell - Craig to Isadora, Rome, January 1917, December 1919; Isadora to Craig, Groningen, October 1907; Mes amis, je vais à la gloire! Isadora’s final words 1927
The text of Four Fragments of Isadora is based on excerpts selected from the letters exchanged between Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) and her lover, Gordon Craig, from Isadora’s diaries, and her autobiography My Life. By so doing the song cycle became a demonstration of identity through variety in order to gain insight into the depths of Isadora’s celebrated yet tragic life: Desire, Illness, Death of the Children, Farewell.
Isadora Duncan was an American dancer and the iconic catalyst and doyenne of American modern dance. She was born in California and performed to acclaim throughout Europe and the Soviet Union from the age of 22 until her death by accidental strangulation at age 50 in Nice, France. Her scarf became entangled in the wheels of the automobile in which she was riding. Isadora’s final words before the unforeseen tragedy were “Mes amis, je vais à la gloire!” Gordon Craig, her lover, was an English director, actor, scenic designer, theorist, and son of actress Dame Ellen Terry. Isadora bore three children. The first was Deirdre Beatrice (1906–1913) by Gordon Craig, and the second, Patrick Augustus (1910-1913) by Paris Singer (1867-1932) who was a son of sewing machine magnate Isaac Singer. Both children drowned in 1913, along with their nanny, when their runaway car accelerated and sank in the Seine. Isadora was not with them.
The work was commissioned by Stuart Hodes who was a leading dancer in the Martha Graham Dance Company and, at the time in 1979, chair of New York University’s Dance Department where Cervetti taught music. Elizabeth Hodes, his wife, premiered the work at University Theatre in New York City, June 1979. In June 2019 Cara Latham and Charles Abramovic made this splendid recording, and subsequently performed the work before an audience at Temple University’s Rock Hall in Philadelphia on September 15, 2019.
These fragments are enough to paint a vigorous character, and Sergio Cervetti has served them with a melodic and declamatory line, with big dramatic gestures, profound intimacy, and exhausting concentration. The vocal writing is almost traditional but very new and risky in the piano, which paints each fragment with obsessive rhythms almost minimalist at times, and demands from the pianist a virtuoso technique. The contrast between the instrumental and the vocal writing creates a mood that at moments is hallucinating and hypnotic. It is one of the most remarkable compositions by this Uruguayan composer whose training has been totally American. — Washington Roldán, El Pais, Montevideo, Uruguay, October 19, 1986
Premiered June 2, 1979 by Elizabeth Hodes and Thomas Grubb at New York University’s University Theatre in New York NY.
Commissioned by Stuart Hodes.
Aria for Soprano and Electronic Track (2007)
Childhood is the voice of a mother who reveals how her daughter’s childhood began like any other but evolved in unexpected ways due to Asperger’s Syndrome. She is forever touched by her darling child who she knows is very different; and knowing the world, she knows there will be life-long ache and confusion. This aria is from an unfinished work-in-progress that explores autism. It is the third Cervetti-Esris collaboration. The first was Elegy For A Prince with a libretto adapted from Oscar Wilde’s fairy tale, The Happy Prince, adding influences from Wilde’s De Profundis. It was followed by an original chamber opera that plays upon motifs of wine, cooking, and friendship titled YUM!
Childhood, childhood begins, hmm, hmm, hmm . . . like childhood
with a precious little life that fills you full of wonder;
with a babbling voice and her cheek upon your breast.
With odd little quirks and funny little stories,
silly faces and unimagined places.
Then other signs emerge, that first you think are sweet
they never grow or change, they only get darker
her world is filled in ways that you never understand.
And you question
and you know.
Adolescence is painful.
A life-long condition . . .
a life-long condition.
Lyrics © 2007 Elizabeth Esris
for two Sopranos and Chamber Ensemble (1975)
Solo un breve instante – Only a brief moment
Text by Nezahualcoyotl (15th century Aztec)
In Memoriam Richard Kinsey (1941-2000)
This early minimalist work uses a number of restricted pitches featuring two sopranos with interweaving lines of counterpoint, and has a text on the fleeting passage of life drawn from the poetry written by the Aztec ruler Nezahualcoyotl (1402-1472). He was a philosopher, warrior, architect, poet and ruler of the city-state of Texcoco in pre-Columbian Mexico.
Cervetti has constructed a work of singular beauty in his Madrigal III. Revolving around a very tight tonal center, the work was characterized by the vocal interplay between the two sopranos who differentiated their sound by rarely more than a semi-tone. The work, consciously or not, seemed to be a direct linear descendant of the Italian baroque school of writing perfected by Vivaldi and Corelli, wherein each of the two solo instruments tries to enmesh the other in a tight web of sound. — Robert Burmister, San Mateo Times CA, February 26, 1976
Solo un Breve Instante
¿Acaso es verdad que se vive en la tierra? ¡Ay!
¿Acaso para siempre en la tierra?
Hasta las piedras finas se resquebrajan,
Hasta el oro se destroza,
Hasta las plumas preciosas se desgarran.
¿Acaso es verdad que se vive en la tierra?
¿Acaso para siempre en la tierra?
¡Solo un breve instante aqui!
Only a Brief Moment
Is it perhaps true that one lives on earth? Aye!
Perhaps forever on earth?
Even precious stones crack,
Even gold can be destroyed,
Even costly feathers can be torn.
Is it perhaps true that one lives on earth?
Perhaps forever on earth?
Only a brief moment here!
Premiered February 24, 1976 by the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, directors Jean-Louis Le Roux and Marcella de Cray; sopranos Lorene Adams, Ana Carol Dudley. Ralston Ballroom at the College of Notre Dame in Belmont CA
That Feeling of Power
for Modified Voice and Electronics (2019)
Created, engineered, and performed by Sergio Cervetti at composer’s studio Doylestown, PA.
Cervetti has continuously created electronic works since the early 1970’s beginning at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Studio in New York City. This monologue on wielding power is a socio-political commentary in response to this country’s current state of affairs due, in part, to the 1% who are shielded by wealth and who dominate, often secretly, the policies that usually ignore causes for the common good. Among his other works centered on various socio-political topics are the following.
- Dies Tenebraum for orchestra and chorus composed in 1968 is an offering to victims of the Vietnam War.
- Las Indias Olvidadas, a harpsichord concerto from1992, and Ofrenda para Guyunusa for harpsichord (2012) are on the history of the exploitation and massacre of indigenous South American populations.
- Sunset at Noon for violin and viola (1996) paints four young lives lost due to the AIDS epidemic.
- Unbridled is a string quartet (2013) composed during the economic crisis caused by financial institutions.
- I Can’t Breathe for piano and electronics (2014) is in support of Black Lives Matter.
- And the Huddled Masses for clarinet and string quartet (2015) focuses on the plight of unwelcome migrants and refugees who encounter closed borders.
- Silent Earth, String Quartet No.5 (2019) is a reminder of the continuing effects of global climate change.
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