Richard Blackford: Pietà (Vocal Score) for Mezzo Soprano and Baritone Soli, Mixed Chorus, Optional Children's Chorus & Orchestra
At the core of Blackford’s work is a setting of the Stabat Mater; but it also includes settings of two relevant poems by the celebrated Russian poet Anna Akhmatova from her poem cycle Requiem. The poems echo the words in Stabat Mater reflecting the grief of a mother for her son Lev, a student at Leningrad University, who, in 1938, at the height of Stalin’s terror, was arrested in his dormitory room and shipped to an Arctic labour camp. For 17 months his mother waited in queues and wrote letters to police officials beseeching them to tell her the fate of her son. Her struggle is immortalised in “Requiem”, her most famous work. Alternating between elegy, lamentation and witness, it culminates in its most famous stanza:
For seventeen months I’ve been crying out,
Calling you home.
I flung myself at the hangman’s feet,
For you my son, my horror.
The music embraces the passion of these words. After our recent workshop when the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus studied the work for the first time, conductor Gavin Carr wrote: “It is so compact, and so powerful: the intensity is incredible, and the release at the end is remarkable.” - Sandrey Date
"Inspired by the traditional Latin text of the Stabat Mater, poems from Anna Akhmatova’s Requiem and the Pietà by Michelangelo, Richard Blackford has created an outstanding choral work: a passionate personal tribute in memory of all who suffer from violence, suppression and political persecution, which has deeply impressed me. Finally a modern composer who is not afraid to write beautiful and touching music! Jonas Kaufmann
"Intensely beautiful large-scale work Pietà includes especially moving Voices of Exile, an extraordinarily original composition that brings together, poignantly, melodies from numerous places where suffering or persecution is rife."
"The choir’s exquisite “Eia mater, fons amoris”, is coloured by a sudden pianissimo, most sensitively executed. The composer brings expressive tonality here gorgeously to the fore, with the mezzo-soprano’s help."
"The alternation of strong and violent music with rapture, exaltation, and ecstasy is surely what distinguishes Blackford’s work. Pietà could be taken up beneficially by any large choral society. A bonus is that the composer supplies a detailed introduction to each section, invaluable for his audience. One thus learns of the evolution of this rich, romantic, and discerning new work: nothing less than a masterpiece."
- Roderic Dunnett (Church Times)
Full review: https: //www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2019/12-july/books-arts/music/music-review-piet%C3%A0-by-richard-blackford
British composer Richard Blackford interweaves the text of the Stabat Mater with poems from the ‘Requiem’ cycle by Anna Akhmatova, whose husband was taken away and ‘disappeared’ by Stalin’s KGB; her son was also arrested and she feared she would never see him again...
Blackford chose the title after seeing Michelangelo’s marble Pietà in Rome, and, like the sculpture, his new work encompasses grief, rage and sorrow with tenderness, poignancy and, ultimately, beauty and hope. The work is scored for string orchestra, chorus, children’s choir, mezzo-soprano, baritone and solo saxophone. While the chorus and soloists present the main narrative – the pain and grief of Mary and Anna Ahkmatova – the saxophone provides a third, abstract voice, the voice of every grieving mother. Blackford chose the soprano saxophone to create “a modern instrumental dimension, very close to the sound of the human voice”.Rooted in tonality and modality, Pietà is characterised by rhythmic dynamism, breadth of expression and lush textures, redolent of Janácek and Syzmanowski. The use of a children’s choir (in the fifth movement of the work) is a nod to another of Blackford’s influences – Benjamin Britten – and provides an episode of innocence and sweetness in this grief-scorched narrative.the entire work has a filmic, visual quality with its gripping narrative and vividly descriptive scoring – tumultuous strings, passionate dramatic climaxes, ‘snapping’ pizzicato in the cellos (to represent Christ’s flagellation), jagged syncopated rhythms, an acapella movement of intense concentration and beauty. Organised in three parts, Pietà moves from grief and rage to redemption and hope via nine distinct movements. The obligato saxophone, eloquently played by Amy Dickson, provides a unifying link between the movements, initially haunting, mournful and timeless, evocative of an ancient shawm, and later calm and tender as the music moves towards its hopeful, redemptive close.
An absorbing and committed performance by all, supplemented by detailed programme notes by the composer with translations of the text.
-The Cross-Eyed Pianist