WORK NOTE 1
When Swedish composer Rolf Martinsson in 2013 decided to choose poems by the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore for a song cycle for soprano and string orchestra, he revived an interest he had in his younger years. In 1988 he set five of Tagores lyrics to music for soprano and piano. He then used three of these poems and supplied them with two new poems under the title "Garden of Devotion". All chosen from Tagore's famous collection called The Gardener.
Rolf Martinsson emphasizes that 'the music from 1988 is of early 'Martinsson modernism' date and the new composed music in "Garden of Devotion" is a central part of my mature language as a composer today, and therefore completely different.' The drive to set up this song cycle came from a collaboration with the Swedish soprano Lisa Larsson. The artistic click between them, when they met in 2010, lead at first to the re-arranging of the earlier song cycle "Orchestral Songs on Poems by Emily Dickinson" for mezzo-soprano. Martinsson: 'Together we adapted the vocal part into the high version. Her dedicated collaboration gave me not only inspiration and self confidence, but also a lot of understanding for the voice and singing in itself.'
Not only with his many volumes of verses, but also with novels, essays and plays, Tagore (1861 - 1941) attracted the attention of the western literary world around 1900. It lead to the highest acknowledgement when the Sweden based Nobel Academy awarded him with the Nobel Prize in literature in 1913. The same year he published a volume of verses titled The Gardener, written in his native Bengali language. In 1915 followed a setting in English by himself. It got immediately translated into many languages.
(Next paragraph can be deleted in concert notes) During his tours through Europe in the years after World War I, Tagore gave lectures on the topic of a new human society based on love and understanding between people. He aimed at a harmonic relationship between western and eastern philosophies, religions and cultures. Consequently he opposed to the British colonial rule of India, joining the non-violent movement for freedom. His performances impressed both intellectuals and artists, among them composers as Alexander von Zemlinsky and Leos Janacek who set his poems to music.
Tagore, member of an upper-class family in Calcutta, showed already in his teens a remarkable talent for language. He had great interest in the traditional Hindu literature. Although he took over the refined and symbolic style of writing, he developed a new art language closer to the daily Bengali language. The Gardener contains 85 poems, written over a longer period. They were built up in free verses and are of different lengths. Sometimes they are in dialogue form as can be seen in the first song of Martinssons composition.
(Next paragraph can be deleted in concert notes) The title The Gardener points to the first text of Tagores poems in which a servant, in the most courtly way, offers to his queen to be her gardener. But the whole series of verses is not a consequently worked out story of this theme. The book gives a loose connection of poems about love and life either seen from the perspective of a man or a woman. But philosophical reflections and advice on social matters of daily life can also be found.
The five songs in Martinsson's "Garden of Devotion" form a short story about neglected love. The composer used the texts in a different order than in Tagores book to achieve a dramatic scene. The five verses are fine examples of the elegant and refined expression of feelings. They are embedded in images of nature: birds, flowers, silent nights and stars. Martinsson says: 'Tagore uses beautiful single words as inspiring and mind expanding metaphors which give me a universe of musical possibilities.' In his music he creates an atmosphere of pent-up tension to colour the passionate emotions that lead a devoted woman to her friend in the garden of love.
Writing for string orchestra, Martinsson takes full advantage of the effects that strings can produce. The outbursting motif of descending chords in the introduction of the first song, later on repeated, gives the thrill of passion in the dialogue. Soft and dark tone-colours describe the gloomy development in the second poem. The quivering strings, opening the last song, introduce the cynical conclusion to the love drama. For the vocal line Martinsson developed an embellished and subtle kind of singing that suites the courtly expression of the words.
(If necessary the last paragraph can be deleted in concert notes) 'The love between you and me is simple as a song', wrote Tagore in one of his love poems. Martinsson makes them audible and gives new life to an almost forgotten literature. As Tagore concluded in his 85th poem: 'Who are you reader, reading my poems a hundred years hence? From your blossoming garden gather fragrant memories of the vanished flowers of a hundred years before'. In this case the composer is the perfect gardener.
WORK NOTE 2
The soprano and string orchestra work Garden of Devotion is composed 2014 on poems by the Indian poet and Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore. The poems are about unrequited love. A woman asks the man she loves to devote himself fully to his love and not to keep the secret of his heart to himself. She gets no answers and is afraid to lose him and says: "Do not go, my love, without asking my leave". Then she swears her love to him with the words: "My heart, the bird of the wilderness, has found its sky in your eyes". When she fail to win his heart she eventually becomes angry with him and says: "Lest I should know you too easily, you play with me. I know your art".
The lyrics are from Tagore's collection of poems The Gardener, written in both Bengali and English as original languages by the poet himself. The order of the poems in the work does not however conform with the order of the collection of poems. The composer writes: "The work was composed 2014 in close collaboration with the Swedish soprano Lisa Larsson, during which I learned a lot about the voice with regard to singing qualities, possibilities and nuances, melisms and syllables, registers for different vocals, dynamic balance and the relation between tempo and lyrics.
It has been extremely inspiring to collaborate with such a brilliant singer and devoted musician as Lisa Larsson, to whom the work is dedicated. She premiered Garden of Devotion with the main commissioner Musica Vitae in September 2014 and since then many orchestras have programmed the work with Larsson as soloist, among others the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, Staatskapelle Weimar as well as several Nordic orchestras. In November 2016 Ms. Larsson gave two stunning performances of the piece at Concertgebouw with the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra/Gordan Nikolič, both sold out concerts with standing ovations. Following the successful Dutch premiere Ms. Larsson has accepted to record the piece with the NCO/Nikolič at the Challenge Classics label, followed by an international tour with Garden of Devotion on the programme.