The song cycle for soprano and orchestra 'Ich denke Dein…. originated in 2014 from a co-commission of five European orchestras (Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, Philharmonia Orchestra Royal Festival Hall London, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra) to the Swedish composer Rolf Martinsson. A milestone in his worklist for it concerns his hundredth composition. Closely connected to this opus 100 is the voice and the person of the Swedish soprano Lisa Larsson. In 2010 started an intensive cooperation with her when Martinsson rewrote his song cycle for mezzo-soprano, Orchestral Songs on Poems by Emily Dickinson, to the soprano position of Larsson, who is specially praised for her Mozart opera repertoire. In Lisa Larsson the composer found his muse. In 2014 the cooperation lead to a new cycle, Garden of Devotion, on text of the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. The newest work 'Ich denke Dein…' contains a choice out of the German poetry: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Joseph von Eichendorff and Rainer Maria Rilke. Their joint theme is love.
The first song, Nähe des Geliebten (Touch of the beloved) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832) from 1796 consists of four times four rhyming lines. Every section begins with the word 'Ich' (I) followed by a confession: I think of you; I see you; I hear you; I am with you. These outpourings are repeated several times with passion by the soprano. The lover sees himself in a meeting amidst images of nature, as sunshine reflecting on the sea, or murmuring of water. He ends with a sigh: 'Oh, if only you were there!'. The orchestra rounds the song similar to the second song. Nähe des Geliebten begins with a strong emotional orchestral introduction that inserts a longingly melodic theme that immediately charms the ear. It is a recognition tune that returns in the end of this song, as well as in a short solo for the violin in the fourth song Die Liebende schreibt (The lover writes) and in an interlude for the fifth song Mondnacht (Moon night).
The two following poems are of Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 - 1926): Liebes-Lied (Love song) from 1907 and Blaue Hortensie (Blue hydrangea) from 1906. During the period of creation Rilke lived in Paris where he served as secretary for the sculpture Auguste Rodin. He taught his co-operator to observe things like a plant, an animal or an object, to see what is essential, and to combine it with his own feelings in a new image. These texts by Rilke are known as 'thing poems'.
Liebes-Lied is written in the first person singular. That person wonders how he can lift his soul over his sweetheart 'zu andern Dingen' (towards other things). He realizes that it will be not successful. He and the beloved lady are caught in the stroke of a bow, which out of two strings, jointly stricken, let sound of one voice. The poem ends with a sigh: 'On what instrument have we been bend? And which player holds us in his hand? O sweet song'. Can a composer wish a more musical text? In the throat of Larsson the sweet song merges to one sound by the two trifling voice muscles.
The third song, Blaue Hortensie (Blue hydrangea) has the classical concept of a sonnet (two times four verse lines followed by two times three lines) with a specific rhyme scheme. It offers a yet stronger example of the 'thing poem'. The flower buds that have grown sallow and the withered leaves of a hydrangea are compared to the dried paint in a tin, to old paper, and to a faded children's apron. Yet the blue suddenly lights up; the soprano voice evokes a radiating effect. The word love is not used in this painting of words, but the tension of the images strongly expresses that feeling and the hope for renewal. Martinsson gives sound to the contemplative text in a restrained way. The first five words are not sung, but spoken. Then the voice starts singing, slowly underlined by the English horn. Also the last verse is declaimed, with a heartfelt accent on the word 'freuen' (rejoice).
Totally different, almost one in meaning, are the lyrics that Martinsson choose from the poem stock of Goethe: Die Liebende schreibt (The lover writes), the fourth song in the cycle, and Nähe des Geliebten, the first song. The first mentioned poem stems from 1807 when the 58 year old famous author fell in love with the 18 year young Minna Herzlieb, a bookshop-assistant. The poem has the classical form of a sonnet. A kiss, spinning thoughts, tears and the lisp of heartache have to soften the adored girl to give 'ein Zeichen' (a sign). With an orchestral opening that has much to do with big band music, and thanks to a pliant pulse of timpani and double bass, the verses by Goethe become a modern love song.
The fifth song, Mondnacht (Moon night) is by Joseph von Eichendorff (1788 - 1857). It is a romantic effusion, in three times four rhyming lines, based on impressions of nature. The heaven that kisses the earth, ears of corn softly rocked by the wind, and in the end the soul spreads its wings and seems to fly home. A tender sounding bassoon colours the introduction. The song line expresses, in an ensemble with the solo cello, the stillness of nature by night. The poem dates from 1837, and it was Robert Schumann who immediately composed it and made it famous.
'Ich denke Dein…' grew in close cooperation with Lisa Larsson and the songs are dedicated to her. The conversations with her focused on things as the balance between syllables and ornamental series of notes (the so called melisma) in connection to the representation of the text. To do justice to the contents, Martinsson took much care to the dynamic differences and the colouring. The beautiful poems are already full of music, according to Martinsson. For each poem he searched a suiting musical form of the song line and in combination therewith he developed the orchestration. Celesta, vibraphone, harp and piano bring in light accents in the well-stuffed orchestra.
During 2017 Ms. Larsson will be recording the piece at the BIS label with the Malmö Symphony Orchestra in the wonderful acoustic of Malmö Live.