Having already set poems of Anna Akhmatova in his Akhmatova: Requiem
of 1979/80, Tavener returned to the great Russian poet’s work in his Akhmatova Songs
. Completed in 1993, they are based on poems from different periods of Akhmatova’s life. While the first three express her admiration for other great poets, the fourth (Couplet
) treats praise of her own work with suspicion. The Muse vividly evokes the welcome inspiration brought by ‘the kindly guest’, and the final poem, in which the musical material of the previous songs is recalled, eloquently conveys the anticipation of death. Tavener has explained how the poems attracted him because of ‘their simplicity, their starkness, their lack of frills, their complete lack of complexity’. He includes the Akhmatova Songs
among his own favourite pieces. Covering a wide emotional range, from the increasingly declamatory ‘Pushkin and Lermontov’ to the childlike innocence of ‘Boris Pasternak’, these economical yet austerely beautiful songs represent an ideal fusion of words and music. Originally composed for soprano and cello (specifically Patricia Rozario and Steven Isserlis, two of Tavener’s favourite musicians) following a commission from the Cricklade Music Festival, the Akhmatova Songs
were arranged for soprano and string quartet in response to a new commission by The Nash Ensemble. In this form they were first heard on 16 March 1995. Since her notable success in the title role of Tavener’s Mary of Egypt
in 1992, Patricia Rozario has been the composer’s automatic first choice for his subsequent works requiring a solo soprano.
from notes by Phillip Borg-Wheeler © 2001