Peter Lieberson: Neruda Songs

When I think about the contemporary music that I love, one of the first pieces that comes to mind is composer Peter Lieberson's Neruda Songs

I love music that doesn't fit easily into a 'language.' (Often this is the music that falls through the cracks in academia because it's the hardest to analyze and wrap our heads around.) But I find it to be some of the most meaningful -- where every note feels intended for some greater idea. Nothing is 'style' for its own sake. Such is this piece -- an operatic if not epic expression of Neruda's poetry.  It meanders, it yearns, it sings, it seduces, and it mourns. 

Lieberson wrote the Neruda songs as part of a joint commission from the LA Phil and Boston Symphony to be performed by his second wife, mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson.

In 2005, Hunt-Lieberson lost her battle with breast cancer about eight months after recording this work. Peter Lieberson himself died a few years later in 2011 from complications from lymphoma. 

It was a tragic, double-loss to the world. Now the last movement of Neruda Songs seems sweetly, poetically prescient: "V. Amor, amor mio."


Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)

My love, if you die and I don't--,
let's not give grief an even greater field.
No expanse is greater than where we live.

Dust in the wheat, sand in the deserts,
time, wandering water, the vague wind
swept us like sailing seeds.
We might not have found one another in time.

This meadow where we find ourselves,
O little infinity! we give it back.
But Love, this love has not ended:

just as it never had a birth, it has
no death: it is like a long river,
only changing lands, and changing lips

Buy the recording of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson with James Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra on iTunes.