Osvaldo Golijov
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She Was Here (2008): Notes
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Golijov completed She Was Here in 2008; tonight's performance marks the work's New York premiere.

Scoring: 2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo and alto flute), 2 oboes (2nd doubling English horn), 2 clarinets (2nd doubling bass clarinet and basset horn), 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, trombone, percussion, harp, celesta, strings, and solo soprano.

Osvaldo Golijov has turned his unique style-honed in his Argentine Jewish childhood and his education in Israel and the United States-to a set of Lieder by the early Romantic composer Franz Schubert. Schubert's originals, composed for voice and piano, are finely crafted miniature masterpieces of Romantic Lieder writing. In the hands of Golijov, these works gain stature as orchestral pieces of a new dynamic and complex character.

Golijov has developed a rich musical language, the result of a lifetime of experience with various types of music. His Romanian Jewish parents exposed him to the traditional klezmer music and liturgical music of their faith; growing up and going to public school in Argentina showed him the many musical styles of his family's adopted country, including the tango. Once Golijov traveled abroad to continue his studies, the influences of other people and other styles became part of him. What is so wonderful about his musical language is that, rather than a pastiche of styles, it is wholly cohesive. It is also vibrant and alive, growing and changing-as he does.

These song settings show Golijov's command of orchestral colors, and his profound understanding of Schubert's original pieces. He leaves the vocal lines unchanged but sometimes takes dramatic liberties with the accompaniments.

Two songs are particularly striking in their new orchestral form. In "Lied der Mignon," some of the original piano accompaniment is assigned to the harp and celesta, giving the song an ethereal, mysterious quality that mirrors Mignon herself. Mignon is a character taken from Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship. A wandering gypsy, she is mistreated by her master and rescued by Wilhelm, who only realizes his love for her after Mignon nearly dies in a fire. Golijov uses the earthy warmth of the horns-along with Schubert's original melody-to keep the song grounded. However, unsettled triplets in the woodwinds and the strings make for a shifting palate of colors that utterly suits the mercurial Mignon.

"Nacht und Träume" begins with a flowing accompaniment in the strings, while the horns and clarinet sound long, organ-like notes. Triplets in the harp push against the steady flow, and Golijov further drives the accompaniment by syncopating the strings and the bass clarinet.

Golijov's sensitivity to Schubert's melodies and accompaniments allows him to fold these musical threads into a new tapestry of sound, one which both honors Schubert and allows Golijov's fascinating style to shine through.

Copyright © 2008 Christine Lee Gengaro

The composer has written the following regarding She Was Here:

Among the new musical worlds that Schubert predicted are the vastness of Russia; the lyrical minimalism of Philip Glass (as in the slow movement of the Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, the opening of the Fantasy in C for violin and piano, and the beloved song "Nacht und Träume"); the fragility and intimacy of Hugo Wolf, and, beyond him, the ambiguous scent of the Vienna of Alban Berg, 100 years after Schubert's own disappearance (in "Dass Sie Hier Gewesen"); the irony of Stravinsky and Kurt Weill (in "Lied der Mignon"); and, perhaps most daringly, the sound of longing for a sweet, peaceful death ("Wandrers Nachtlied").

These orchestrations were written at a time of loss and sadness. But Schubert brings consolation, especially in the last two songs, when he shows that past, present and future, in time, are only illusion. At least while the music lasts.