The Song of Songs
This very special CD BOOK presents John Zorn’s evocative musical setting of the Biblical love poem
The Song of Songs, with singer/conductor Barbara Hannigan and film director/actor Mathieu Amalric narrating.
Featuring extensive notes, the full text of Jeremy Fogel’s passionate new translation (commissioned expressly for
this project), and 35 illustrations by Zorn himself, this limited edition one-of-a-kind CD BOOK is an absolute treasure.
“It was a true labour of love to record this sensual and newly translated text within John’s music,
merging and intertwining sound and word with the extraordinary vocal ensemble.” —Barbara Hannigan, 2022
FROM THE INTRODUCTION
Combining plainchant, mediaeval ars nova, Renaissance madrigals, 20th century vocal techniques, jazz and minimalism, Shir Hashirim (written in 2007) was in many ways a culmination of the vocal language I had been developing since Frammenti del Sappho in 2004. Originally conceived as an acappella setting of the Song of Songs with male and female narrators reading the poetry, it was performed in that version by Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson in English, Mathieu Amalric and Clothide Hesme in French and by Jeremy Fogel and Ayelet Rose Gottlieb in the original Hebrew. The plan to perform at the Lincoln Center Festival in 2013 with Lou and Laurie became difficult with Lou’s health issues, and rather than search for a replacement, my decision at the time was to perform a version of the music without narration. It was sublime, and we recorded the music soon after. The CD of Shir Hashirim was released in December 2013, just two months after Lou had passed, and it is a beautiful document of the version sans narration—but deep down I knew an opportunity to record the version with narration would eventually appear. That opportunity came early in 2020, during the pandemic lockdown.
Barbara Hannigan and I met in the summer of 2015 and we bonded immediately. She had begun a close relationship with my dear friend Mathieu Amalric (it is still going strong) and he very much wanted us to meet, so arranged the rendezvous. Our first conversation went deep and we continued to correspond, slowly moving toward a project we could work on together. Our first adventure was my song cycle for voice and piano Jumalattaret. It proved to be a revelatory experience for both of us, and she performed it in Lisbon, Den Bosch, at the Armory in NYC, and at the Ojai festival in California. For our next project she took on the challenging vocal part in Pandora’s Box (my take on the Lulu legend). It was a natural for her and she brought the piece to a new level with her exhilarating virtuosity and powerfully sensual stage presence. We began to discuss future projects. In 2020, when the pandemic derailed our summer plans to record Jumalattaret, and she found herself locked down with Mathieu in his country house in Brittany. The idea came to me that this two dear friends—two incredible actors with a huge and passionate expressive range—would be the perfect loving couple to narrate Shir Hashirim. They loved the idea and we began to discuss various translations.
On revisiting the best of them (King James, Robert Alter, Marcia Falk) none really resonated. None seemed to capture the intense sensuality of the Hebrew original. Realizing that a brand new translation might be the best path ahead, I immediately thought of vocalist/musician/philosopher/poet/author/bon vivant Jeremy Fogel, who had narrated the work in Hebrew at the Guggenheim in 2008. Fogel is a close friend and brilliant scholar whose integrity, imagination, non-compromising attitude and unique vision is sure to become more known in the next decade. On presenting the Shir Hashirim project to him he was immediately inspired and put everything aside to focus in on the translation. After a quick back and forth we both agreed that rather than laboring over the words for months (it could easily turn into years) that the best strategy would be to work in the Rimbaud tradition—fast and loose. He completed it in a week and the results are remarkable. Fogel has achieved nothing less than a miracle. He has captured the poetic sensuality of the original like no other, creating perhaps the best contemporary translation of this profound and influential Biblical poetry yet achieved. His attention to detail and adherence to the spirit and poetry of the original gave Barbara and Mathieu added inspiration, lifting their reading to an even more intense, poignant and meaningful level.
Some projects are finished in a matter of days, some in months, and sometimes it takes years. It took 13 years to finally record the “original version” of Shir Hashirim with narration, the one created in 2007 at my work desk at home. It was well worth the wait. One could not have asked for a more perfect text, nor two more perfect narrators. Fogel’s translation is heavenly. Barbara and Mathieu are transcendent. The results are truly blessings from the Angels. —John Zorn September 2020
Song of Songs Shir Hashirim (31’03)
Barbara Hannigan narration
Mathieu Amalric narration
and a new translation from the
Hebrew by Jeremy Fogel
THE DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM
Martha Cluver, Lisa Bielawa
Abigail Fischer, Kathryn Mulvehill
Kirsten Sollek voices
Composed by John Zorn
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