Gustav Klimt, "Sappho" (1890)

Sappho Cycle (2019)
mezzo-soprano and violin

Robert Morris

Program Notes

Over so many years from so many people and books, I have become ever more interested in Sappho, the ancient Greek poetess, whose over 10,000 lines of lyric poetry were well-known and revered throughout much of antiquity. Her poetry is still regarded as exceptional by contemporary critics, even though what has come down to us comprises only three complete poems and about 100 fragments of other poems, some only a few words long.

In 2019, due to a commission from Duo Cortona, I dove into Sappho's work and the scholarship surrounding it. I was struck by how much about Sappho and her poems has been lost and/or forgotten over 2500 years. Consequently, I decided to set two poems and five fragments in such a way to underscore the impermanence–the entropy–of even the greatest achievements of humans over time. This may seem a pessimistic point of view; rather, it is a way of pointing out how precious great things are, never to be taken for granted.

Thus, over the nine movements of Sappho Cycle, Sappho emerges from sonic oblivion to music and song. At the height of the cycle she sings two of her complete poems, one a call to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and the other a love poem to Anaktoria. But the last song of the cycle ends with the whispered words "you forgot."