Composed nearly a century apart, some might say the connection is merely a religious one. Lobgesang was commissioned in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the invention of the Gutenberg Printing Press, which lead to the Reformation. Poulenc had a religious awakening when fellow composer and good friend, Pierre-Octave Ferroud, was decapitated in a car accident. Right afterwards he visited Rocamadour on holiday.
He later recalled:
A few days earlier I’d just heard of the tragic death of my colleague … As I meditated on the fragility of our human frame, I was drawn once more to the life of the spirit. Rocamadour had the effect of restoring me to the faith of my childhood. This sanctuary, undoubtedly the oldest in France … had everything to captivate me … The same evening of this visit to Rocamadour, I began my Litanies à la Vierge noire for female voices and organ. In that work I tried to get across the atmosphere of “peasant devotion” that had struck me so forcibly in that lofty chapel.
Every day I see evidence that the world religions are polarising people in every land. I see people fighting for the freedom to worship or not to worship as they choose. I see the fear and the hate. I hear it in the rhetoric of the campaign speeches from the Presidential primary in the States. To be honest, I find myself frightened, overwhelmed and in despair. This causes me to ask myself how relevant are these pieces to me, personally, today. And I wonder what they mean to you. Here we are, living in the former GDR where religion was truly an underground movement, and where most grew up without religion.
Mario offers an answer. While both works can stand alone, he’d prefer to merge them in order the create a bridge to our time. Mendelssohn’s look back to a Reformation which took place 400 years earlier and Poulenc’s 1943 look at human grieving during the German occupation of France both express the darkness of fear, but they both also combat that with irrepressible hope.
In this performance, Mario’s choreography is joined by the orchestra and the choir. I must say I was very moved by Poulenc’s acapella. They were full of emotion and at times had the resonance of negro spirituals. In his bid for good to triumph over evil, Mario reminds us that we are not only a part of one or more collectives, but we are individuals. As we fight our personal battles one by one, we find our individual identities and, in so doing, our freedom.
As his choreographic language continues to grow, we see evidence of this in the not perfect group work and in the very individualistic performances of Urania Lobo Garcia and Yan Leiva, both seemingly taylor-made to suit their unique capabilities.
There’s one more chance to experience it this season, 17 June.