Tone Poem Tuesday

I am really stretching the idea of a “tone poem” with today’s selection, because what we have today is not an orchestral piece at all but rather a choral one, with much of it being a capella (there’s a piano at one point). I heard part of this work whilst driving home the other day and I just had to share it here, where it sort-of ties in to April being National Poetry Month. American composer Morten Lauridsen set five poems by German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, each of which deals with the subject of a rose. Lauridsen–who was a forest ranger and firefighter before he turned to music–has this to say about this piece:

In addition to his vast output of German poetry, Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) composed nearly 400 poems in French. His poems on roses struck me as especially charming, filled with gorgeous lyricism, deftly crafted and elegant in their imagery. These exquisite poems are primarily light, joyous and playful, and the musical settings are designed to enhance these characteristics and capture the delicate beauty and sensuousness of the poetry. Distinct melodic and harmonic materials recur throughout the cycle, especially between Rilke’s poignant “Contre qui, rose” (set as a wistful nocturne) and his moving “La rose complète.” The final piece, “Dirait-on,” is composed as a tuneful chanson populaire, or folksong, that weaves together two melodic ideas first heard in fragmentary form in preceding movements.

Lauridsen’s composition is deeply intimate and full of harmonic resolution; modern dissonance has no place here. The music is almost luminous at times.

Here is the text of one of Rilke’s rose poems (he apparently wrote more than five, so how Lauridsen chose which ones to set, I don’t know), as sourced from poetry blogger Clarissa Ackroyd.

THE ROSES (Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from French by Clarissa Aykroyd)


One rose alone is every rose,
one, but manifold meaning:
perfect and irreplaceable,
framed by words of being.

How could we ever speak
without the rose,
of sweet interludes in constant farewell,
or of our hopes?

(Original French)


Une rose seule, c’est toutes les roses
et celle-ci: l’irremplaçable,
le parfait, le souple vocable
encadré par le texte des choses.

Comment jamais dire sans elle
ce que furent nos espérances,
et les tendres intermittences
dans la partance continuelle.

Here is Les chansons des roses by Morten Lauridsen.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Tone Poem Tuesday

  1. fillyjonk says:

    I never knew of Lauridsen's music until about a year ago, when the Pandora channel I had set up (and included some choral music on) played Les chansons des roses.

    I love Morten Lauridsen's music now. Yes, luminous, like you said.

Comments are closed.