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David Matthews (b.1943) Winter Passions: Three Pushkin settings for baritone, clarinet, string trio and piano

Being asked to set Pushkin, in English, was doubly daunting: first because of the misgiving that I would perhaps be clumsily intruding into territory that Russian composers have made particularly their own; second because of the problems of finding English versions of this notoriously untranslatable poet. I looked at and rejected several translators until I came across D.M.Thomas's versions, which seemed to me - though my own Russian barely exists - to capture more than anyone else's the quality of the originals: their directness, their high-spiritedness, their passion. I chose three poems which make up a short winter narrative (Pushkin loved autumn and winter much more than spring and summer). In 'Winter Road', the poet journeys by night over a dreary snow-covered landscape, his only consolation the thought of his beloved waiting for him at his destination. At the reference to the coachman singing, I have quoted a Russian folksong known to Pushkin, the one on which Stravinsky based Parasha's aria in his Pushkin opera Mavra. In 'Invocation' the poet dreams of a lost love B Amalia Riznich, with whom Pushkin had an affair in Odessa and who later died of tuberculosis. After a short dream interlude for clarinet and piano, he awakes, in the third song, to a glorious winter morning, and encourages the girl by his side (I hope I am not too seriously misrepresenting Pushkins Don Juanism in pretending she is the 'Nina' of the first song) to enjoy its beauty with him. My setting is openly diatonic, to match the exultant mood of the poem. Winter Passions was commissioned by the Cheltenham International Festival of Music with financial assistance from the British Pushkin Bicentennial Trust.

© David Matthews

Winter Passions

Sheremetev Palace (St Petersburg, Russian Federation)

Winter Passions

Pittville Pump Room (Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom)

Nash Ensemble/Vassily Savenko