Six Cavafy Songs


Six Cavafy Songs for baritone and ensemble

Writing for an ensemble such as Insomnio is a pleasure because there are such possibilities of color. For this song cycle I chose the beautiful, melancholic poems of Greek poet Constantine Petrou Cavafy. They are meditations on mortality, bygone (male) loves, nocturnal pleasures. Memories of skin and lips, of hands and touches, fill the poet with wistfulness. Personally I don’t care who loves whom as long as it is beautiful: love is love. I have never composed songs on the subject. It was time to do so.

Commissioned by the Fonds Podiumkunsten  for Insomnio and the NYYD Ensemble. – – 2perc – piano –

World premiere March 28, 2010 by Insomnio conducted by Ulrich Pöhl and baritone Olle Persson in De Witte Dame in Eindhoven, followed by a performance in the Leeuwenberghkerk in Utrecht on April 3.

Six songs on text by C.P. Cavafy (1863-1933)
1.Since nine o’clock
2.The afternoon sun
3.Come back
4.Remember, body….
5.As much as you can
6.Hidden things

1. Since nine o’clock

Twelve-thirty. Time passes quickly
since nine o’clock when I lit the lamp
and sat down here. I’ve been sitting here, not reading,
not speaking. Whom could I speak to
all alone in the house?

Since nine o’clock when I lit the lamp
the image of my young body
came and reminded me
of closed, perfumed rooms
and past pleasure – what daring pleasure!
And it also brought before my eyes
streets that now are unrecognizable,
nightclubs full of life, now closed,
and theaters and cafés that used to be.

The image of my young body
came and brought me sorrows as well:
family mourning, separations,
feelings of my kin, little appreciated feelings
of the dead.

Twelve-thirty. How quickly time passes.
Twelve-thirty. How quickly the years pass.

2. The afternoon sun

This room, how well I know it.
Now they rent it and the one next door
as commercial offices. The whole house became
offices for agents and merchants and companies.
Ah, this room, how familiar.
The couch was near the door, here;
in front, a Turkish rug;
near the couch, two yellow vases on a shelf.
On the right, no, across from it, was an armoire with a mirror.
In the middle, the table where he wrote
and three wicker chairs.
Next to the window was the bed
where we made love so many times.
These sad things must still be somewhere.
Next to the window was the bed;
the afternoon sun spread across halfway .
. . . One afternoon at four o’clock, we separated,
just for a week…. Alas,
that week became forever.

3. Come back

Come back often and take me,
beloved sensation, come back and take me –
when my body’s memory wakes up
and an old desire courses through the blood again,
when lips and skin remember
and feel hands as if they touched  again.

Come back of ten and take me at night
when lips and skin remember….

4. Remember, body….

Body, remember not only how much you were loved,
not only the beds where you lay,
but also those desires for you,
shining clearly in eyes
and trembling in a voice – and some chance
obstacle thwarted them.
Now when everything is the past,
it almost looks as if you gave yourself
to those desires as well – how they shone –
remember-in the eyes that looked at you,
how they trembled for you in the voice – remember, body.
(1917 or 1918)

5. As much as you can

Even if you can’t make your life as you want it,
at least try
as much as you can: don’t cheapen it
with too much contact with the world,
with too much activity and talk.

Don’t cheapen it, taking it around,
constantly making the rounds, exposing it
to socializing and parties,
the daily nonsense,
until it becomes an alien burden.

6. Hidden things

From all I did and all I said
let them not try to find out who I was,
An obstacle stood before me and transformed
my acts and my way of life.
An obstacle stood before me and stopped  me
so often from what I was going to say.
My most unnoticed acts
and my most veiled writings –
only from these will they know me.
But maybe it’s not worth it to devote
so much care and effort to knowing me.
Later – in a more perfect society –
someone made like me
will certainly appear and act freely.

“Since Nine O’Clock-“, “The Afternoon Sun”, “Come Back”, “Remember, Body … “, “As Much as You Can”, “Hidden Things” from THE COLLECTED POEMS OF C.P.CAVAFY
translated by Aliki Barnstone. Copyright © 2006 by Aliki Barnstone. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.