for soprano, male speaking voice, solo double bass and ten double basses (Pedro Geoffroy Rivas)
Lamento, for soprano, male speaking voice, solo double bass, and ten double basses, is a setting of a poem by Salvadoreño writer Pedro Geoffroy Rivas. Rivas, one of Central America’s leading literary figures, is an anthropologist, historian, and linguist as well as poet. Much of his poetry deals with pre-Columbian history and religion (although this poem does not do so directly, it is part of a larger group that does).
Lamento was completed in early 1983, and was given its first performance at Indiana University in the spring of that year. I am myself a double bassist, which obviously influenced the choice of ensemble – I had been wanting to explore the sonorous possibilities of such a group for a long time. Indiana University, where I was in graduate school, had a large number of excellent bassists available, and is also well known for the quality of its singers. Lamento was subsequently a winner in the International Society of Bassists Composition Contest, and was performed at the World Convention of the Society in 1984 at Northwestern University. The performing ensemble included eleven of the world’s leading bassists.
To understand this work fully, the listener must know that it is the emotional and musical result of a very difficult time in the life of my family. There is no need for details: it will surely be enough to say that my mother took her own life very shortly after Lamento was written and premiered. There is no direct connection between the events, of course, but the crisis in my family was very much on my mind as I was composing Lamento, so there is in that sense an indirect link.
The piece bears the subtitle “Chorale Prelude on ‘Komm, süsser Tod'” and much of the melodic and – especially – accompanying material is based on fragments of this melody. The chorale, whose title means “Come, Sweet Death,” is heard in its entirety, using Bach’s harmonization, near the end as the speaker whispers over and over and over again, “Do not let me vanish completely.” This, of course, was intended as a musical irony, but the subsequent fulfillment of that irony in reality was not anticipated and is still extremely difficult to assimilate.
Writing Lamento was an intensely emotional experience, as listening to it still is. I hope that it will move the listener in a similar manner.
Pedro Geoffroy Rivas