Composers Edition is proud to present Three Songs from Gitanjali by Naresh Sohal, a Tagore Tribute. Janet Swinney, Naresh’s long-time partner, give us the story of this work:
It is eighty years since the death of the Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore. As a writer, poet, philosopher and social reformer, Tagore’s influence was far-reaching, even shaping the progressive educational ideals of Dartington Hall in Devon, in the UK, now known for its summer music school and festival.
Tagore’s work ‘Gitanjali’ is a series of one hundred and one prose poems largely concerned with the poet’s yearning for spiritual enlightenment, a state of Oneness with the Supreme Being. They had wide appeal in the West as well as in India and won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.
Naresh felt a great affinity for Tagore’s writing and set many of his poems to music in works ranging from a large piece for orchestra and bass-baritone soloist to small-scale chamber pieces. Three Songs from Gitanjali which is for soprano, string quartet and tabla is set in the original Bengali. The soprano’s part is transcribed in the Latin alphabet and therefore accessible to performers not fluent in the language.
‘Naresh was frustrated by the fact that people in the West seemed to have little knowledge of the great cultural traditions that exist beyond the empires of Greece and Rome. Bengal had, and still has, an extremely rich literary tradition and Naresh was keen for this to be recognised and for Bengali (and other languages of the sub-continent) to be brought within the mainstream of contemporary classical music in the same way as any European language. In that respect alone, this is a ground-breaking work.’
The extraordinarily talented Sally Silver (1967-2018) was the soprano who undertook to master this work for its first performance. Three Songs from Gitanjali was premiered at the Spitalfields Festival in 2004 where Sally, the Dante String Quartet and Sanju Sahai – tabla, acquitted themselves with aplomb to the great appreciation of the audience. You can hear a recording of this performance here:
Composers Edition will be publishing more of Sohal’s settings of Tagore during this commemorative year.