“The Heart wants what it wants - or else it does not care… Not to see what we love, is very terrible - and talking – doesn’t ease it - and nothing does - but just itself.”
Emily Dickinson, Letter to a friend (Spring,1862)
Noelle McMurtry soprano
Jack Dou, piano
Christian Paquette, flute
Paula Maust, harpsichord
Marc Armitano, viola da gamba
Esther Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729)
i. Recitatif: Par la souveriane sagesse
ii. Air: Ah! quelle affreuse image
iii. Recitatif: De vôtre Epoux
iv. Recitatif: Eh quoy n’osez vous faire
v. Air: Venez, bannissez ces alarmes
vi. Recitatif: Ainsi devant son Maître
vii. Air: Souvent la verité timide
Leino Songs Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952)
i. Sua katselen
Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say Kate Soper (b.1981)
i. Go Away
ii. Head, Heart
iii. Getting to Know Your Body
Mirabai Songs John Harbison (b.1938)
i. It’s True, I Went to the Market ii. All I Was Doing Was Breathing
iii. Why Mira Can’t Go Back to Her Old House
iv. Where Did You Go?
v. The Clouds
vi. Don’t Go, Don’t Go
In Head, Heart, works by Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, Kaija Saariaho, Kate Soper, and John Harbison all share a common theme: the struggle between the head and the heart, or in other words, the struggle between navigating one’s own values under the weight of those imposed by the outside world. While the severity of this struggle and its consequences vary greatly, its underlying tension lingers. As our musical protagonists encounter love, loss, death, violence, and ecstatic bliss, they must continually examine what they are willing to sacrifice to achieve their aims.
For de la Guerre's Esther of the Old Testament, it is a question of ultimate survival: should she risk her own life to save the Jewish people of Persia from annihilation at the hands of Haman? For Harbison's Mirabai, should she abandon her family, her possessions, her noble status, and everything she has ever known to devote her life to the Hindu deity Krishna? For both Soper and Saariaho, the heart becomes disembodied altogether, adopting its own voice to teach the head about life, counseling the self to be released from its painful burdens, but at what cost?
Ultimately, it is the inter-play between these parts of ourselves, not the dominance of one over the other, that truly define our actions. By exploring these characters, no matter how divided they seem by time, place, and musical style, we encounter a glimpse of our own fragile selves, as we too navigate the ever-complex binary of the head and the heart.