What is the connection between the song 'Hurt', sung so hauntingly by Johnny Cash in a music video that has been described as 'the saddest of all time' and the song for soprano and piano entitled Kaddish by the early 20th c composer, Maurice Ravel? In the song 'Hurt', originally written by Nine Inch Nails in 1994, Cash sings:
'You can have it all
My Empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt'
'... speaks of the transience of life, the gracelessness of death, the Ozymandian crumbling of an oeuvre...'
In the first of Deux Melodies Hebraiques, Ravel pays tribute to the Mourner's Prayer or Kaddish (hymn of praise to God) in the Jewish liturgy. The Kaddish signifies the transcendence of God over human suffering.
It is always prefaced by a line inspired by Genesis:
'Ashes to ashes, dust to dust … for dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return'
but continues 'May His great name be blessed forever, and to all eternity'
Ravel later orchestrated his searing middle Eastern melody and arranged it for violin and piano. It is an example of how music can speak to us in its own language and convey meanings beyond words.
In devising a performance around the theme of Legacy, we wanted to look at some of these ideas. What do we leave behind? What do we inherit? Do we have any authority over what we are remembered for? Can we even know whether our judgment of good and bad, our pleasure at being the recipient or the benefactor of a certain material possession or a talent, has any validity? Do we have to replace our terracentric confidence with a kind of unknowing faith in something much larger? The combination of poetry with music which always seems to lead to new if sometimes indefinable understandings, seemed a good way of exploring these ideas.
While preparing Legacy I happened to hear a radio broadcast about the Kuiper belt, a disc-shaped region of icy bodies on the edge of our solar system. The radio presenter described these icy bodies as 'pre-planets', composed of star dust. It seems that although we are dust and to dust we will return, that very dust comes from something far beyond our normal understanding, something much closer to the Eternal.