Shulamit Ran: Moon Songs

Program Note

Shulamit Ran (b.1949)
Moon Songs (2011)

Shulamit Ran began composing songs to Hebrew poetry at the age of seven in her native Israel. By nine she was studying composition and piano with some of Israel’s most noted musicians, and within several years was having her early works performed by professional musicians, as well as orchestras. She continued her studies in the United States, on scholarships from the Mannes College of Music in New York and the America Israel Cultural Foundation. Ran has been awarded most major honors given to composers in the U.S., including the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for her Symphony.

Her music has been performed worldwide by ensembles including the Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, American Composers Orchestra, and the Mendelssohn, Brentano, Pacifica, and Juilliard Quartets. Her works have been conducted by Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, Christoph Von Dohnanyi, Gustavo Dudamel, Zubin Mehta, and Yehudi Menuhin. Ran was Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra between 1990 and 1997, and with the Lyric Opera of Chicago between 1994 and 1997, where her residency culminated in the premiere of her first opera Between Two Worlds (the Dybbuk).

The recipient of five honorary degrees, she is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Ran, who is the Andrew MacLeish Distinguished Service Professor Emerita in the University of Chicago Department of Music, where she has taught since 1973, is currently composing Anne Frank, a full-scale opera on a libretto by Charles Kondek, to be premiered by the Indiana University Opera and Ballet Theater at the Jacob School of Music in 2020. This summer, Ran is in residence at the Marlboro Festival and at the International String Quartet Competition and Festival in Banff, Canada. Ran was Composer in Residence at Yellow Barn in 2007.

Moon Songs was commissioned for the Dulce Suono Ensemble’s Mahler/Schoenberg concert series in 2012. Flutist Mimi Stillman invited me to compose a work that could serve as an homage as well as a companion piece to Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, one of the 20th-century’s seminal compositions. It would seem almost natural to make the work’s critical position in music history a central focus in tackling such a task. And yet, the real homage to this masterpiece lies in the fact that nearly every one of its revolutionary, genre-defining innovations has been absorbed into the mainstream of much of the music of the hundred years that has followed its creation.

Thus, I opted to make this work a nod in the direction of Pierrot—a work that has profoundly influenced my music in so many ways—yet without necessarily forcing myself into a deliberate a priori attempt to comment on it musically, except for the important fact that Moon Songs uses as its point of departure and inspiration a selection of texts (in some cases just fragments of poems), all of which, in various ways, refer to the moon. The texts set are in Hebrew and English, the two languages that have been dominant in my life.

The Hebrew texts span the gamut from the Bible, to medieval Hebrew poetry, to modern Israeli poetry. The English-language texts go from English Renaissance to contemporary American. As in many other works that use voice, including of course Pierrot Lunaire, the choice of texts and the way in which these texts are organized turned out to be a significant determining agent for the work that has ensued.

—Shulamit Ran