Based on a translation of Rainer Maria Rilke's "The First Elegy" from the "Duino Elegies."
Range - C#4 to B5 (D6)
Duration: 25 - 30 minutes
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“The Spaces We Breathe” is in reference to the first of the ten Duino Elegies written by metaphysical poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926). After their publication in 1923 and Rilke's death in 1926, the Duino Elegies were quickly recognized by critics and scholars as his most important work. From 1912 to 1923, the elegies languished incomplete for long stretches of time as Rilke suffered frequently from severe depression—some of which was caused by the events of World War I and being conscripted into military service. When the war ended Rilke experienced a sudden, renewed inspiration—writing in a frantic pace he described as a "boundless storm, a hurricane of the spirit.”
Rilke explores the nature of mankind’s contact with beauty and its transience, noting that humanity is forever only getting a brief, momentary glimpse of an inconceivable beauty that is awe-inspiring, depicting this infinite, transcendental beauty with the symbol of angels. However, he did not use the traditional Christian interpretation of angels. He sought to utilize a symbol of the angel that was secular, divorced from religious doctrine and embodied a tremendous transcendental beauty. Rilke begins his first elegy in an invocation of philosophical despair, asking: "Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the hierarchies of angels?" and later declares that "every angel is terrifying.” Rilke describes this frightening experience, defining beauty as “nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.” While labelling these poems as "elegies" would typically imply melancholy and lamentation, many passages are marked by their positive energy and unrestrained enthusiasm. The Duino Elegies discuss themes of the limitations and insufficiency of the human condition and fractured human consciousness ... “man's loneliness, the perfection of the angels, life and death, love and lovers, and the task of the poet.”
This collection has spoken much to me during this strenuous time of injustice and inequality. Coming to terms with human existence can be a painful experience, and by reading these elegies, I decided that I want to help bring hope through the turmoil that presents itself through the everyday. My own spirituality has grown tremendously during these times through my creative process, and I now hope to have many of you join me for this stretch of that journey.
I also chose this text because I wanted something that was not aimed at a specific gender, and knowing several male and trans-male Soprani, I wanted to open the opportunity to all genders and gender-nonconforming folx. The ability to give equal opportunity throughout the gender spectrum is incredibly important to me as a nonbinary person. The philosophical questions presented here are universal, beyond identity, and through this I hoped to be able to place my finger onto the deepest core of the search for the purpose of our existence. No being, whoever they may be, has escaped the opportunity to reflect upon it. So let us ask these questions together in unison, and see if those whom exist in other realms can lend us some insight.