Les sommeils de Sappho (Sappho’s sleeps)

Soprano, 6 male voices and string quartett
Poems by Sappho.
Duration : 8’
Commissioned by Musicatreize for the program « Mediterranean lullabies ».
First performance  on july 5th 2013 in Marseille by Kaoli Isshiki, Musicatreize ensemble and the quartett Girard, all conducted by Roland Hayrabedian.

To get the scores, send an email to the association Alcmène : Contact

The work of the Greek poetess Sappho, born on the island of Lesbos in the Aegean sea, arrived in fragments – sometimes extremely short (1 or 2 words): over the centuries, rodents had mutilated its pages. The more fortunate texts escaped with only their verse endings “eaten away” leaving a lacelike effect on the page.

Some of her poems evoke sleep and resemble short lullabies. They are gathered together here in a narrative which moves from anxiety to insouciance before returning to loneliness and an end opening out onto the whims of light of the moon and the stars. All is cloaked in a soft sadness which so often tinges the poetess’s words.

The voice of a soprano which represents Sappho is accompanied by six male voices. A choice which may seem paradoxical for she whom we imagine to be always surrounded by female disciples. Yet, this choice to isolate her timbre in this masculine realm, serves to strengthen this woman’s exceptional character and destiny whose life and work have been set down in posterity with as much brilliance as mystery.

The eight short pieces of this cycle are in nocturne form, orchestrated by the colourful  spectrum of the string quartet: in the 1st and 4th, Sappho only delivers a few words (young maidens, hope, sleep); in the 2nd and 7th her soliloquy is a sort of recitative; she is silent in the 5th, leaving only the lethargic men; describes the springs or the stars in the 3rd and 6th, sustained in her solitude by a fusion of closed mouth polyphony; then it is her turn to sing the vocalise in the last piece, while the six male voices reflect on her contemplation of the silver moonlight.

A “miniature” piece, tribute to the mysterious delights of falling asleep and dreaming.

Avec nos chaleureux remerciements, pour ses précieux conseils en grec ancien, à Charalampos Orfanos.

Écoute intégrale de l’oeuvre