SUNFLOWERS AND LA BERCEUSE (2008/rev. ‘12)

With wide ranging tones from sprawling ecstasy to deep reverence, this work is written in the ‘voice’ of Vincent Van Gogh, and eventually unfolds from a gentle lullaby to a soaring homage to maternity.           

Lyrics by Hannah Faith Notess             

for baritone and ensemble

               fl, cl, marimba, pno, vln, vc

  1. 8’

Program Note

Van Gogh’s Sunflowers are a series of seven still-life paintings, four of which were painted in the fall of 1888, while he was living in the south of France.  He was so enthusiastic about these bright and cheerful flowers that he originally planned on making twelve separate paintings to cover the walls of his house.  As a subject, he identified with them personally -“As you know, peonies are Jeannin’s, hollyhocks are Quost’s, but sunflowers, well, sunflowers are mine.”

La Berceuse is a series of five portraits of his neighbor at that time, the postman’s wife (Augustine Roulin), sitting while rocking her baby’s cradle by pulling on a short cord.  For it, Van Gogh painted two additional Sunflowers, one to hang on either side of La Berceuse as a sort of triptych.  As a subject, he imagines Mademoiselle Roulin as being “Mary star of the sea” - a manifestation of the Virgin Mary and a protector of sailors.  Van Gogh says:

“Concerning this picture I told Gauguin, when we were talking about the men who fish the Icelandic waters, and their melancholy solitude exposed to the dangers of the desolate seas – I told Gauguin …[that] I  had the idea of painting a picture that would give seamen, who are themselves both children and martyrs, the feeling of being rocked in a cradle if they saw it in the cabin of a fishing boat, as if a lullaby were being sung to them again.”