1. Interlude I
2. Cool rain
3. Hey, in the young chest of mine
4. Interlude II
7. My heart
8. Interlude III
9. Just to remind
10. I will never look into your eyes again
11. Interlude IV
12. There was once a young lady
13. One and only
Sings: Peter Mikuláš
Piano: Evgeny Irshai
Recording, mastering: PAVLÍK RECORDS
Sound engineer: Rostislav Pavlík
Translation: Jana Irshai
Graphic design: © Eva Turčáková
PA 0144-2-131 • ISRC: SK-B26
Supported using public funding by Slovak Arts Council
Although Ivan Krasko (1876-1958) is considered the founder of modern Slovak lyric poetry and is an important person of Slovak modernism and European symbolism, the subjective lyrical elements of his work as well as his incentives remain unexplored. Krasko`s poetry belongs to treasures of Slovak national heritage but a wider reflection of his writing concentrates mainly on social, national and over-human aspects of his poetry. Especially appreciated is mostly the bitterness of his poetic struggle against social injustice, but also his feelings of patriotism, outrage and enslavement and the theme of expostulation. However, in his works Krasko deals with mysteries of entity and of life and death, with afterlife, with soul, psychic, existence and human relationships. His poetry can also be characterized by ascetism, solitude and suppressing ones desires. The key to his “personal” work, however, remains love towards a woman to whom the poet gives almost a devotional status.
Krasko practically became a Maturita question and quoting a text or analyzing onomatopoeic elements of his poem Father’s field belongs to basic intellectual equipment of any Slovak with secondary education. Nevertheless, the poet’s impulses, his complicated emotionality, his love-life and overall relationship with women or his strong stream of (sub)consciousness remain enigmatic and were long considered mysterious and insoluble.
It may be that all of this moved a composer Evgeny Irshai (1951), who, inspired by Krasko`s poems from the cycles Nox et Solitudo and Verses, wrote a vocal cycle for basso and piano, laconically titled Slovak Notebook. Irshai`s non-Slovak roots became critical here, probably helping him to filter the issues that most of the poet’s natives feel reluctant to contemplate due to Krasko`s image of fascinating, yet static figure on a pedestal of Slovak literature.
Irshai is not afraid to look at Krasko`s poetics from a different point of view and re-define a symbolic balance of music and word. According to Irshai, who artistically opens long-sealed depths of Krasko`s poetry, it is in these poems where the “lifelong history of life and love of Ivan Krasko” is hidden.
Irshai`s vocal cycle Slovak Notebook consists of ten songs and four piano interludes. His music tenderly corresponds with Krasko`s poetic language and with the connection of two, seemingly insurmountable counterpoints – lyrics and drama. After the initial interlude charged with mystical and sorrowful atmosphere whose deep, contemplative tones are filled with religious humbleness, comes the first song of the cycle, Cool rain. An acoustic illusion of raindrops falling into water, beautiful lyrics above the deep vocal register and natural, romantic lines all create a very effective, contemplative chorale. Irshai excellently uses the timbres of Krasko`s phonetics as well as the poetic devices of his own musical imagination.
The songs, which are at first hearing dynamic and cheerful, assiduously conceal low-key, dark undertones. One of these is Hey, in the young chest of mine, which brings bizarre and rakish tones rhythmically complementing the parts of the soloist of piano in a wonderful way. In the song If, if Irshai quite sharply, even sarcastically transforms the meanings of the word “if“, creating an elemental and turbulent performance in the smallest possible “stage form”.
One of the key utterances of the whole cycle is the song Ballad, in which first the solo voice fantastically evokes an idiom of Slovak folk song – a kind of mourning song – whose gloomy tones, natural gradation and depth of the voice in connection with piano part suggest a gradual disruption of a love-idyll of the young lovers in the poem.
The song My heart is characteristic by dramatic, motoric movement and doleful, reproachful moan of the vocal. Depressive, existentialistic side is epitomized in the song Just to remind by the sad melodic lines and by hesitant, mysterious “advances“ in piano.
Exertion dominates in the song I will never look into your eyes again, whose expressiveness, sorrow, dark chill, emptiness and descending lines of ecstatic singing demonstrate desperate feelings of “offended hearts“.
While There was once a young lady brings rakish, dancy, syncopated elements and fresh, brilliant colours, the song One, only one, represents terrifying glance into the very bottom of a human soul. Its sad trills, grave minor chords, melodics of the solo part resembling balladic hey-making songs and dark, deep tones in piano represent solitude and sorrow.
The cycle ends with Prayer, a chillingly monotonous declamation whose moving spiritual utterance concludes in complete diminuendo.
Into the interconnected lines of the beautiful vocal stories occasionally enter four piano interludes that create kind of choral variations of one theme.
Irshai chose for his cycle the poems by Krasko that do not reflect general, social or national motifs but found the pieces from which he completes a mosaic of the poet’s subjective, “personal”, emotional life whilst each poem represents the specific life experience.
Irshai brilliantly uses the elementary features of Krasko`s poetry – balladic, songlike, onomatopoeic but also dramatic epic cloaked in impenetrable lyrics. The musical side of the cycle is defined by introspection, reflection and by the motifs of memories, vain endeavours, unfulfilled wishes, missed opportunities and inner feeling of constant delay.
Krasko in his collections reflects natural phenomena as attestations of inner psychological processes present in each human. Irshai explores melancholy, mental disruption and lost or forgotten emotions that his music fully absorbs. Each story, whose plot maybe much reduced in the poem, expresses a very strong emotional drama. The contrasts in Irshai`s music are the contrasts in Krasko`s literary work: the topics of darkness and light, critical self-questioning and inner analysis, emotional desires and resignation on finding the meaning of life, faith and total despair, a wish to live with a beloved woman, loneliness but also the open topic of physical sin and temptation, physical love and ascetics that were strictly tabooed in Slovak conservative society.
Krasko`s strong, almost self-destructive feelings of remorse and inner dialogues that literary experts found incomprehensible for a long time, reflected the reality of actual conversations, real life happenings and each Krasko`s poem thus carries the marks of author’s autobiography.
Irshai takes Krasko`s texts and marks them with his unique compositional handwriting. The form is clear, almost neoclassical, harmony oscillates on the verge of simple and widened tonality combined with modality and occasional polytonality while the strain parts reflect frequent usage of extreme pitch and timbres of both the soloist and the instrument. Irshai uses clear simplicity of Slovak folk songs, fresh textures, rhythmical comprehensibility and dance elements, natural gradations but also emphasis on symbolism of words and music. Nevertheless, he can also paint his music with dark colours, pensiveness, melancholy, emotional disharmony, existential disharmony and strong expressiveness while all emotions are gently counterbalanced by ever-present spiritual humbleness.
Slovak Notebook by Evgeny Irshai is a masterpiece in which its author connects literary tradition of one of the greatest poets of Slovak symbolism and his own, original compositional elements of contemporary vocal music, thus creating a remarkable artistic unit.