Instrumentation: baritone & chamber orchestra
Duration: 9 minutes
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Taras Hryhorovych Shevchenko (Тара́с Григо́рович Шевче́нко) was a Ukrainian poet, writer, artist, public and political figure. The father of modern Ukrainian literature, Shevchenko is also known for many masterpieces as a painter and an illustrator. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with my mind churning about the horrors taking place daily in Ukraine, I ordered a copy of Shevchenko’s collected poems, his Kobzar. His poem “Testament” seemed to be a perfect expression of the Ukrainian desire for freedom from oppression and foreign rule, and thus perfect as a poem for me to set to music as Ukraine again falls prey to violence.
TESTAMENT (translation John Weir)
When I am dead, bury me
In my beloved Ukraine,
My tomb upon a grave mound high
Amid the spreading plain,
So that the fields, the boundless steppes,
The Dnieper’s plunging shore
My eyes could see, my ears could hear
The mighty river roar.
When from Ukraine the Dnieper bears
Into the deep blue sea
The blood of foes … then will I leave
These hills and fertile fields—
I’ll leave them all and fly away
To the abode of God,
And then I’ll pray …. But until that day
I know nothing of God.
Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants’ blood
The freedom you have gained.
And in the great new family,
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.
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