Looking back on Mille Regrets
In just a few weeks time, my composition Mille Regrets will go in premiere with the multi-choral collaborative program Tijdens de Stilte. I'll express a few of my ideas here about why I wrote it.
At the time I was influenced by several severely contrasting musical genres. First of all, the influence of Pēteris Vasks, and in particular his Cello Concerto, the Dona Nobis Pacem, and of course Māte Saule, is imminent. In particular the combination of strings and voices, and the "cloud" technique are important. The second influence is pop, especially Lady Gaga. I wanted to use a harmonic structure that would be accessible and still would portray the mourning aspect of the song clearly. Gaga's at the time new album Chromatica, plus her album A Star is Born, (especially the ballads) were songs that I was listening to frequently, and I even made string cover of Always Remember Us This Way. The third influence is Purcell. I've always been gripped by the descending 4th as a bass ostinato. And lastly, I'll never forget my theory lessons in which was explained that Wagner always heightened emotional expression with extreem melodic intervals.
The idea for the piece came out of immense frustration and fury about the corona restrictions. A seemingly unsolvable conundrum. The protect the fragile elderly, they were forbidden to receive visitors for months on end. In fact, their homes became prisons. Wasting away in loneliness, they were asked to spend (in many cases) their last remaining months/years in isolation from their loved ones. This blatant example of human insistence on prolonging quantity of life instead of quality of life was something that I found extremely offensive.
It has a lot to do with my own past, I'm afraid. My mother was hospitalized for a very long time, and wasted away in care homes and eventually the hospital. She wrote it in her diary herself, she was no longer living, she was a shell. I still feel guilt that I (a child, and also living in a different country) didn't have the attention for her. I'm not sure she wanted to live on. She was being kept alive by endless medicines, and died at the age of 55, looking 100.
Isolating elderly from their loved ones to protect them was a mistake that we should be utterly ashamed of. Couples who shared a bed for half a century, separated by the restrictions, could not see each other unless one of them was on their death bed. Elderly couldn't be touched, held, hugged, and were separated by screens, windows, plastic sheets. What kind of society have we become if we shove aside our empathy, restrict human connection for months on end for those that only have a few months left anyways? What are we saving? It's a terrible conflict.
And therefore, Mille Regrets.
Mille regrets de vous abandonner
Et d’être éloigné de votre visage amoureuse
J’ai si grand deuil et peine douloureuse
Qu’on me verra vite mourir
A thousand regrets at deserting you
and leaving behind your loving face,
I feel so much sadness and such painful distress,
that it seems to me my days will soon dwindle away
I added my own text for the important middle section in which a simple chorale in E flat major is sung by the sopranos and altos on the original text "Mille regrets de vous abandoner." The tenors and basses sing a cloud of text as softly as possible on the most dissonant note possible, A natural. They represent the virus. "When you breath I die, I die a little inside." The virus was/is real and did really cause casualties in the nursing homes. The question is, are we willing to sacrifice our humanity to simply prolong life, or do we embrace quality of life and family love as the more important goal?
I saw my mother dwindle away during my yearly summer visits and carry that guilt, although I could not have brought any change to the situation as a young child/teenager. There was no honor and no joy in that wasting away. There was no warmth on her sterile hospital walls. I do not wish that on anybody.
I made a home recording that you can see here: https://youtu.be/lhEEO4GXcxw
But even better: come to the premiere!
June 12th -- Dominicuskerk Amsterdam 16:00
June 18h -- Geertekerk Utrecht 20:00
June 19th -- Titus Brandsmakerk Nijmegen
For tickets -- TICKETS TIJDENS DE STILTE
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Hebe de Champeaux
conductor, mezzo-soprano, violinist, composer