In his Book of Disquiet the great Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (Bernardo Soares) writes this short phrase: Litania: We are two abysses – a well staring at the sky.
The initial inspiration for this miniature for violin and piano was derived from a photo I took in the mid 1990s. I had been visiting my father’s family on the island of Madeira (Portuguese territory located off the coast of Morocco), and the photo was taken from the bottom of a subterranean passage at the Fortress of São Tiago in the capital city of Funchal. From that perspective the stairs seem to rise up directly toward the bright sky, moving from darkness into light.
The duality of this photo evoked for me Pessoa’s short phrase. Litania (“litany” in English) refers to a form of oration—a series of prayers organized in short invocations that alternate between soloist and assembly, producing a hypnotic effect. The “soloist” in the prayer is represented by the violin, which plays dramatic, ascending lines, while the “assembly” is represented by the piano, whose music is more introspective, solemn, and contemplative, played at slower tempi.
“Litania” was commissioned for Yevgeny Kutik by Washington Performing Arts. The first Washington D.C. performance was given April 23, 2019.