Aleppo Songs for orchestra (2017)

Aleppo Songs for orchestra (2017)

Instrumentation: 2.2.(eh).2.2-2.2(tpt in D).3.0-timp.2perc-hp-str

Duration ca. 16′

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I. How Beautiful The Light Of The Rising Sun

II. Antiochian Hymn

III. Oh People, Leave Me To My Sorrows  (Audio currently not available)

IV. The Silenced Guardian (Audio currently not available)

V. Enough! I Intended To Leave You


Aleppo Songs (2017) for Orchestra

Kareem Roustom (b. 1971)

To speak today of the richness of the arts and culture in Aleppo is to speak in the past tense. After the non-violent uprising of 2011 slid into a devastating war, nothing in Aleppo remains the same. Aleppo was a city known for many things… its wonderful cuisine, its seven miles of covered markets, the warmth of its people… and Aleppo was also known for its music.  In writing this set of piano pieces I hope to share some of Aleppo’s musical treasures in a new setting; one that hopefully complements the richness of this tradition but also avoids ‘orientalist’ clichés.  Movements I, III, & V are drawn from a musical tradition called qudud, which are urban folk songs. Over the years I’ve performed these songs in a traditional setting, with Arab instruments such as the oud and qanun, but recent events inspired me to give these songs a new medium; the solo piano.  Despite their very Aleppean flavor, two of these songs were composed by Egyptian composer Sayed Darwish (1892 – 1923). Darwish’s songs are so universally known and loved in the Arab world that non-Egyptians often claim his melodies as their own.

I. How Beautiful The Light Of The Rising Sun

Based on a melody by Sayed Darwish, the text of this song describes an idyllic rural setting where the rising sun accompanies the milking of the water buffalo, and a flirtatious young man is taken by the beauty of a dark haired young lady.

II. Antiochian Hymn

This movement is a re-imagining of an Antiochian (Syrian Christian Orthodox) melody that I found in a collection titled Beth Gazo. In this movement I imagine the listener in a neighborhood of the old city of Aleppo where the sound of a loud church bell is heard: the opening and reccurring four octave D sharp. After the dissipation of the bell’s tone, a faintly audible choir from behind the closed doors of the church draws the listener closer, and the choir’s sound becomes louder. Upon entering the church, the bell’s sound fades into the background and the choir’s sound comes to the fore.  A moment of intensity follows once inside the church where the hymn envelopes all thoughts and sense of place.

III. Oh People, Leave Me To My Sorrows

Also based on a melody by Sayed Darwish, this movement was the first to be composed in this series, and is the structural and emotional center of Aleppo Songs. The song’s lyrics tell of a broken-hearted lover whose grief seeks only the consolation of solitude. Although my interpretation of this melody is, at times, pointillistic and vague, it is nonetheless faithful to the general structure of the melody as well as the emotions of the text.

IV. The Silenced Guardian

 Syrian-Armenian-American artist Kevork Mourad very generously donated the cover illustration of this folio: a charcoal drawing of the medieval Aleppo citadel. This movement is a meditation on Kevork’s evocative drawing.

V. Enough! I Intended To Leave You

 One common theme in qudud texts is love and its often unrequited consequences. The song on which this movement is based is no exception. However, its title and lyrics might also address the desperate situation of Syrian refugees; despite loving one’s home, there is only so much suffering that one can stand before taking the decision to leave.

The orchestral transcription of Aleppo Songs was commissioned by the Landmarks Orchestra who premiered it under the direction of Christopher Wilkins on August 9th, 2017 at DCR Hatchell in Boston, USA.

Kareem Roustom

January 5th, 2017