Sappho Fragments

for Voice and Chamber Ensemble

Steven Stucky

Performing Ensemble: Voice with Instrument
Publisher: Merion Music, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

Sappho Fragments was commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts for soprano Neva Pilgrim and a consortium of new-music groups including the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, the Minnesota Composers Forum, Voices of Change (Dallas), and the Society for New Music (Syracuse). Ms. Pilgrim gave the first performance in Syracuse on 1 November 1982, with Calvin Custer conducting.

Sappho, the earliest lyric poet we can name with any confidence, lived in the late seventh and early sixth centuries B.C. and wrote in the Aeolic dialect of Ancient Greek. Except for a brief period in Sicily, she spent her entire life on Lésvos, an Aegean island near the coast of modern Turkey and just south of the Dardanelles. Her splendid reputation has persisted undimmed from her own day to ours, despite the fact that almost none of her work has survived intact. A single complete poem is extant, along with brief quotations in the treatises of admiring ancient grammarians; otherwise we have only tantalizing fragments—single words, short phrases, isolated syllables—pieced together from strips of papyrus. The random manner in which these remnants are juxtaposed in the shredded manuscripts robs them of conventional meaning and conventional poetic context but gives them extraordinary force as independent images. This makes them ideal for short, concentrated treatment in music.

In my settings the soprano projects two voices: one archaic, distant, and formal, in the original language; the other modern and direct, in English translations by Willis Barnstone, from Sappho: Lyrics in the Original Greek with Translations, © 1965, Willis Barnstone (used by permission). The pronunciation of the ancient texts used here—very different both from Modern Greek and from the academic pronunciation often taught in classics courses—follows Sidney Allen’s Vox Graeca, reflecting the most recent linguistic research. The cycle is performed without pauses.
—Steven Stucky

Available on Rental

Scores & Parts

Sappho Fragments - Full Score - Study
Sappho Fragments - Full Score - Large

Additional Information

Composition Date 1982
Duration 12:00
Orchestration Mezzo Sop. Fl.(Picc.) Cl. Perc. Pno. Vln. Vcl.
Premiere 1st November, 1982. Neva Pilgrim, Soprano, Society for new Music, conducted by Calvin Custer, Syracuse, NY.

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