On Foot Across the Solar Systems
On Foot Across the Solar Systems [work-in-progress]
A song cycle based on Poetry by Edith Södergran
Composed by Garrett Fisher
Dramaturgy by Ken Cerniglia
About Edith Södergran
I had to cross the solar systems
before I found the first thread of my red dress.
I sense myself already.
Somewhere in space hangs my heart,
shaking the void, from it stream sparks
into other intemperate hearts.
Although today Edith Södergran is regarded as one of Finland’s greatest twentieth century poets, when she died in poverty of tuberculosis at 31 in 1923, she had been dismissed as a mad, meglomaniac aristocrat by most of her Finnish contemporaries. Her poems are intensely visionary and have been compared with Rimbaud’s.
Södergran was no stranger to hardship. At the age of 16 she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and lost her father to the same disease. As a result of the Bolshevic revolution, her family lost all their wealth, leaving them to live in abject poverty. The Finnish civil war left her family isolated and in danger. While she sought romantic love, she could not find it. Yet, regardless, her poems tap into a spirit of resilience and joy:
Soon I will stretch myself on my bed,
small spirits shall cover me with white veils
and they shall strew red roses on my bier.
I am dying – for I am too happy.
I will even clench my teeth in bliss around my shroud.
I will curl my feet with bliss inside my white shoes,
and when my heart stops voluptuousness will lull it to sleep.
Let my bier be taken to the market-place –
here lies the bliss of earth.
About the Song Cycle
The core of On Foot Across the Solar Systems is a song cycle composed by Garrett Fisher. Setting the poems in a loosely chronological fashion, the narrative follows an interpersonal journey driven by the yearning to connect. Early exuberant hope for luck in love gives way to a crushing, unhappy affair; after a period of intense rumination, the narrator, on her deathbed, discovers the ecstasy of cosmic union.
The score features vocalist Maria Männistö (“one of the most hauntingly beautiful voices I have heard in years” –Seattle Times). A longtime collaborator with Garrett that spans 4 full length operatic productions over 10 years, Maria is both fluent in Swedish and Finnish and from a family whose parents immigrated from Sweden and Finland. Ruusa Teppo will perform the technically demanding piano part, itself an equal force to the vocalist’s role. A direct descendent of Finnish Composer Jean Sibelius, Ruusa has performed internationally and is the winner of second prize in both the Bradshaw & Buono International Piano Competition and the Petrof Piano Competition.
Garrett’s creative process
Garrett is developing these songs through a highly collaborative process based on his idiosyncratic “blueprints,” a method of co-creation developed over the course of 20 years. Each blueprint is a set of instructions meant to foster the performer’s unique discovery process and interpretation and require a deeply creative, generative, and often challenging process to be fully realized by the performers. In fact, the scores refrain entirely from any specific textual interpretations whatsoever, relying entirely on the performers’ personal relationship and approach to the poetry. While the blueprints offer enough structure to ground the work and give it core intention, this approach allows Maria and Ruusa to express the poetry and underlying music in ways most meaningful to themselves and which reveal their own authenticity as collaborators.
About the Cultural Context
Södergran wrote in Swedish and was part of a minority Swedish-speaking culture within Finland, one that today is often subject to discrimination and is at risk of disappearing altogether. With this work not only does the team hope to bring Södergran’s work to a larger public, but to foster greater awareness of this important community. Garrett is working with longtime collaborator and dramaturg Ken Cerniglia to craft the narrative with this in mind. Since 2003, Ken has been resident dramaturg and guest director for the Fisher Ensemble, and has also dramaturged the innovative Broadway hits Hadestown (8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical) and Peter and the Starcatcher (5 Tony Awards).
The year 2023 marks the centennial of Södergran’s death and it is the team’s hope, in part, to offer this work as a celebration of her work and life.