A rose may convey things unsaid, such as Octavian’s love for Sophie in Rosenkavalier, or may ignore things said, such as the nightingale’s love for the flower in Britten’s song.
“The nightingale and the rose” is the fourth song in The Poet’s Echo (‘Ekho Po’eta), op.76 (1965), a cycle of 6 songs for high voice and piano setting poems by Pushkin in the original. The Britten-Pears Foundation explains that the title of the cycle means that “no matter how much the artist may strive to convey his message, it is his destiny to receive no response from an uncomprehending world.” It used to be a Romantic topos that in “Eastern” poetry nightingale and rose symbolize the poet and his beloved, hence the “eastern nightingale” in this poem. The poet sings a single stanza in amorous alexandrine verses but fails to be heard. The piano playing of Pantelis Polychronidis is fully aware of the conventionality of the poetic topos, with bird and rose playing their assigned roles, yet remains in melodic tension with the female voice as if the pianist is the poet.
May 16, 2015
Aleksandr Pushkin: “The nightingale and the rose” (1827)
In the silence of the gardens, in the spring, in the darkness of the nights
An eastern nightingale sings over a rose.
But the dear rose does not feel, pays no heed,
And it swings and slumbers to the amorous hymn.
Are you not singing for a cold beauty?
Come to your senses, o poet, to what are you aspiring?
She does not listen, does not feel the poet;
You see, she blooms; you beseech — there is no answer.
Translation from Russian by Lyle Neff