The German word sehnsucht describes an intense, often bittersweet longing, a yearning for that unattainable something that would make one’s life complete and yet remains tantalisingly out of reach. This aching delusion, somewhere between tragedy and promise, has inspired countless poets, artists and musicians, among them Goethe, Schubert, Wagner and Strauss.
Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Prokofiev’s ballet score of the same name is an exhilarating and ultimately devastating depiction of such perilous desire. It is a work of mighty opposites: joy and grief, fate and chance, life and death. Catastrophe looms from the work’s first moments, the tension building as instruments one by one join its haunting soundscape.
At its heady, physical climax, there’s an inevitability that all must come crashing down, as it does for Shakespeare’s ‘star-cross’d lovers’. This is Prokofiev at his most expressive and powerful, an extraordinary portrayal of reckless passion and eternal love.
Though not marred by such ‘violent ends’, Richard Meale’s Viridian is equally evocative. The Australian composer’s lush score glows with iridescent orchestral colours, a work exquisitely shaped, sonorous, verdant and sensual.
Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto dances between light and shade, full of lyrical melodies and exhilarating crescendos. The composer began the work slowly in 1901, emerging from a deep depression after the disastrous premiere of his first symphony. This atmospheric concerto saved Rachmaninov’s career, appearing decades later in David Lean’s 1945 film Brief Encounter. Perhaps its endurance lies in a kind of sehnsucht that speaks to the core of the human experience: an inconsolable longing, illuminated by a great hope.