Vitam impendere vero [To risk one's life for truth] 2007
1 mvt | 18 min
Russian and English
SSAATTBB
a cappella

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The Esoterics

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Seattle CityArtists

About this Piece

On 7 October 2006, the acclaimed Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in her Moscow apartment building. An outspoken reporter and human rights activist, Politkovskaya was known for her courage – for documenting the atrocities of the military conflict in Chechnya, as well as for her standing in stark opposition to Russian president Vladimir Putin. (Ms Politkovskaya, whose killer to the present day has not been found, was murdered on Putin’s birthday.)

Several weeks after Politkovskaya’s murder and in response to her tragic death, the esteemed Estonian composer Arvo Pärt made a significant global pronouncement: that every concert performance of any of his compositions in 2007 would be dedicated to Anna Politkovskaya’s memory. Pärt’s dedication to Politkovskaya caused me to program his Kanon pokajanen [Canon of repentance] as The Esoterics’ first concert in 2008, but also inspired me to read and study her life and work, and ultimately, to compose this piece.

Anna was born in 1958, the daughter of two Russian diplomats to the UN, and was raised on the Upper West Side of New York City. She attended college at MGU (Moscow State University), where she studied literature, and wrote a thesis on the verses of the Russian poetess Marina Tsvetayeva. After college, she abandoned the privilege of her American upbringing to take a job as a reporter for the alternative newspaper Novaya gazeta. It is for this publication that Anna performed her heroic reportage from Chechnya, for which she was imprisoned, poisoned, raped, and ultimately killed.

In this work, several phrases of text from Politkovskaya’s last published article in English have been adapted and scored for mezzo-soprano soloist. These phrases were first published in The Washington Post on 15 October 2006, and were translated by Arch Tait. Mr Tait has kindly granted his permission for me to include these words in this piece. I have also received permission to set Anna’s words from her publisher, English Pen, the executor of her estate, and her family.

In alternation with the English text of the mezzo-soprano solo, in which Politkovskaya foresees her own murder, I have set the Russian verses of three poems by her favorite poet, Marina Tsvetayeva: Untitled (Along the golden path, undated), I know the truth (3 October 1915), Truth (27 August 1910). These three poems are sung by the chorus, and provide the frame for Politkovskaya’s own prescient text. The third of these poems, Truth, was inscribed with the Latin phrase, Vitam impendere vero. This phrase, which translates as “to risk one’s life for truth,” serves as a poetic connection between Anna and Marina, and a linguistic link between their English and Russian verses. As a tribute to Anna’s unmitigated courage, her profound commitment to social justice, and her ultimate sacrifice for what she believed to be true, I chose this phrase as the title of my work.

Text Credit

Anna Politkovskaya

Sample Text

Along the golden path of a gentle garden,
The leaves fell softly; rustling, as they fell.
Under the shimmering smile of the sun’s gaze,
I wanted to savor the quiet, without any hurry.
I am a pariah.
What is the crime that has earned me this label?
I have merely reported on what I have witnessed,
and no more than that.
I am not an investigator,
but someone who describes the life around me
for those who cannot see it for themselves.