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Text: Ithaca by Constantine P. Cavafy
Translation by Dr. Gregory Jusdanis
Ithaca marks my fourth collaboration with the noted scholar, Dr. Gregory Jusdanis (Humanities Distinguished Professor at The Ohio State University). This composition, like the three collaborations that preceded it, sets a scholarly translation of a Greek poem to music. This piece was commissioned and is dedicated to my good friend, the gifted baritone Eleftherios Chasanidiswho requested a setting of the poem, Ithaca, by Constantine P. Cavafy (1863 – 1933) for his graduate vocal recital at the Georgia State University School of Music.
Cavafy is widely recognized as one of the most important figures not only in Greek poetry but in all of Western poetry and, as Dr. Jusdanis notes, “Cavafy's Ithacais one of the most famous poems in the world. Speaking to Odysseus just before he sets off for Ithaca, it also directs itself to all readers. But the poem charts as well Cavafy's own odyssey as poet.”
This text speaks directly to me as well as I contemplate my odyssey as a composer. In 2018, I completed my 100thcomposition. This milestone has caused me to reflect on my career and compositional output to date. This setting of Ithacais the third piece that has in some way been a part of this retrospection. While two earlier works, Centennial Sonneriesand Remnants From A 40-Year Gig, have looked backwards, my setting of Cavafy’s masterpiece has afforded me the opportunity to focus on my present journey as a creative artist. The poem’s over-arching message is that while the goal is to arrive at Ithaca, it is the journeythat is much more important. Ithaca, the metaphor for a goal, may represent almost anything. For me, substituting “music” for “Ithaca” provides a special meaning; especially when considering this passage from the poem (as translated by Dr. Jusdanis):
Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is your goal.
But don’t hasten your journey at all.
It’s better that it take many years;
so that you are old when you land on the island,
rich with what you have found along the way,
not expecting Ithaca to give you wealth.
The musical setting is relatively introspective throughout. While the text is through-composed, the piece is held together by several recurring instrumental motives: a gentle opening melody that represents the breath before the journey begins (and repeats near the end of the work more thoroughly orchestrated to reflect the experience gained at journey’s end); a flowing arpeggiated motive that moves between major and minor tonalities representing both the sweet and bitter aspects of a long journey; and a more chromatic, aggressive theme which reflects the challenges along the way.
I am grateful to Eleftherios Chasanidis for asking me to set this work and am especially appreciative of Gregory Jusdanis for his wonderful translation of the Cavafy text made especially for this composition.