The Unending Rose

for violin

Silvina Milstein

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for violin

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Composer Silvina Milstein
Year of Composition 1999
Duration 17' 35"
ISMN 9790570684090

Instrumentation Violin
Student Difficulty adv
Categories (all composers) , , ,
Catalogue ID ce-sm1tur1


I  –    ‘And told her in words which had no sound …’ (Borges, ‘The Unending Rose’) (8′ 20″)

II    ‘I am fire and air …’ (Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, Act V – Cleopatra) (9′ 15″)

This dyptych – written for Darragh Morgan – takes its title from a poem by Jorge Luis Borges, in which the Sufi poet Attar of Nishapur addresses a rose ‘in words that had no sound, as one who thinks rather than one who prays’.  Attar has reached old age; he is blind and admits to knowing nothing, but foresees that ‘there are more ways to go; and everything is an infinity of things’.

The Sufi images of eternity as experienced by Borges, himself old and blind, approaching the end of his days, reminded me of what Lukács calls the ‘touch of vertigo … the most profound meaning of form: to lead to the great moment of silence’.  I attempted a piece that has the form of a sigh, a sort of exhalation, whose contrasting and precipitous final section, while aspiring to an ‘unending’ quality, eventually turns out to be a sort of cadence.

The second piece borrows its epigraph from the closing scenes of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.  As the venom of the aspic precipitates her rapturous and defiant ending Cleopatra says she is ‘fire and air’.  According to Plutarch, when Caesar’s men found the queen, she was ‘stark dead laid upon a bed of gold, attired and arrayed in her royal robes’.  The piece shifts rapidly between majestic, sarabande-like gestures and moments of exuberance and intimacy, somehow attempting to echo the acting style of Vanessa Redgrave in the role, in performances I watched at Riverside Studios in the mid-1990s.

The pieces may be played singly or as a set.

The Unending Rose has been recorded by Caroline Balding (fire dressed in black: Silvina Milstein Chamber Works, LORELT, LNT129).

suffused with rich but fragile charm

– Douglas Sealy, Irish Times, 31 January 2001

…exhibiting her flair for lyrical writing, her command of instrumental line and ability to create often succinct, satisfying musical structures.  The single unbroken lines of the solo violin works, the unending rose (1999), show these traits at their most pared down, shorn of all inessentials, yet still poetic in expression …

– Guy Rickards, Tempo 63, 250, 2009