Elegiac Cycle, recorded in 1999, is a group of nine originals conceived for solo piano that form a cycle. The opening ‘Bard’ theme crops up throughout the record in different guises, and returns at the end. This idea of a theme reappearing at the end, transfigured, is an integral part of romantic song cycles like Schubert’s Winterreise and cyclical music like Schumann’s Fantasy in C, and Mehldau takes his cue from those kinds of models. Some songs are direct elegies to people – ‘Goodbye Storyteller,’ or ‘Elegy for William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg’.
Others are ‘meta-elegies’ that deal with the idea of elegy itself in all its aspects, like ‘Memory’s Tricks’ and ‘Resignation.’ A starting point theme-wise and conceptually was ‘Lament for Linus,’ an earlier composition that appeared on ‘Art of the Trio, Vol. I.’ The title refers to Rilke’s first poem in the set of ‘Duino Elegies.’ Mehldau explains: “Rilke’s insight in those poems is that elegy is an acknowledgment of our mortality, but it’s a healing, cathartic, process. Instead of merely resigning ourselves to the inevitability of death and loss, we can understand those things as exalted and uniquely mortal, worthy of celebration, and pay tribute to them in an elegy.”
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Brad Mehldau (piano)