The Lament Cycle; Meditations

Joel Feigin


World Premiere Recordings



“Mr. Feigin is a fine pianist, and he serves his own pieces admirably.”
Gimbel, American Record Guide [May/June 2103]
“That the viola reigns high in Feigin’s affections is demonstrated by the major work on this CD, Lament and Silence… Violist Helen Callus performs the opening solo lament, bringing elegance and refinement to its long flowing lines, and impeccable precision to its virtuosic outbursts, of which there are more than a few. The end of the work is almost Cageian in its depiction of silence, interrupted only by occasional faint sounds from the viola. Six of Callus’s students acquit themselves very well in the ensemble movements… In the two solo piano meditations, we are privileged to hear the composer…definitively bringing to life his own creations. Feigen plays these meditations with utmost sensitivity, their demands being largely musical rather than technical. In fact, these pieces are written with simplicity approaching that found in Satie’s Gymnopédies, and are, in their overt tonality, the antipodes of the viola movements… The final movement consists of the first and fourth movements played together, effectually producing a viola concerto with a viola sextet accompaniment… Feigin succeeds brilliantly in his composite, which really sounds like an entirely different work from either of the pre-combined versions. It is my favorite movement of this work… [This album belongs] in the collection of any collector interested in the music of our time.”
David DeBoor Canfield, Fanfare Issue 36:3 [Jan/Feb 2013]
“[This CD] makes its mark through a very personal and emotional combination of tonal and atonal elements. Opening quotes on the first page of the booklet state “Amid lament, there is silence; within silence, there is lament,” and this is indeed the guiding principle Feigin uses in constructing this music. The opening Lament for solo viola is full of angst—much of the music here resembles Hindemith—but there are also remarkably lyric interludes, brief soaring melodic lines that stand out, and of course many moments of silence which redouble the effect of the music. It must be said that violist Helen Callus is an extraordinary musician, able to elicit every mood and change of mood that Feigin has written into his score, and this opening movement is, for her, a real tour de force… Callus and her Viola Studio group play with exceptional feeling and virtuosity. This is the world premiere recording of this cycle of pieces, but truth to tell, it would be difficult to imagine anyone playing them as well, let alone better. Highly recommended to lovers of modern music."
Lynn René Bayley, Fanfare Issue 36:3 [Jan/Feb 2013]

Lament is universal. We find it everywhere—all that lives dies--

Amid lament, there is silence; within silence, there is lament.

Silence is also universal—encompassing everything—when all is gone, silence remains.
all that is, changes—what we love, we will lose.

Within silence, there is much more than lament: there is joy, there is peace, there is love. But they
all change, as does lament.

Lament Amid Silence is one work consisting of a compilation of two separate works from very
different periods of my life: the second and fourth movements derive from the piano cycle, Four
Meditations from Dogen (1993), while the remaining three pieces form the Lament Cycle for seven
violas (2006-2007).

The piano pieces originated in 1987 as music for the video, Mountains and Rivers, based on the
Mountains and Rivers Sutra of Dogen Zenji, the great 13th century teacher who introduced Soto Zen to Japan. The videography is by my first Zen teacher, John Daido Loori Roshi, abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper, New York, who asked me to write music for the video. I did this in collaboration with Daniel Palkowski, who created the electronic elements, while I wrote for keyboard and two sopranos. In 1993, I transformed some of this music into Four Meditations from Dogen, a set of concert-pieces for piano.

The Lament Cycle is an inter-related group of three works inspired by the wonderful playing of
Professor Helen Callus and her viola studio at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The cycle consists of Lament for solo viola, Ghosts for six violas, and Lament with Ghosts, in which the solo and ensemble pieces are played simultaneously, creating a concerto for viola accompanied by a consort of six violas. What has been termed modular composition is used here to create a cycle of works featuring a master teacher and her studio. In my mind, this technique is simply an extreme extension of the ideal of creating works in which every facet is “interwoven and complete”, able to stand on its own. This method is associated with the work of John Cage, and all these works feature extensive use of silence, making the modular technique possible on a large scale. Ghosts is the most radical of these works in its use of silence, since it is designed to serve not only as an independent piece, but also as the accompaniment of a concerto-like work including extended passages for the solo viola alone. Precisely because these works share so much of the same  material, they are not designed to be heard in immediate succession. It is possible to include them as parts of one larger cycle only because of their juxtaposition with two drastically contrasted pieces from the piano cycle Four Meditations from Dogen, here simply called Meditation One and Meditation Two. These five works, together, do indeed form one large piece in two parts: the first three sections--Lament, Meditation No. 1, and Ghosts--form the first part; and the last two sections—Meditation No.2 and Lament with Ghosts--form the second part.

As the title implies, The Lament Cycle is an expression of passionate, even operatic grief. Anguished
writing featuring expressive quartertone trills and glissandi is set off by melodic sections of the  utmost simplicity. Especially at the beginning and end, vast stretches of silence encompass the anguish: the works all begin with a scream that emerges from silence, and at the end, quiet
fragmentary phrases simply die away. The ensemble in Ghosts represents fragments of feeling and action that have both led up to and reflect the anguish of the entire cycle. About a third of the way through Ghosts, a series of spectral, descending scale-fragments appear, surrounded by long silences. In the solo work and the concerto, this section features a simple spiritual starting in the lowest range of the viola, the first of two very simple, tonal melodies that provide the main contrast in these works. In Ghosts, the melody itself is never heard at all, the most extreme example of the kind of techniques that result in each piece being a clearly distinct statement that can stand on its own. In Lament with Ghosts, the melody is interrupted and disturbed by the descending passages in the ensemble; only in Lament is the melody stated simply, by itself. The second solo melody, about two thirds of the way through Lament, becomes an expressive chorale in both of the other works, in Ghosts, a chorale without the chorale melody itself. The ensemble fades away long before the soloist: both Lament and Lament with Ghosts end with the solo viola’s quiet pizzicati fading back into the all-encompassing silence.

The video that inspired Four Meditations from Dogen features beautiful footage of the Catskill Mountains near Zen Mountain Monastery, as the landscape changes through the seasons. Originally, the first Meditation accompanied images of early spring; and the third piece illustrated peaceful views of a pond on a quiet summer day. In Lament Amid Silence, the order of these pieces is reversed. Each piece is inscribed with a passage from Dogen: in the first Meditation:

water is nothing but the real form of water just as it is . . .

And in the second:

to be “in the mountains” is a flower opening within the world . . .

Daido Roshi explained to me that water is used by Dogen to denote what I am here calling silence:
that un-nameable thing that encompasses everything, the absolute or unconditioned nature of things. All you can say about water is that it, in itself, “is nothing but the real form of water just as it is” . . .The mountains refer to our everyday world, full of lament and joy, love and hate, war and peace, everything marked by change and therefore some degree of sadness. For Dogen, realizing the inseparability, even the identity, of the “mountains” and “waters” transforms our experience of the world so that we are truly “in the mountains” . . . in the world of lament, joy, hate, love, war, and peace, experiencing them completely with nothing left over; and so we can sometimes be truly “a flower opening within the world” . . .

Joel Feigin
JOEL FEIGIN (b.1951)

LAMENT for solo viola
GHOSTS for 6 violas


MSR Classics