BitterSweet explores the passage from inner darkness, through the beginning of hope, towards light. At the heart of the work are three poems from the collection Pribehy/parafraze (Stories/paraphrases) by my late grandfather, the Czech poet and translator Jan Vladislav. The sonic material comes from various sources, including the sound of my grandfather’s voice reciting the three poems, the motet Tristis est anima mea by Orlando Lasso, James MacMillan’s Sun Dogs, and four folk songs. Other poetic materials include excerpts from Arthur Rimbaud and Antonin Artaud that my grandfather’s poems make reference to, as well as a text written for the piece by Robert Glick. 


In early 2013, Spiritus Chamber Choir, conducted by Tim Shantz with two soloists, Nina Hornjatkevyc and Katy Warke, gave the first performance.

Here is a demo bringing together various moments from this 10-movement piece from the recording of the premiere:

BitterSweet with with translations of text and score excerpts:


The singers chant and sing translations of poems in this book. It is the last collection my grandfather Ladislav Bambasek/Jan Vladislav published. It is about endings and many were about my grandmother Marie, who suffered from Alzheimers at the end of her life.

In an intermittent lapse of your senses
you say yes, and already you are swept 
towards a road
from which there is no return.
In an intermittent loss of reason
you say no, and your whole life you wonder
about all that fate
erased from your journey’s map.
In short, what is most likely,
he* wrote home from Aden on the fifteenth 
of January, nineteen hundred and eighty five,
is that you mostly go, where you don’t want to,
that you rather end up doing, what you never intended,
and you live and die differently,
than you would ever have imagined,
and there is no hope,
that anyone will ever,
somehow, make it up to you.

*Arthur Rimbaud, whose work and correspondence my grandfather translated.

In the very beginning, as it is written,
were created from the soul of Adam,
the souls of us all. Whenever a woman conceives,
the angel of night brings the seed before God,
who decides, what kind of child it will be,
small or tall, weak or strong,
man or woman – only the choice
between good and evil is the person’s –
and he commands the soul to enter
the seed. The soul, however, opens its mouth
because it knows, what awaits it,
and cries out in protest: Why do you want me, 
to go out into the world?  
Against your will you were created,
against your will you will be born into the world,
against your will you will die.
When you lie next to me and I lay my hand
on your lap, I suddenly feel,
how in your slow, peaceful breath
the universe pulsates, and I am forever amazed
how my soul could have protested so long
and not wanted to come into the world.

In the storms and changes of last December, 
she still withstood, protected by the bodies
of massive chestnuts, but today,
amidst late October’s fireworks,
the beech under the window could no longer hold up her overly large green head
and folded it after sunset
into the yellow, red and black
embers of the garden. 
In the ground, the trunk that remained, a measly stump and around it, a few budding twigs.
I must tell you one secret,
directed in his last letter to a friend
the poet and actor Antonin A.*,
people only die, because they’ve believed
in death from childhood. We die because
we foresee ourselves
in the four boards of our coffin.
The moment we refuse that image,
we’ll never die. I speak of my body –
I’m immortal and will live 
on like today. You must, as I tell you,
refuse death, and then you won’t die
either, ever.
The fourth of March 1948 –
he was but fifty-two years old – 
they found him in the morning on the ground, dead, right next to his bed, 
as if he couldn’t
carry his heavy, crazy head
a step further.
(In a different version,
a gardener found him in the morning,
sitting dead on his cot,
holding a shoe in his hand, as if he were
preparing for a journey.)

*Antonin Arnaud, playwright and director.

Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891)
from a letter to his mother and brother in 1885

In the end, what’s most likely, is that we mostly go where we don’t want to, and we mostly end up doing what we would rather not be doing, and we live and die completely differently that we would ever have wanted, without hope of any kind of compensation.

Antonin Artaud (1896-1948)
from Love Without a Trace

When I lift my eyes towards you
you'd think the world is trembling
and the fires of love
resemble your beloved's.

St. Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 26/Orlando Lasso
from Tristis est anima mea

Soon you will see a crowd of men surround me. 
You shall flee, and I will go to be sacrificed for you.

Robert Glick/Terri Hron
from Texts for BitterSweet

This bell, half pealed,
half made, half lost,
half life, lost.
If as half this
as if this half
is as.
Half if this
as if this half
this as if this knell.
My socks, my map
my trimmed nails
and laces.