Marketa Irglova’s “Among the Living” is a raw portrayal of grief and loss: A poignant tribute to the past year’s pain, illness, isolation, and disconnect.
Stream: “Among the Living” – Markéta Irglová
In a thirteen minute exploration into the space between life and death, Marketa Irglova make a powerful statement with her second single of 2020. The Academy Award-winning artist honored a year that was with “Among the Living,” a work of reflection. The Czech singer/songwriter is accompanied by her frequent collaborator, Persian musician Aida Shahghasemi – who worked on Irglova’s past albums, Anar and Muna. The musicians allude to their earlier work through their signature choices: Sweeping instrumentation, dense melody, and poetic lyricism. The women write with presence, infusing their identities into a ceremony of sound.
As Irglova personally articulates, this piece is a tribute to a year of loss. Irglova and Shahghasemi explicitly address the pandemic. A world filled with chaos results in one’s own confusion, and for better or worse, quarantine leaves ample time for self-reflection. Grief resonates and scars – a truth that Irglova confronts.
All I could have, would have, should have told you,
All I never even thought to ask you,
Plays on my mind like a broken record,
And I can not bring myself to speak.
All that there was left for you to teach me,
All you’d try to make me understand,
Isn’t lost on me now that you have left me,
Proving nothing ever goes as planned.
Irglova begins, “All I could have, would have, should have told you,/ All I never even thought to ask you, Plays on my mind like a broken record/ And I cannot bring myself to speak.” The confession soars over the piano, rich, clear chords that complement Irglova’s voice. The Siggi String Quartet is featured, providing lush instrumentation for the work. The low pulse of the piano and strings resonates as Irglova’s voice glides over the murmurs. The piano floats to the surface with Irglova’s words. She illustrates, “Where I see nothing but fog now,/ All around me pillars of smoke rise, Where our dreams burned to the ground.” Irglova transitions from her narrative to her surroundings. The delicacy of her tone is painted in stark contrast to the melancholy of her words. Irglova’s voice rings brightly as shades of gray are brought into the foreground.
“Tell me it’s all a terrible dream/ The kind where you want to, but cannot scream.” Irglova’s voice echoes, deep and wide. Irglova wishes for what she knows cannot come. The chorus suddenly dissolves, and Irglova enters with another confession. The strings have gone away, the piano is left singing a simple yet haunting melody. Irglova speaks, “I’d do anything just to embrace you/ Among the living, where you belong.” The grief is all-consuming. Her words are honest, whether she paints a landscape of uncertainty or she pleads for a reality different from the one at hand. Irglova attaches belonging to this world, to the things she can see, touch, and love. She writes in a time of turmoil, of universal loss, with no real anchor to hope. The reality of the past year is pervasive and unavoidable, at the fingertips of any who turn on the TV or flip open their phone. Irglova demands the impossible, knowing it cannot be granted. In the meantime, she asks for relief.
Irglova’s soprano rings with desperation, as she sings, “And all you want to do is go to sleep/ Sleep until the living nightmare is over,/ Sleep until the pain of it is no more.” She longs for escape. The “living nightmare” is only avoidable in her dreams, a place where even the most unlikely visitors are welcome. This comfort is immediate. So, Irglova leaves reality. In her words she craves a separation from the cycle of pain. She addresses the angels, Azrael, Raphael, and Gabriel, among others. Feeling out of touch with the physical, she turns to the spiritual, where the lost reside. The music overpowers Irglova. The strings and piano sing her melody, they continue when Irglova cannot. The strings swell into higher octaves. The tempo increases, the notes arpeggiate. Higher and higher they go, until Irglova ends, “For love does even death endure.” This final call is met with Shahghasemi’s voice. Her voice resounds, her signature melisma filling the space she and Irglova have created. Shahghasemi’s voice meets the instruments in a dance, embracing the work in harmony. The entrance of a new and passionate medium infuses the piece with a sense of otherworldly strength.
The piece ends gently, as if Irglova lays the work down to rest. She sings softly and slowly, the piano beginning again. Irglova and Shahghasemi’s voices fuel the final minutes of the epic elegy. The various sounds fade away, leaving the listener with an indescribable sense of awe, as well as an ultimate sense of peace. The song follows feeling, a story without a clear ending. The work envelopes the listener. Heavy piano, sweeping strings, and the voices of Irglova and Shahghasemi are powerful and convicting.
The epic elegy gives space to grieve.
Irglova pays respect to not only the ones who have been lost, but also the feeling of grief itself. Irglova and her collaborators craft a space between life and death, where feelings have the permission to be permanent.
Stream: “Among the Living” – Markéta Irglová
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