Rilke Songs is a composition for mezzo-soprano and piano by the American composer Peter Lieberson. The work is set to poetry by the Bohemian-Austrian writer Rainer Maria Rilke. It was composed for Lieberson's wife Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who gave the world premiere in Santa Fe, New Mexico on July 18, 2001.[1] The piece was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Music.[2][3]



Peter Lieberson was first exposed to the writing of Rainer Maria Rilke as child, recalling in the score program notes, "When I was growing up, my mother, whose first language was German, would often quote lines from Rilke. I have been drawn to his poetry ever since." Lieberson composed the songs specifically for his wife Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, remarking of Rilke's poetry:

I think of them as love songs even though the poems themselves are not overtly about love. They are about being childlike and open in 'O ihr Zärtlichen'; in 'Atmen, du unsichtbares Gedicht!,' about the breath being a complete exchange between our own essence and the universe, how the breath seems to go out into space like our wandering son; the mysterious way in which we might transform ourselves: "If drinking is bitter, turn yourself into wine (from 'Stiller Freund'). To me these Rilkean insights are a gift of love.[1]


Rilke Songs has a duration of roughly 18 minutes and is composed in five movements:

  1. O ihr Zärtlichen
  2. Atmen, du unsichtbares Gedicht!
  3. Wolle die Wandlung
  4. Blumenmuskel, der der Anemone
  5. Stiller Freund


Reviewing a 2005 recording of the piece, Vivien Schweitzer of The New York Times wrote, "[Lieberson's] Rilke Songs, written for his wife, are intensely communicative works, combining atonality and tonality in the vivid piano part." She added, "Mr. Lieberson writes that he thinks of these pieces as 'love songs,' even though the poems are not specifically about love. Ms. Hunt Lieberson's radiant voice is expressive throughout her range, with its bright top notes, smoky lower register and elegant vibrato."[4]


  1. ^ a b Lieberson, Peter (2001). "Rilke Songs". G. Schirmer Inc. Retrieved May 24, 2016.
  2. ^ Suzuki, Dean (August 1, 2003). "View from the West: New Hope for the Pulitzer". NewMusicBox. Retrieved May 24, 2016.
  3. ^ Gereben, Janos (April 9, 2002). "Pulitzer Follies". San Francisco Classical Voice. Archived from the original on April 1, 2007. Retrieved May 24, 2016.
  4. ^ Schweitzer, Vivien (July 29, 2010). "Sounds of a Composer Given Voice by His Muse". The New York Times. Retrieved May 24, 2016.