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Michael Gordon

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Van Gogh (1991)
Text Writer
Libretto based on letters of Vincent Van Gogh. Video by Elliot Caplan.
Red Poppy
Opera and Music Theatre
Year Composed
1 Hour 5 Minutes
Soprano, Tenor, Bass
Programme Note
Michael Gordon Van Gogh (1991)
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Acrobat format
Composer note:
I started writing Van Gogh because of my obsession with the letters Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo. I assembled the texts myself, drawing from these letters, in many cases combining lines from different letters or from different places within the same letter. What attracted me so much to Van Gogh's writing was the pain, rawness and brutal honesty. I found it hard to believe that anyone could tell another person, even his brother, the raw emotions that Van Gogh experienced — so painful, lonely and humiliating.

I began working on these songs in the late 1980s, making trips to Holland and Southern France to get the vibe of the areas that Van Gogh wrote about. I wrote "Borinage" first and originally sang that piece myself.

Early presentations of the piece were called Van Gogh Video Opera. These included video by Elliot Caplan and were performed in Vienna and in New York City in the early 1990s. In the fall of 2003, the Crash Ensemble performed it in Dublin and for that occasion I re-orchestrated the piece, adding three instruments (cello, bass, piano).

The piece is divided into six parts and it follows the arch of Van Gogh's life chronologically.

––Michael Gordon

Van Gogh is dedicated David Lang.

  • Ensemble
    Alarm Will Sound
    Alan Pierson
"Van Gogh" begins bluntly — rhythmically pounding, harmonically grating and vocally aggressive. But Gordon has a Van Gogh-like capacity for permeating the ordinary with such intense color that everything we take for granted becomes transformed. The opera goes where you don't expect it, especially in the intimate central section where the lonely Van Gogh expresses his need for a woman.
Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times,14/05/2013
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