The 19th century Danish author Hans Christian Andersen famously said, “Where words fail, music speaks.” In today’s world, those words ring truer than ever.
In the 21st century, we find ourselves constantly bombarded by words. Social media, street signs, mail, messages, magazines, billboards, books, promotional handouts—words are everywhere. And yet, often we find ourselves talking in circles.
Violinist Yevgeny Kutik seeks to break that cycle. His new album Words Fail features a collection of wordless works, past and present, which speak to the indescribable power of music. Featuring Romantic works by Mendelssohn, Mahler, and Tchaikovsky, modern works by Prokofiev and Messiaen, plus brand new works by Michael Gandolfi, Timo Andres, and Lera Auerbach, the album explores the role of music across history as an orator of the deepest and most profound human emotions. With piano accompaniment provided by John Novacek, Kutik’s violin sings and dreams across two centuries of classical music.
The album begins with three selections from Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words,” arranged for violin and piano by Friedrich Hermann. Kutik’s violin adds a voicelike timbre to this keyboard classic, singing gracefully through Mendelssohn’s long-breathed melodies above a gentle piano accompaniment.
Later on, Kutik lends his bow to Tchaikovsky’s wistful “Song Without Words” in a violin and piano arrangement by the legendary German violinist Fritz Kreisler. One of Kutik’s mother’s most cherished scores, the three-minute work speaks volumes about his family upbringing and early immigration to the United States from Russia.
The “Adagietto” from Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 showcases Kutik’s rich, dark tone in a rare violin and piano arrangement by Robert Wittinger. One of Mahler’s most famous pieces, the quietly rhapsodic work is said to have been written as a love note to his wife Alma. Instead of sending a letter, he sent her the “Adagietto” in manuscript script form—no words attached.
The two 20th century works on the album are a bit more daring in nature. Kutik travels through a distinct cast of musical characters of Prokofiev’s “Five Melodies,” originally composed as a set of vocalises, but his violin truly soars for Messiaen’s “Theme and Variations,” a kaleidoscope of colors composed as a wedding gift to his first wife, Claire Delbos.
The album also features three brand new works by living composers, and among them is the title track. Commissioned specifically for this album, Michael Gandolfi’s somber, single-movement “Arioso Doloroso/Estatico” takes its inspiration from Bach’s famous solo violin partitas. Composed for unaccompanied violin, the work begins in a restricted vocal range, with vocal-quality contours, but quickly expands into an instrumental virtuosity—a song only a violin could sing.
The title track, Timo Andres’s “Words Fail,” was also commissioned specifically for this album. Performed here with Andres himself as the pianist, the piece capitalizes on the vividly expressive qualities of the violin, singing through a series of aching downward laments which gradually expand in register, complexity, and volume, intensified by overlapping canons in the piano. But halfway through, the violin changes its tune: a quiet, hopeful melody rises high above the piano, gradually climbing higher and higher until it is just a gentle whisper of harmonics.
The album closes with Lera Auerbach’s “T’Filah (Prayer)” for unaccompanied violin. Written as a reaction to the tragedy of the Holocaust, the piece explores the profound mystery of prayer and spirituality—those moments of greatest reflection, meditation, desperation, or despair when we feel the most at a loss for words. The melodic monologue unfolds across the full range of human emotion, Kutik’s somber tone and emotive phrasing capturing the profound intimacy of prayer.
Because when it comes to matters of love, loss, devotion, and devastation, these words don’t mean much—the music says much more.