Monthly Archives: October 2012

The one who stayed…Spanish composer Fernando Remacha (1898-1984) and his song “Nouturnio”

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Fernando Remacha

When I was looking around for songs composed during post civil war era Spain for a symposium I was invited to present, about music in Franco era Spain at the University of California (Riverside), my friend Spanish pianist Borja Mariño lent me his copy of a curious anthology of song settings for voice and piano commissioned by the Spanish music critic Antonio Fernández-Cid using poets of Galicia and hence in the language spoken in this northern part of Spain,  Gallego; the index listed was a Who’s Who of those composers active in Spain during this era. The two edition dates, which eventually in the 80’s was made into one, where 1951 and 1958.  Several of the names of I knew  (Esplá, Mompou, Montsalvatge, Rodrigo, Toldrá)  but many names where new to me. Borja was sure my whole presentation could evolve from this collection. The anthology was in essence a still photograph of the various composing styles of 1950’s in Spain, an era that at least in the United States, there is very little knowledge of in the concert halls.

Back in NYC, I mulled over the edition and read thru the songs with a pianist and picked out seven to learn and look up.  I was very curious at that point about the song composed by Fernando Remacha which was included.  The anthology reflected composers from Generación de los Maestros all the way down to the then young Cristobal Halffter and Anton Garcia Abríl.  Conspiciously absent was the bright generation of the first wave of avant-garde composers of Pre civil war Spain, and its hallmark group, “Los Ocho“; this group of composers had as their nexus the school Residencia de Estudiantes, which boasts as their alumni Federico García Lorca, Salvador Dalí, Luis Buñuel, Nobel prize poet Juan Ramon Jiménez, just to name a few.

Los Ocho

At that time when I heard Remacha’s song from the anthology of the Galician songs for the first time (and wanting to program it in principal! my only avant-garde composer in a sea of what seemed like at the time, all nationalist style songs), I balked: it followed a twelve tone aesthetic, and very much like the expressionist Germany composers of the first two decades of the 20th century. I wanted to represent him, but it was basically too much work to learn at that time; I had the paper and program notes to write, as well as chasing down broadcasting rights for the other songs I was preparing, not to mention the rest of the program to prepare. So I shelved it Remacha and his “Nouturnio” for the time being…

Fast forward to August of 2012: The Fundación Juan March in Madrid had asked both pianist Jorge Robaina and myself to put together a special project of songs composed during post civil war Spain, but of composers not heard or programmed in the past decades.  The program would also served to be a tribute to Antonio Fernández-Cid, the musicologist that commissioned the anthology of Galician songs I had studied for the symposium; it was understood I would program a small portion from this anthology; I had already inserted “Ao lonxe”  by Antonio Iglesias, “Meus Irmans” by Xavier Montsalvatge, “Pra Virxe que fiaba” by Manuel Castillo, and “Panxolina” by Cristobal Halffter. I wanted one more, and in a practice room at La Escuela Superior de Canto de Madrid, I showed Jorge a song I was interested in by Manuel Blancafort. He wasn’t too excited about it.  The song that followed the Blancafort coincidentally enough was “Nouturnio”  by Fernando Remacha.

Jorge Robaina is one of the foremost Spanish pianists of his generation; he combines his position as professor at La Escuela Superior de Canto de Madrid with his solo concert career. Among other things, Jorge has a specialization in the solo piano works of “Los Ochos”, of which Remacha was a member.  He played thru the Remacha song; and yes, the piece was stellar and completely different from everything else in the anthology. “This is the best song in the whole concert; a composer that says I’m aware of the second Viennese school, and of a high musical culture; someone that composed the way he wanted, despite his times and circumstances.”  I made the decision there and then to end my concert with this atonal piece by Remacha. It wasn’t ending with a high note bang, it was the complete opposite, and perhaps a counter intuitive move in my programming. I felt also a kind of liberty: not being Spanish, but a foreign artist coming to interpret art song of this period, I felt I could throw a wild curve.

Autograph score by Fernando Remacha

The piano accompaniment is completely independent of the voice; using a somewhat symbolist style poem by Jose Luis Lopez Cid, Remacha does a tone painting of a night scene with various nature effects that he takes as his cue from the poem to symbolize the lose of love. The aesthetic is German expressionist; its in essence a potent musical miniature in three pages, spooky in that kind of Schoenberg/Krenek kind of way.

With the coming of the Civil War, most of Remacha’s group of “Los ocho” dispersed to the Americas or other parts of Europe. With an absolutely brilliant and promising career as a young composer before the civil war, he was the winner of two National prizes in Music, as well as numerous commissions and premieres; poised to be one of the most brilliant and successful composer of his generation, the coming of the Spanish Civil War forced Remacha and his wife to a brief stay at a refugee camp in France. As he had not held any government posts with the previous Republican government, he then made the decision to return to his native Navarra and take charge of the family business, ensuing in what is perhaps the most cruel exile of all, the exile of cultural silence.  I found this video by the Foundation Ars Incognita about his life:

The biographies I read about him in Tomas Marco’s book XX Century Music of Spain and other things I found in Wikipedia remark that he started coming out again as a composer in the 50’s. What I didn’t know was the connection between Fernández-Cid and Remacha. This past summer during the Música en Compostela course there were various elegies to the recently deceased founder of the festival, the pianist/musicologist Antonio Iglesias.  During the course of the elegy, it came to light that as part of the reconstructing of the musical culture of Spain after the civil war, Iglesias asked Remacha to put together and lead a music conservatory in Navarra that could be a musical reference for all of Spain.  Iglesias was also an intimate friend of Antonio Fernández Cid, so it was natural that Fernández Cid and Remacha would would know each other well.   In Fernández Cid’s curious project of creating a body of song repertoire in Galician by the foremost contemporary composers of Spain, and wanting to leave no stone unturned, he asked Remacha for his contribution, which we have in “Nouturnio”.

Spanish music critic and writer Antonio Fernández Cid

I have no idea how the Spanish public will react to this piece; the concert will be broadcast via Radio Nacional de España; come what may, and upon reading more about this remarkable composer, I feel more than ever that his inclusion in this concert to be a rightful thing. Hoping I will be present enough to transmit this song with its strange beauty to the concert going public at the the Fundación Juan March next week.

Songs by the Catalan composer Narcis Bonet, b. 1933

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Shortly after getting an offer from the Fundación Juan March in Madrid (Spain) to put together a program with Spanish pianist Jorge Robaina of songs for voice and piano composed during the post Spanish post civil war era (1940-1960), I found myself pouring over a book called “Lieder and Songs of Spain” compiled by  the Spanish music critic Antonio Fernández-Cid http://www.antoniofernandezcid.com/.

The book “Lied y canciones de España” by Antonio Fernández-Cid, gifted to me during a house visit in 2011 in the home of Fernández-Cid’s daughter, Loly.

The book listed in alphabetical order the composers, including a short biography and their listing of songs; in some cases the composition dates where included.  I came upon a page that had at least three pages listing of song titles by the Catalan composer Narcis Bonet, b. 1933.  I became interested upon reading about him on his web page http://www.narcisbonet.org/, and found out he was very much alive and well in Paris, France.  I sent him in a note via email in my most polite Spanish explaining my project, and asking if he would care to send me songs composed during the time period of the project. Our author responded with a lovely note, saying he would send the scores via post to the Jorge Robaina’s home in Madrid.

Upon reading the songs at home, I found them charming…because of the dates I had requested, the compositions I received where all from  his youthful days, judging from his birth date, these  particular songs I selected among the money he sent were composed between ages 19 and 22 :

Per la boira, Comença la tardor and Nit d’abril from his cycle SIX MÉLODIES SUR DES POEMES DE JOAN MARAGALL (1949-1951)

Eugènia from his cycle SIX MÉLODIES (1951)

 I found his penmanship clear and easy to read (all songs that he sent where in manuscript form), and was immediately drawn visually to his “Nit d’Abril” (night of april),  a short miniature with no time signature or bar lines.

The song “Nit d’abril” by Narcis Bonet

This little 1.5 minute song is breathless and childlike, kind of  like musical joy ride; its a beautiful musicalization of this poem by the eminent Catalan poet, Joan Maragall (1860-1911). I found that much of this composers inspiration of this time era were settings of Maragall, who was a pioneer in the modernist aesthetic on Catalan poetry.  Being Madrid centric in my musical culture so far, these songs have become my first encounter with Catalan art song and consequently, it’s culture, language and poets.

Eugènia, another miniature, is one page song with the subtitle “Tannka XVIII”, again with attractive penmanship. Its the shortest of poetic thoughts, a musicalization of a japanese Tannka style poem by Carles Riba (1893-1959):

EUGÈNIA

 Diré llimones,

pomes rosades,

roses, sal i petxines

i es pensaran que passes

entre els jardins i l’ona.

                                         Carles RIBA

Score of Eugènia by Narcis Bonet

“I will say lemons,

pink apples

Roses, salt and mother of pearl

They will think you will walk by

within gardens and waves of water”

I found this link on Youtube of Catalan soprano Conxita Badia singing the song, with Narcis Bonet at the piano:

To my knowledge, Eugènia is the only one of these songs that are edited, available through Ediciones Boileau (Barcleona, Spain).  Bonet’s aesthetic in these poems remind me of French turn of the century early modern songs, close to Ravel and even Poulenc.  The other two songs are a bit longer and just as lovely.  Comença la tardor is a tone painting about the coming of autumn, the ending of the song rewards both interpreter and listener with a beautiful ascending line to G natural.  The harmonies are definitely in the French line of a Duparc song and is a setting of Maragall poem by the same name. Another setting of a Maragall poem,  Per la boira is an ode to the mist that envelopes the country side.  The choice of texts by the young Bonet show a predilection for nature and the opportunity to give us musical renderings of beauty in nature.  All above songs are for middle voice.

Gifted at an early age, Bonet studied with Eduard Toldrá, Joan Massiá, Joan Llongeres, Emili Pujol and Lluís M. Millet, he moved to Paris to continue his musical studies with Nadia Boulanger and later studies in conducting with Igor Markevitch.

I definitely recommend any singer to explore the song output of this composer; here in the States and even in his native Spain he is not programmed often enough in my opinion.  Although there is the hurdle of the Catalan diction, the songs are definitely worth it…

In a recent email exchange in which I asked Bonet about tempos for the songs I’m singing at the concert of Post Civil war songs in Madrid this coming October 31 with Jorge Robaina, he wrote of the songs (Eugènia excluded):

“Esta 3 canciones se habian quedado en un cajón olvidado que Usted desenpolva… Creo que no salieron nunca a la luz pública
No creo tener ningun programa donde figuren.  Me hace gran ilusión que tomen vida.
Muy afectuoso saludo, Narcis Bonet”.
“These three songs were in drawer, forgotten that you have dusted off…I don’t think they have ever come out to the light of the public and I don’t think I have a program in which they figure.  It gives me great pleasure that they are taking life. An affectionate greeting,  Narcis Bonet”.

Nadia Boulanger and Narcis Bonet at the composer’s family home in Barcelona, 1953.

 

Victoria de los Angeles quote regarding Spanish Song

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Catalan soprano, Victoria de los Angeles

“It is rare when in my recital programs I do not include music from Spain.  In the constant motion that is my professional life, our songs have gifted me with the best company…I owe them many fond memories as well as my biggest triumphs.

The Spanish song is a way to show us the many landscapes of Spain as well as a a path to evoke our country in all it’s beauty.  I salute with pleasure a book that can be, at the same time, an occasion to maintain these happy impressions as well as guide for these song to find their ideal moment.”

Prologue from “Lieder y Canciones de Espana, 1900-1963” by Antonio Fernandez-Cid, published by the Fundacion Juan March, 1963 (Madrid).

 

 

Rossini: Never light; and or The art of Lucia Valentini Terrani

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Dear friends,

During a recent coaching with a pianist, we got to talking about repertoire, and my pianist friend gave me his candid opinion about the lack of art of Rossini’s music.  He cited the few times that James Levine conducted Rossini’s operas at the MET as clear proof of his views; the pianist went on for a full 15 minutes about this topic.  He certainly did not know of my own personal investment in this composer; I thought it a waste of time of energy to try to persuade my friend to a different view point, as he was resolute. He had obviously never tried singing the roulades in La Cenerentola; I don’t know of another role that take as much gumption and courage as this one; and I doubt if my pianist friend ever heard the Italian mezzo Lucia Valentini Terrani sing Rossini.

I first learned of Lucia when I was making my way through my first years in NYC as budding young singer doing the audition rounds. Recently out of The Mannes College of Music, I answered an ad in the magazine The Classical Singer for an audition of Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri.  It was for a now defunct opera company called OperaSpectives; they were to do an adaptation of the above mentioned opera called “Italian Girl in …Astoria?” I went to an apartment in the Village and auditioned in a crowded, tiny room with a single light bulb hanging down, and sang Cruda sorte.  I was casted in what was to be my unofficial New York City debut, singing the role of Isabella in a church basement in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Wearing an orange mini skirt, open toed high heeled sandals and dark sun glasses, I was suppose to act (besides very bossy) like an Italian starlet from the 60’s.  Even with my limited experience and vocalism, I was able to navigate the coloratura and found the part and music congenial to my nature.

Me as Isabella from L’italiana in Algeri”, my first Rossini opera role

I started to look for recordings of L’italiana and of course I found the commercial one with Valentini Terrani on Sony Classic, and promptly bought the live recording of Valentini Terrani and tenor Ugo Benelli.  I fell in love with Lucia’s dark sensuous color, which weaved its spell on me.  These were the days before Youtube and Spotify, so in order to continue to get my Valentini Terrani dosage, I bought her commercial Cenerentola recording with Araiza (also on SONY Classic). I recorded L’italiana from LPs borrowed from the Lincoln Center Library to audio cassette so I could listen on my Walkman (dear readers, I know I’m dating myself!).  Her high notes were not spectacular, but her coloratura and phrasing and voice color where, well, like drugs to me; I couldn’t get enough; it was just about the sexiest sound I had ever heard (to rival the Anna Moffo’s Debussy album with her song “Le balcon”, which is practically x-rated!). I learned the role of Isabella with this recording, and at that point had not bothered to obtain the Berganza recordings.  Lucia knew “how it went” and I trusted her completely.

Years later I auditioned for the Spanish agent Pere Porta, and somehow her name came up. He mentioned she had recently passed away of leukemia. Shocked, I did a web search and found a beautiful website, constructed lovingly by her husband the Italian actor Alberto Terrani in her tribute:  http://www.luciavalentiniterrani.it/index_en.htm

I had never really seen these pictures before, and printed several of them out for myself.

Around the time of my first Cenerentola with Taconic Opera, I used one of her photos for my Cenerentola hall of fame notebook; you see, I believe in opera ancestor worship…I guess its some sort of opera shamanism…am I the only one? I somehow do not think so…

Unlike the general thought here in the US that this composer is “light music” to be done by young singers, in Italy Rossini is serious stuff.  Valentini Terrani sings this music like it was holy and sacred; she approaches it like some sort fabulous vestal priestess; check out her “Amici in ogni evento…cual piacer”, Isabella’s final Rondo in L’italiana. She is dressed in a white Greek-like robe, accompanied by a men’s chorus, and enacts the whole scena with intense solemnity of a religious rite; it is a Rossinian “Casta Diva” moment:

The total vocal perfection and almost antiseptic aesthetic we are now so used to hearing with commercial recordings here is completely absent; what we get instead is fervor, urgency and a torrent of emotions. I don’t think that emotion wise, she gives Rossini any less weight than singing Verdi.

What I love about singing singing Rossini is the light/dark contrast, feminine/male thing that is CONSTANTLY happening in this music.  Besides the travesti roles, within the female characters themselves, the music switches between aggressive and soft, virtuosity and expressiveness; I get to be some sort of fabulous “macho girl”…never a static expression. Its a music that mirrors the constant state of flux of my mind and emotions; like some sort of early 19th century Proustian stream of consciousness, always changing.

The book Diva by Helena Matheopoulus has one of the few interviews in English I have found of Valentini Terrani, and I close this entry with Lucia’s own words taken from this book, regarding her thoughts on the music of Rossini:

“It  is better to do something less than perfect every now and then rather than something boring.  Rossini’s genius is very modern, yet difficult to penetrate because it is so marked by duality and contradiction. He is both easy and difficult; introverted and cerebral in one sense, extroverted manic, mad in another; indeed he is all those things, often at the same time…like a clown, he is a comic with a deep melancholy and ironic streak”.

Moving My Spanish Song Slinger from Blogger to WordPress

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During a coaching last Saturday, I was studying a big and hairy 15 page Rossini song called Tirana alla spagnuola, with lots of runs, two high c’s…en fin, we are going over this thing when my pianist friend accused me of having too much hispandamonium…I asked him to explain: I was shortening final syllable vowels, and in essence turning Italiano to Itañol…hence the dangers of being bi-lingual…but how could I not feel confused in some way, Rossini and Spain, well its like peanut butter and jelly… It’s no secret of Gioachino’s predilection for Spain. His first wife, Isabella Colbran (despite the italianization of her name) was very much a Spanish woman.  He was extremely close to the andalusian García Family (probably the most important family in opera, ever) Manuel having been the first Count Almaviva in Il barbiere, the first Otello, and his children, the future opera divas Maria Malibran and Pauline Viardot-García growing up practically upon his knees.  I get the feeling he was just at home scarfing down tapas in early 19th century Madrid, as he would of been chowing down on pasta.

 

The very piece I was studying, which I will do at a competition in late October, was his take on the tirana, an 18th century Spanish music song genre of the tonadilla escenica. Rossini makes it his own, using the old Metastasio text “Mi lagnero tacendo”; I knew of all the zillions of “Mi lagnero tacendo” texts he musicalized, but this one clearly takes another title, although the text is the same Metastasio one.  In the song collides 17th century opera seria diva/drama hysterics, musicalized to a 6/8 peppy tirana. How would think it could work? the texts of Spanish 18th century music theater are all about double entendre, irony, tounge in cheek comments with salicious and off color humor (how little Spanish character changes throughout the centuries, I might add)…I was playing it very cool and in earnest, which Doug, in his best soprano voice (scarily alike Maestro Wenerto, of whom he has no knowledge of, must remedy that) showed me that the piece works best as a mini mad scene. Kind of not my natural inclination, but my friends, it was really the way to go with this one.  Rossini meets Latin american telenovela, something like that.  I now of course want to build a program of Rossini and his vision of Spain.  You know friends, one needs to remember that this is pre-flamenco time (or if I am  not mistaken, it was during this early part of the 19th century when flamenco was starting to evolve, but did not have the world wide popularity of today, although the Grand Tour travelers where getting a taste during their jaunts to La alhambra in Granada). What was definitely “the” hit parade of all Europe at the time was the Spanish Style Escuela Bolera: Spanish classical dance, the Seguidilla boleras accompanied by guitar, made popular by Manuel García himself, and of course Spanish fashion…it was all the rage; you can see some pretty cool images in the Gustav Doré engravings of Spain of this bolera style (you can buy a copy through Dover publishing, some are on the internet).

 

Rossini composing his own version of la tirana is not by any means a long shot; I’m still researching this curious song. I have not been able to find this version of “Mi lagnero tacendo” in the regular printed collections as of yet. Wonder who sang it first, where, etc…  I have not been able to locate a recording, its got Cecilia written all over it.  I will record it when its ready for prime time and post on the blog.  Its definitely a program “ender”, you really can’t follow up that song with ANYTHING else…it is over the top, but deliciously so.