Monthly Archives: December 2012

Between the Musical Vanguard and Nationalism: Spanish composer Gerardo Gombau (1906-1971) and his song “Cantiga da vendima”


Gerardo Gombau, circa 1930’s

I first saw the name of Spanish composer Gerardo Gombau (1906-1971, Salamanca) when I bought on EBAY an LP by Teresa Berganza and pianist Felix Lavilla (Alhambra C7561), a record simply entitled “Recital”.  The LP  is of songs for voice and piano by Spanish composers that I had never heard of at that point, names like Eduardo Toldrá, Ernesto Halffter, Oscar Esplá and Manuel Castillo as well as songs by Joaquín Rodrígo.  The songs I liked the most and the ones I replayed over and over again were the “Dos Canciones Castellanas” by Gerardo Gombau. I had the LP as a curiosity for many years.  Little was I to know that this repertoire as well as the author of the program notes, Carlos Gómez Amat where authors  that several years later would gain great significance for me.  The record front has a beautiful picture of a youthful Ms. Berganza; the legal deposit of this recording is 1973, per the label on the LP itself; to my knowledge this LP has not made it to CD as of yet.


Frontispiece of LP record “Recital” by the great Spanish mezzo soprano Teresa Berganza and equally marvelous Spanish pianist Felix Lavilla, Alhambra (C 7561)

During my stint as a Fulbright scholar in Madrid (2007-2008), I became absorbed in the  music of the so called  Generation of the Masters (Joaquín Turina, Oscar Esplá, María Rodrigo, Manuel del Falla) which included a composer I devoted my investigation to and later did a full CD with Jorge Robaina under  label VERSO of songs, the composer Julio Gómez (1886-1973); I also started reading and collecting songs by composers of the  Generation of ’27, which were the  first wave of Spanish modernist composers, a group that became dispersed and mostly exiled following the Spanish Civil War, the so called Los Ocho (Bal y Gay, García Ascott, Ernesto and Rodolfo Halffter,  Bautista, Remacha, Bacarisse, Mantecón).  At that time, I was unaware of the group of composers active in the years following the civil war…with the exception of Joaquín Rodrigo in terms of art song for voice and piano, I was completely unaware of other songs from this period between 1940-1960.  The Berganza record I mention above programmed exclusively composers of this time period, all of them alive at the time of this recording:


My adventures with this repertoire started in 2009, when I was asked by Prof. Walter Aaron Clarke of the University of California at Riverside to do a small presentation of songs by composers of this era as part of a symposium of classical music in the time of the Franco regime.  My whole project came out of an anthology of songs for voice and piano that was again, a body of music that was to play a large role for me very soon, the 34 Galician Songs dedicated to Antonio Fernández-Cid.  This anthology contains songs by composers of every style and generation active in Spain during the 1950’s. The curiosity is that the texts are all by poets of Galicia (region in the North of Spain) and was the brainchild of the eminent music critic and journalist Antonio Fernández-Cid (1916-1995).  When putting the project together for University of California, Gombau’s “Cantiga da Vendima”  loomed large, but at 13 pages long, I decided to give it a pass for my presentation in February of 2010.

When the Fundación Juan March of  Madrid asked both pianist Jorge Robaina and myself to present a recital of ,songs for voice and piano from this time period after the Spanish Civil War, Gombau was firmly on my list.  The “Dos Canciones Castellanas” from the Berganza/Lavilla album where outside of the time period for this concert (1936). I bought a book by Julia Esther García Manzano,Gerardo Gombau – Un músico salmantino para la historia” in which “Cantiga da vendima” received extensive treatment and analysis from the author.

Robaina thought this was a good piece to choose to represent Gombau in our program and the decision was made.   I was not able to find a Spanish translation from the Galician language to Castilian…on the suggestion of a a professor at the University of Compostela (Santiago de Compostela, Spain), I made contact with a charming doctoral student of Galician literature, Antía Maranta, who readily helped me with the translation of this poem by Florencio M. Delgado Gurriarán. In August of 2012 at the festival Música en Compostela we spent many sessions on “Cantiga da vendima” and Antía  tutored me in Galician diction as well as in the poetic images that have much to do with he culture of this region in northern Spain.  The poem is about the harvesting of the grapes, the yearning for love and the passing of youth, using the images of  the harvest, personified in the young women of the fields.  Below is Antía’s translation, which appeared in the program of  “Songs of the Post Spanish Civil War era (1940-1960) at Fundación Juan March, October 31, 2012:

Cantiga de la vendimia (Song of the Grape Harvest)

by Florencio M. Delgado Gurriarán

Entre las retorcidas cepas,

floración de chiquillas

le da a los racimos dulce muerte

con las manecitas que los acarician.

El viento balancea las vides

para darle el adiós a los racimos;

a través del rojizo culeiro

se escurre la esencia de los rayos del sol.

Manecitas de niñas rubias

entre las hojas pellizcan;

hojas de las retorcidas cepas

las templadas mejillas besan.

Rompen el aire los alalás:

quejidos de las cepas retorcidas

por los racimos llorando;

sonrisas de las niñas rubias

sus amores están cantando.

«Con la uva dulce de la boca

ofréceme la esencia del amor,

que andan esmagando los celos,

el racimo de mi corazón.

¡Ay, niña!,

toda tu boca es mosto

agridulce de garnacha;

tu mirar, vino nuevo,

borracha tiene mi alma.

¡Ay, niña!

los anhelos no desoigas

de tu virgen corazón,

que el tiempo,

en la vid de nuestra alma,

hace deshojadura de ilusiones».

Se mezclan los alalás

con el polvo de los caminos;

andan libando las abejas

la esencia de la moza fresca

y los labios de las niñas rubias.

El poniente estruja el día

sobre el lagar de las sierras

y en las vides nuevas de la noche,

maduran racimos de estrellas.

Armed with a Castilian/Galician dictionary and with numerous meetings over coffee and torta de Santiago at the Cafe Feo in Compostela with Antía, I assimilated the text.  The song is divided into several sections and depicts the various images and “backflashes”of the poet; I thought of it as a series of dream sequences, the first exposition Gombau uses the very end of the poem as the beginning text for the song: “the grape vines of the night, are bunched and ripen on a vine of stars”; although nationalist in character and using a folkloric color and modality, the song has a touch of modernist language, mainly in the transitions between the sections.  Gombau didn’t think much of this song, calling it a “ladrillazo” (a big brick!) and in his notes,  his description of the song is as follows:  “folkloric allusions that clearly go towards emulating the gray climate of the north”.


Photo taken in the town of Tui in Galicia, near Portugal


Me on a cliff above the town of Tui in Galicia (August of 2012)

“Cantiga da Vendima” in retrospect is a crucial transition for this composer, as the subsequent musical output started gearing itself towards a much more contemporary musical language. Curiously enough, by his age and birth date, Gombau belongs the Generation of  ’27 Vanguard group of the early 30’s, but at the time he did not compose.  He knew them and at the time of the big “coming out” of these young composers, he played and interpreted their pieces. With the coming of the Civil War and Spain’s both political and cultural isolation, the maturing of styles of composers like Gombau is a much slower process than in the rest of Western Europe; but by the mid to late 1950’s Gombau was experimenting and in search of new ways of expression. As a professor of the Real Conservatorio Superior de Madrid, he fostered the young generation of composers (Generation of ’51) and saw them as colleagues in compositional styles, deriving inspiration from the adventurous spirit of the young students.  This special interaction he fosters with the young composing students sets him somewhat apart from the rest of the composers of his time.  Every time I brought his name up to former students or persons who knew him, there was nothing but fond memories and words of true respect for Gombau.

As an added note, during the concert this past 31st of October, right before I was to sing “Cantiga da vendima”, someone in the audience excitedly whispered loudly, “Gombau”.  I smiled and said “yes!”, hoping that it was perhaps a former student of his.  This excellent composer is unjustly excluded from current musical programming even in his native Spain, but perhaps not for long.  A recent recording of his orchestral works has just been issued by VERSO, directed by José Luis Temes, Obra completa para conjunto musical de Gerardo Gombau

Regarding his songs for voice and piano, on one can buy his “Canción del Duero“, and his song “Catalanazor” is in the anthology “Songs of Spain, volume 1” published by Union Musical Espanola.  The complete archive for this composer is in the Biblioteca Nacional de Espana in Madrid.  A disc dedicated to the songs for voice and piano by Gerardo Gombau was issued in the occasion of the centenary of his birth by Spanish tenor Joaquin Pixan  but it is currently not available; the song “Cantiga de Vendima” is in this disc, as well as in the world premiere LP of the “34 Galician Songs Dedicated to Antonio Fernández-Cid“, recorded by soprano María Teresa Tourné and pianist Carmen Díez Martín (HMV/Odeón 1962).


With tenor friend Angelo Marchese, Antia Maranta and myself, after a real Galician dinner in Santiago de Compostela, August of 2012