“La luna sobre el agua de los lagos…”, a song by Colombian composer Antonio María Valencia (1902-1952)

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Colombian composer,
Antonio María Valencia

Always on the look out for new songs to sing by Latin American composers, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Luis Carlos Rodriguez Álvarez in Medellín (Colombia) in 2010. I was at the time singing the role of Adalgisa in a production of Norma for the Fundación Proliríca de Antioquía in September of 2010. Speaking to the fellows in the chorus who were mostly university students, they introduced me to their favorite professor, the lively and enthusiastic Dr. Rodriguez Álvarez, and we met in the center of town. During our spirited meeting he gave me an important cache of songs for voice and piano spanning from the early 19th century to the mid 20th century. Over coffee we chatted about his work at the university. Dr. Luis Rodriguez Álvarez champions the classical composers of Colombia, teaching music history courses at the University of Medellin, and is involved in the recuperation of the historical memory of the composers that were important in the musical culture of Colombia. I had only two names that I knew of, the composer Jaime León, b. 1921 (I have been singing his song “La campesina” for years) and a female Avant-garde composer active in the 60’s and 70’s called Jacqueline Nova (1935-1975). After this meeting, I had a better bird’s eye view of the musical culture of Colombia which is important and extensive…so far here in the States it is fairly easy to acquire the songs by León, which where edited by Patricia Caicedo (Editorial Tritó). Both “La campesina” and a song by Jacqueline Nova called “A veces un no niega” are in a book edited by Kathleen L. Wilson called “The art song in Latin America” (Pendragon Press). As far as I know, these are the easiest obtainable sources of art songs by Colombian composers here in the U.S. Both music books can be bought thru Classical Vocal Reprints, my favorite place for hard to find vocal music.

I came home with large stack, possible about 60 songs in total, including some orchestral works with solo voice and Colombian zarzuela “romanzas”. Fast forward to summer of 2013…with a new opportunity to program for my upcoming recital “Latin American Song: A panoramic view” on October 27th with North/South Consonance I turned to the Dr. Rodriguez’s gift of art songs from Colombia. A particular song caught my eye, as it was dedicated to the French soprano Ninon Vallin. The title of the song was, “La luna sobre el agua de los lagos…” I played thru it and it was pleasing, reminiscent of early 20th century French song. The setting of the text by Colombian poet Otto de Greiff was done nicely. This song is part of a cycle that uses texts by this same poet called Melodías para voz de mujer y piano. Excited about using at last repertoire from this pile, I emailed Dr. Rodriguez Álvarez to tell him about it, as well as to get more information about the Colombian composer,

Antonio María Valencia (Cali, Colombia 1902-1952).

Maestro Valencia is considered one of the most important composers from Colombia in the first half othe 20th century. He attended the Schola Cantorum in Paris and was considered piano virtuoso with a promising career ahead for him. Valencia instead returned to his country and home town of Cali to lead the music conservatory, as well as found the cities orchestra and chorus, among many other things. I asked Dr. Rodriguez Álvarez to write me a small note about the song I had selected (in Spanish, I will soon do an English translation):

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La pieza titulada La luna sobre el agua de los lagos… fue escrita el 11 de agosto de 1932 y es la tercera de su ciclo titulado Melodías para voz de mujer y piano sobre textos del poeta Otto de Greiff (1903-1995). Sobre ella escribe el maestro Mario Gómez-Vignes, biógrafo de Valencia: “Como las dos anteriores (Tres días hace que Nina dormida en su lecho está… e Iremos a los astros…), esta canción es tenue, otoñal, elegíaca. Es curioso, la voz solista nunca sugirió a Valencia otros sentimientos diferentes. Su escaso repertorio vocal –con excepción de las obras corales-, contando las canciones de adolescencia, están siempre teñidas de languideces y melancolías. Es, tal vez, la cuerda que más afinidad guarda con el profundo fondo de su carácter. Una vez más estamos ante una estructura ternaria que apela al uso de la variación libre. El lenguaje armónico es triádico, pero revestido de absoluta independencia, denotando que el compositor ha ido evolucionando desde una etapa libremente tonal a un pantonalismo no funcional que lo relaciona directamente con las conquistas de sus colegas latinoamericanos contemporáneos. Las figuraciones envolventes y los modelos rítmicos en ostinato dejan entrever una sostenida línea de conducta que convierte a estas tres canciones en una especie de ciclo, pese a que las temáticas poéticas son diferentes. Se podría hablar de ciclo en el sentido de unidad en la traducción poético-musical que hace el compositor con los versos de Otto de Greiff. La luna sobre el agua de los lagos… está dedicada a Ninon Vallin, célebre cantante francesa a la que Valencia escuchó en París, pero a quien nunca acompañó en sus recitales”.

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French soprano, Ninon Vallin

Me alegra mucho saber que usted cantará el ciclo completo de las Canciones de Valencia. Él es un gran compositor, quizás injustamente olvidado.

Valencia conoció personalmente a la cantante francesa Ninon Vallin, la escuchó en París, pero nunca la acompañó al piano, como a otras de esa época. Los amigos de Valencia en París fueron principalmente sus maestros Vincent d’Indy y Paul Braud, y su mejor amigo, compañero, condiscípulo, casi hermano, fue Joaquín Nin Culmell, además de la hermana de este, la famosa Anaïs Nin.

Sobre el ciclo dedicado a poemas de Otto de Greiff, debo decirle que yo fui amigo personal de don Otto, y él mismo me comentó que estas Canciones fueron un testimonio de mutua amistad. Don Otto fue el hermano menor del gran poeta colombiano León de Greiff, famoso en la lengua española. Don Otto también fue gran poeta en su jeventud, pero mucho menos conocido. Con la señora Ilse de Greiff, la hija de don Otto (quien anteayer cumplió 18 años de haber fallecido, a los 92 años de edad) hace algunos años recogimos toda su producción poética en el libro Grafismos del grifo grumete.

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I found out with great interest that during his time in Paris he knew several of the Spanish composers that I have an interest in and study. He was best friends with Joaquín Nin-Culmell, son of pianist and composer Joaquín Nin Castellanos and of course brother of (my favorite author) Anaïs Nin.

This composer has been the subject of a recent biography as well as a moving documentary by director Luis Ospina. I just finished watching it, it is called “Claro Oscuro: The tragedy of a great musician”:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4tmrmssq0A

Maestro Valencia, who had an un paralleled musical culture, a recognized trayectory as a pianist virtuoso in Paris as well as a well known composer across all genres, founder of the most important musical organizations still operating in his native Cali was sadly misunderstood, unappreciated and forgotten. The school that bore his name was renamed, a bust erected in his memory was taken down. He has been justly recuperated by these recent efforts, and is being recognized as the most important musical figure to come from Colombia in the first half of the 20th century.

 I only programmed one of his songs, it will be featured in the first half of my program, between a Manuel Ponce cycle and another cycle by Venezuelan composer Modesta Bor. I have plans in the future to learn and perform the entire cycle by Antonio María Valencia to the poems of Otto de Greiff, the Melodías para voz de mujer y piano. There is one recording that is available on Amazon by soprano Emperatriz Figueroa, although there are other recordings by soprano Patricia Caicedo and the great Colombian mezzo soprano Marta Senn.

For a free download of the score of  “La luna sobre el agua de los lagos…” by Antonio Maria Valencia please go to:

http://facartes.unal.edu.co/compositores/html/0008_5_13.html#

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