Tag Archives: Antonio Maria Valencia

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


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):


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”.


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.


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”:


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:


Latin American Art Song: A Panoramic View on October 27th in Manhattan

Anna _Tonna_mantilla_2010

Mezzo soprano Anna Tonna

Hispanic Heritage Month will soon be upon us!  Stretching from Sept. 15 to October 15 of 2013, there many events across the nation that will celebrate the achievements and culture of American citizens of Latin American heritage.  Not to be left behind, North South Consonance, a musical organization directed by composer and pianist Max Lifchitz, who has championed the cause of composers from Latin America since 1980 asked me to present  a recital of songs for piano and voice called “Latin American Art Song:  A Panoramic View”.  The concert will take place at the Christ and St. Stephens Church in Manhattan, located at (W. 69th Street, between Broadway and Columbus) on October 27th at 3 PM.

For the occasion of this recital as well as the presentation at SUNY Albany on October 29th, I took the opportunity to commission a new cycle for mezzo and piano from the young Dominican composer, violinist and orchestral director Darwin Aquino.  It was up to me to find texts, and I had the idea of using female Dominican poet for this new work.  I was given a poem by painter and friend José Miura called “Mi vaso verde”  by the the only “Symbolist” Dominican poet, Altagracia Saviñon.  The second poem came from Dominican writer and current cultural attaché for the Dominican government in Berlin, Fernando Ureña Rib, his suggestion was “Poema de la Eternidad Cansada” by Carmen Martinez Bonilla.  The cycle incorporates excerpts from these two poems in the form of three songs under the cycle title of “Perfume”, dedicated to both the Dominican pianist Maria Fatima Geraldes and  myself.  The settings are modernist, and at one point I “play” two glasses of water.  The composer hopes to be with us at the premiere on October 27th.


Dominican composer, violinist and conductor Darwin Aquino

Part of my appearance at SUNY Albany includes an informal masterclass with voice students regarding Latin American song, and  small talk at Max Lifschitz’s class on Latin American music at the University.  It amounts to a small residency, in which I will have the opportunity of sharing information about the lesser known Latin American composers that I am showcasing in the recital.


The program has been chosen; some of the composer names are familiar, others are not.  Its a shame that there is difficulty in getting editions of Latin American art song, many composers are not known to singers and the song recital public here in the US…most of the music I own is from photocopies, with the exception of the songs I find still in print by Peer Southern Classic of composers such as Heitor Villa-Lobos, Carlos Chavez, Julian Orbón and Manuel Ponce.  The “Giants” of Latin American song are there, but so many more are not…there are a couple of interesting anthologies of Latin American song, of note are The Latin American Art Song: A Critical Anthology and Interpretative Guide for Singers (English and Spanish Edition) edited Patricia Caicedo and The Art Song in Latin America: Selected Works by Twentieth-Century Composers (Sheet Music) edited by Kathleen L. Wilson, both available through Classical Vocal Reprints, my favorite purveyor of vocal music in the US.

I start with the cycle “Seis poemas arcaicos” by the Mexican composer Manuel Ponce (1882-1948). The composer of the famous “Estrellita”, Ponce was a composer of all genres across the board: Classical, popular and folkloric.  This cycle uses texts from a collection of Spanish Renaissance song lyrics found in the “Cancionero de Palacio”.  Originally for piano and voice, there is an edited version of this cycle for voice and guitar by Gregg Nestor, and recorded by both Gregg and the soprano Anna Bartos.

I programmed a song by Colombian composer Antonio M. Valencia (1902-1952), the song “La luna sobre el agua de los lagos”, dedicated to the French soprano Ninon Vallin.  Valencia went to the Schola Cantorum in Paris and studied with Vincent D’Indy and Paul Braud.  The song has a definite French feel, and is part of a cycle of settings by the Colombian poet Otto de Greiff.  Given to me be a Colombian musicologist Dr. Luis Carlos Rodriguez, its part of a large cache of art songs by Colombian composers dating from the 19th century to mid 20th century that I received from him when I sang Adalgisa in a production of Norma in Medellin in 2010. Its the first time I have delved in this pile.

Dr. Rodriguez has cited the following recordings of this complete cycle by Valencia:

Elvira Garcés de Hannaford (mezzosoprano) y Luis Carlos Figueroa (piano); Martha Senn (mezzosoprano) y Blanca Uribe (piano); Emperatriz Figueroa (soprano) y Patricia Pérez Hood (piano) in her album “La cancion lirica Colombiana, available on Amazon; Patricia Caicedo as well as Marina Tafur (soprano) and Nigel Foster (piano)

I have intentions of performing the whole cycle of the Grieff settings by Valencia at  my next opportunity! They are  nice songs, the pieces are  vocal and somewhat melancholic.

Short video of music by Colombian composer Antonio Maria Valencia

I repeat the cycle by the much admired  Venezuelan female composer Modesta Bor (1926- 1998), her “Tríptico sobre Poesía Cubana” with texts by Guillén and Ballagas:



Collage of photos of the admirable composer and educator, Modesta Bor (Venezuela)

I follow with the Cuban composer Alejandro García Caturla’sDos poemas Afro-Cubanas“.  This composer also studied and lived in Paris, and these songs where edited in France.  It has a definite avant-garde Afro Cuban sound, with texts by Alejo Carpentier.  The only recordings I know of of these songs are by the American soprano Phyllis Curtain.  They both allude to Santeria and the religious practices of the islands, and are intense songs.  Kind of a musical response to Picasso’s and other visual artists  to the art of Africa.  I sang it as an opening for the Center for Contemporary Opera competition many years ago, and got marked down, I guess this song was too controversial and too “contemporary” for that particular panel that year!

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) is up next, with his Samba-Classico, and a curious song called Pinga-Ponga, dated 1949 and dedicated to the Catalan soprano Conxita Badía. This song was found by Max Lifschitz in the Conxita Badía archive in Barcelona. We don’t think its ever been performed in the US, and are calling it a “New York Premiere”:

Picture 119

Photo of score, Pinga-ponga by Heitor Villa-Lobos, with dedication to Catalan soprano Conxita Badía

Following the Villa-Lobos and opening the second half will be the cycle “Perfume” by Darwin Aquino b.1979. I follow that with “North Carolina Blues” by the Mexican composer Carlos Chavez (1899-1978), as well as a small excerpt from the lesser known cycle by the  Argentinian Carlos Guastavino (1912-2000), “Los ríos de la mano”, which uses a set of very touching  poems of household objects that “speak” of an internal life.   In this instance I include the songs Plancha, Galorpín, Tijera and Carretilla de madera.  There is no recording obtainable that I know of of this cycle…I had the chance of listening to a wonderful live performance by soprano Brenda Feliciano and pianist Pablo Zinger at the Americas Society in New York City last year.

I end the whole program with the cycle of three poems by Federico García Lorca “Three Spanish Songs” (1959) by Ramiro Cortés (1933-1984), the first American composer of Latin American descent to achieve a notable success in the contemporary American music scene in the 1950’s:

Anna Tonna and Max Lifchitz performing “Adivnanza de la Guitarra” by Ramiro Cortés

His reading of the Lorca texts are remarkable; with its flamenco rhythms, guitar like figures and expressive vocal line, he crowns both the first song and last song in the cycle with a dramatic finish. I first read about this cycle in the book “A singer’s guide to American Art Song 1870-1980” by Victoria Etnier Villamil.  For more on Ramiro Cortés, see his website: www.ramirocortes.com/

It should be a fun recital!