When a singer welcomes a child into the family, there are many nights of baby-rocking that put to practical use the collection of lullabies learned for the recital stage. De Falla’s “Nana” was a song I had performed only once as a student at Tanglewood Music Center, but it reemerged from my long-term memory early on in the sleep-deprived search for good lullabies for our daughter. Unlike some songs that come and go, “Nana” has stuck around for nine years as a staple of the bedtime routine. My daughter now can sing it to me, with an uber-Spanish flair. De los Angeles floors me with her singing of this simple-sounding but devilishly difficult little song every time.
Repost from July 15, 2015
I am delving this week into the playlist of Manning the Canon: Songs of Gay Life. Much of the program focuses on scenes from contemporary life, but I also wanted to give some airplay to gay composers from the past. Many of them had to keep their same-sex affairs on the down-low, due to their era’s discrimination against homosexuality. Whatever they didn’t conceal themselves got expunged later on by their early biographers or their families. And yet their stories have emerged—not without controversy—in our more enlightened times. We know a fair amount about Tchaikovsky’s loves, and Charles Griffes’ long affair with a married New York cop (back when all policemen were male).
I took a bit of a liberty when I included Manuel de Falla—he ends a section called “Mixed Signals.” There’s no evidence that he had male lovers. There is also no evidence that he had female lovers. He moved in gay circles both in Paris and in Granada, and was very close to Federico García Lorca. He lived in repressive times, and he was a devout Catholic. My intuition tells me he was deeply in the closet, too frozen to act on his true desires. I think he’d be abashed to see his name on our concert, but once he got used to the idea I think it would warm his heart. It’s never too late to come out.
The song I chose is the finale of his canonic cycle “Seven Popular Spanish Songs.” It’s a mistake to assume that songs are autobiographical. But with my lurking hunch about de Falla’s sexuality and his reluctance to form any kind of love relationship, the lyrics to this piece might have come from his very soul:
I bear a sorrow in my heart
That I shall tell no one.
Cursed be love, and curses
On him who made me feel it!
Here is a performance by Marilyn Horne and Martin Katz. I heard Horne sing this at Carnegie Hall in the late 60s—my first live performance of the cycle—and I am still vibrating to the full, open chest voice she used that night at “que a nadie se lo diré”—“that I shall tell no one.” This recording captures it for all time.
Check this one out too—stylish, powerful, and brilliantly accurate in the flamenco passagework: Teresa Berganza, with orchestra conducted by Raymond Leppard:
Steve brought “Soneto a Córdoba” to me as a possibility for our Lorca program (since de Falla was one of Lorca’s mentors), and despite never having been, I was instantly transported to southern Spain. This song is an ode to Córdoba, a town in Andalusia where the poet Luis de Góngora lived and died. Since de Falla also lived in Andalusia for many years, both men were clearly moved by the richness of the area, with its vast mountains, rivers, and evocative landscape. Thanks to Steve (and de Falla), Andalusia is now on my bucket list of travel destinations!
Of course I have to feature my #1 favorite singer, Teresa Berganza! Although she is absolutely stunning on any repertoire, when she sings Spanish music it is just perfection. One of the song cycles that I love the most (both to sing and to hear), one which Berganza performed better than anyone, is Manuel de Falla’s Siete canciones populares españolas. It’s a wonderfully diverse collection of songs, bringing together melodies and dance rhythms from all over Spain. There are vastly differing moods among them, but as a set they are strung together so perfectly. It’s hard to imagine one without all the rest of them. But I chose “Jota” because I just love the mood it conveys, and the rhythm with the triplets in the introduction always make me giddy. This upbeat lover’s serenade anchors the set as the middle song of the seven and is a lovely bit of brightness between the two slow, utterly breathtaking tunes that surround it.
This set was written for piano accompaniment but is also frequently done with guitar, which I’m particularly fond of on these pieces (though, to be fair, the original piano part quite successfully captures the feeling of a guitar). I’ve performed the set four times and so far only with guitar! I think “Jota” is particularly delightful in the guitar version.
I have a recording of Berganza singing these songs with guitarist Narciso Yepes which I adore, but I found this lovely video of her performing them with guitarist Gabriel Estrellas in a recital broadcast by the BBC in 1987 (gotta love the 80’s sleeves on that dress!). I’ve included a second video of her performing “Jota” with pianist Gerald Moore from 1960, when she was just 25, and as an added treat, that video contains the last three songs in the set as well.
I could listen to that easy, warm, pure voice of hers all day long. And watching her perform, with such an open expression and generosity of spirit that shines through, I’m always inspired. I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!
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