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Manuel de Falla: Polo

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:

Alas!
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:

Federico García Lorca: Tres morillas de Jaén

As I prepare for the April 24 concert, I have become increasingly immersed in the life and poetry of Federico García Lorca. The more I know about this great Spanish writer the more astonishing I find him. His neatly bound volumes of poetry and his famous stage works don’t give a true picture of his chaotic creativity, his unique mix of sophistication and naivety, his long-frustrated sensuality, and his complex heart. At once a fountain of vitality and a death-haunted soul, he longed for the one thing Spain was unwilling to give him: a man he could love without shame or punishment. The songs I’ve chosen for the concert examine some of the many facets of Lorca: the Andalusian outsider who loved the wild cadences of flamenco, the visionary poet, the child-man who longed to be a father himself.

Lorca’s early ambition was to be a pianist, and he always maintained a close connection to music. At parties he’d sit down at the piano and belt out Andalusian songs till the wee hours. But there is only one recording of Lorca-the-pianist: a 6-record album (78s, of course) in which he accompanies a folksinger named La Argentina in his “Colección de Canciones Populares Españolas.” In his early twenties Lorca formed a close friendship with composer Manuel de Falla, and the two of them would roam the countryside gathering folksongs. Each of them published a volume of arrangements. De Falla’s “Siete canciones populares españolas” have become the most often-sung Spanish pieces in the canon, but Lorca’s get performed with some frequency too, either with piano or guitar. Here’s a beauty, “Tres morillas de Jaén.”

The poem, written in the repetitive style of villancico, is not so easy to translate, and there are some hilariously incorrect English versions floating around the internet. (Certain words have a very different meaning in Latin America than they do in Spain, it seems.) Here is what the song really is about: three Moorish women have caught the fancy of the narrator. They go out to gather olives and apples, but they find that the trees are bare. They have nothing to eat. Why? Because their land has been stolen by the Christians. They have also been forced to convert, to leave their religion behind. There are beautiful linguistic subtleties—the way the word “mora” (Moor) is embedded in the word “enamoran” (stole my heart), and the ambiguity of “thieves of my life,” either because the singer has lost his heart to the Moorish women, or because he feels they have come to steal their property back from him. Either way, the song creates a magical atmosphere.

How moving to work on “Tres morillas” at this moment in history. The writer Dorothy Potter Snyder put it best: “At a time when Muslim people are being massacred in their places of worship and threatened by our President, I cannot think of a better moment to present this melancholy song of loss, its cadences so reminiscent of those of Northern Africa that weave through all traditional music from Southern Spain.”

Lorca and La Argentina

Teresa Berganza, with guitarist Narciso Yepes

Three Moorish women stole my heart in Jaén:
Axa and Fátima and Marién.
Three strong Moorish ladies
Went off to pick olives,
And found them all picked in Jaén:
Axa and Fátima and Marién.

And they found they all were picked
And the they all came back dismayed
And drained of color in Jaén:
Axa and Fátima and Marién.

Three Moorish ladies all aglow
Went to pick apples
And found they all were picked in Jaén:
Axa and Fátima and Marién.

I said to them: Who are you, ladies,
Thieves of my life?
“Christian women, we were once Moors in Jaén,”
Axa and Fátima and Marién.

Carlos Guastavino: Abismo de sed

Today is the day—Song of the Day turns 3!  Here’s a look back at our first week of songs  from NYFOS’s artistic director Steven Blier. 

I have three summer concerts to give, and I’ve just started to think about the last of them: NYFOS@North Fork, Latin Lovers (August 22 and 23). This will be a labor of love for me since South American and Cuban canción might be my greatest musical passion. I’ve just gotten done casting this project after jumping over a few hurdles (I’ll announce the singers in a few days) and am already burning to play my favorite repertoire in one of my favorite venues. To whet everyone’s appetite, here’s a Guastavino song, one that finds this self-effacing Argentinean master in an uncharacteristically tough, confrontational mood. I love Carlos Guastavino when he’s sweet and gentle, but that only makes me appreciate his butch side even more. Have a listen to “Abismo de sed,” sung by Teresa Berganza with true cojones. The poem is by Alma García—and this is what it says:

The native drums cry out to me
a message of solitude,
my sadness begs for wine
to burst into song.

Scattered with shadow
that spurs on the nightfall,
your mournful dreams travel
through an abyss of thirst.

I am from Tucumán,
I am a singer,
I come seeking wine
in eyes that are warm with love;
within my guitar
grow the vineyards of song.

My inner being will flower
with the burning embrace of your kiss,
red wine of the samba
to erase your sorrow.

The happy skin of the grapes
brings me a song of sunlight;
for the night and the samba,
the light of the wine is better. (Translated by S. Blier)

de Falla: Jota

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!

Song of the Day: June 19, 2015

from Steven Blier:

I have three summer concerts to give, and I’ve just started to think about the last of them: NYFOS@North Fork, Latin Lovers (August 22 and 23). This will be a labor of love for me since South American and Cuban canción might be my greatest musical passion. I’ve just gotten done casting this project after jumping over a few hurdles (I’ll announce the singers in a few days) and am already burning to play my favorite repertoire in one of my favorite venues. To whet everyone’s appetite, here’s a Guastavino song, one that finds this self-effacing Argentinean master in an uncharacteristically tough, confrontational mood. I love Carlos Guastavino when he’s sweet and gentle, but that only makes me appreciate his butch side even more. Have a listen to “Abismo de sed,” sung by Teresa Berganza with true cojones. The poem is by Alma García—and this is what it says:

The native drums cry out to me
a message of solitude,
my sadness begs for wine
to burst into song.

Scattered with shadow
that spurs on the nightfall,
your mournful dreams travel
through an abyss of thirst.

I am from Tucumán,
I am a singer,
I come seeking wine
in eyes that are warm with love;
within my guitar
grow the vineyards of song.

My inner being will flower
with the burning embrace of your kiss,
red wine of the samba
to erase your sorrow.

The happy skin of the grapes
brings me a song of sunlight;
for the night and the samba,
the light of the wine is better. (Translated by S. Blier)

http://buff.ly/1H1RnNR (Teresa Berganza/Juan Antonio Álvarez Parejo)

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