Leonardo Balada (b. 1933)
Guernica Symphony No. 4 Homages to Casals and Sarasate
In the personality of an individual nothing has moreinfluence than experiences as a child. Another important influence is anartist's masterpiece which translates into an ideal stimulus for creation.Pablo Picasso's Guernica, a mural that expresses the horror after the bombingof a defenceless Basque town during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), was for methat artist's masterpiece. In addition it was also a symbol of the struggle andcontempt I felt, like so many Spaniards, for the dictator Francisco Franco, whocrushed the young Spanish democracy in that war. Picasso was our hero, likewisePablo Casals, Luis Bunuel and many other great artists and intellectuals whofled Spain at the end of that tragic war. I had to compose Guernica: mymemories as a child crying and running with my family into the \metro" stationin Barcelona to shelter us from the fascist bombings had been haunting me forthree decades. I also had to compose it as my way of saying thanks to Picassoand all those exiled, who from overseas waved the flag of freedom, and I had tocompose it as a protest against wars. Picasso was my hero and to him Idedicated the symphonic work. After its first recording was released, on an LPby the Louisville Orchestra, I had planned to visit him in the south of Franceand give him a copy of the work. Camilo Jose Cela, the late Nobel Literaturelaureate with whom at that time I was collaborating on the cantata MariaSabina, had given me an introduction to the artist assuring me that Picassowould respond to my gift with one of his own: one of his paintings. Myexcitement was at its highest in the summer of 1972 when I had decided to makethat visit to the south of France but it was not to be. For personal reasons Ihad to cancel that trip and Picasso died some months later without my evermeeting the master, one of the big disappointments in my life.
Mycomposing Guernica came in 1966, when the New Orleans Philharmonic announced areading of new orchestral works. The anti-Vietnam War demonstrations that yearat Columbia University in New York were an added stimulus for me, havingattended meetings of protest at the MacMillan Theater on that campus.Childhood, Picasso, Vietnam all came together and in two weeks with the brevityof a bullet shot, my composition was conceived and done. Guernica became aturning-point in my output.
StylisticallyGuernica belongs to a new moment in my work which could be construed as myavant-garde period. Before that in the early 1960s my music was somewhatneo-classical, at a time when the contemporary musical scene in New York waspractically limited to the twelve-tone serial style. But dissatisfaction withmyself was strong and obsessive; I did not want to continue on the conservativepath. How could I be so conservative, the son of a liberal Catalan family whohad not even been baptized in a Spain were this Catholic ritual was a given forany newly born child? On the other hand the twelve-tone music I was hearing inNew York proved extremely boring and intellectual to me. In consequence arelentless search for something that would satisfy my aesthetic visionfollowed, and the visual arts became my source of inspiration. FromRauschenberg to the happenings of the time and to Dali, with whom I wascollaborating in New York, all helped me conceive my new strategy of sound. Theavant-garde techniques of that time became secondary to my more Mediterraneanapproach. With a good degree of arrogance I was telling myself that I would putthose techniques to good use. So, as sudden as lightning, my style jumped froma neoclassical-medieval-like Guitar Concerto No.1 (1965) to the abstractions ofGeometries No.1 for ensemble and Guernica, both of 1966. For about a decade mycompositions now were abstract, angular, dramatic, propelled by rhythm andheavy textures, and full of passion. The symphonic works that followed likeSteel Symphony, Sinfonia en Negro-Homage to Martin Luther King, cantatas MariaSabina and No-res are all in that spirit.
Anew stylistic adventure started in 1975 when I felt again the need for change.Now those abstract sounds would be blended with traditional ideas and theavant-garde would meet with the ethnic and traditional in a symbiosis. Thisbrought criticism from some quarters by suggesting that I was trading austerityfor comfort; the implication being that it is facile to compose music based onfolk elements. It may seem facile, but it is not easy if those folk elementsare presented in a non conventional context, different from the traditionalone. Homage to Casals and to Sarasate were the first in this new period,although Sinfonia en Negro (1968) already hinted at this new style by usingAfro rhythms with those avant-garde techniques. The other two works on this CD,Symphony No.4 'Lausanne' and Zapata: Images for Orchestra use Swiss and Mexicanfolk ideas. Nevertheless that symbiotic approach did not stop me from sometimescomposing works in which the ethnicity is absent and the composition remains anabstract one, as is the case of Divertimentos (1991) for string orchestra. Isee no conflict in this if there is a personal stamp in the works of thecomposer.
Guernicawas composed during the last two weeks of 1966 in New York City and was writtenas a protest against wars and a tribute to that mural. It is dedicated toPicasso. Despite the fact that the work is not programmatic, one is alwaysaware of the sounds of war, the shouting of the people and the loneliness ofdestruction, as part of the dramatic total. It was first performed in 1967 by theNew Orleans Philharmonic conducted by Werner Torkanowsky and first recorded bythe Louisville Orchestra conducted by Jorge Mester.
Homageto Sarasate of 1975 uses the Zapateado, a composition of the nineteenth-centurySpanish violinist and composer Pablo de Sarasate, as the main idea. This cameto Balada's mind after he had seen the painting by Picasso called Las Meninas.Everybody knows Las Meninas as being by Velazquez, but Picasso gave his owninterpretation so that one can see the Velazquez and the Picasso in the samemodern painting. The opening moments of Homage to Sarasate present little morethan rhythmic fragments suggesting the rapid triple meter of a zapateado, thetraditional Spanish dance. To this are gradually added brief snatches of melodyalluding to Sarasate's composition. These emerge in a variety of tonal andrhythmic dislocations and quickly dissolve as other figures come to the fore.Sharp interjections from the winds or percussion occasionally punctuate theproceedings, and the Zapateado music is surrounded by rich, colourful,orchestral sonorities. The work grows more dense with bits of melody, becominga big collage.
Homageto Casals, written in the same year, is based on a Catalan folk-melody, Song ofthe Birds, which the great cellist Pablo Casals used to play at the conclusionof his recitals. Homage to Sarasate and its companion piece Homage to Casalsrepresent a new direction in the composer's music, reinstating melody andtraditional harmonies though at the same time he uses aleatoric devices,minimalistic moments, textural layer-on-layer and clustered sounds. It is ablending of the ethnic and the avant-garde.