BALADA: No-res / Ebony Fantasies
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Leonardo Balada (b. 1933)
No-res Ebony Fantasies
My enthusiasm for choral music began in my youth justoutside Barcelona in a lovely little town, Sant JustDesvern, and ever since it has only intensified. I was amember with my friends, a group of idealisticindividuals, of an amateur chorus, the Orfeo EnricMorera, where classical music and folk-inspired Catalancompositions were sung. Belonging to that choral groupwas also for us a defiant expression against therepressive regime of the dictator Francisco Franco, whohad prohibited any free press or liberal expression.
Franco, a shrewd politician, did not forbid the existenceof those musical organizations which were harmless tohis regime and worked as a release valve to minimisepolitical upheaval.
Mozart's Ave verum Corpus was a revelation to me,as were the choral Catalan dances by Enric Morera.
When more than a decade later I was in control of mycompositional craft, composing choral works likecantatas became my favoured medium of expression.
Maria Sabina (1969), a work for narrator, chorus andorchestra, was the first of them, which was the result ofa collaboration with the Spanish writer Camilo JoseCela, who was to win the Nobel Prize for literature yearslater. The dramatic text of Maria Sabina, a Mexican-Indian priestess who was condemned to death, inflamedmy musical imagination. This work corresponds to myavant-garde period of the 1960s, abstract but expressive.
This was followed by Las Moradas (1970), a cantatawith text from St Teresa of Avila, and No-res (1974),belonging to the same stylistic period and all dealingwith controversial subjects. Two more choral worksfollowed, Torquemada (1980), based on the SpanishInquisitor, and Ebony Fantasies (2003). The latterdistinguishes itself in its uses of folk elements - in thiscase Negro-Spirituals - as opposed to the abstractcontent of the other cantatas. This use of ethnic-folkideas in my music started with the orchestral worksSinfonia en Negro-Homage to Martin Luther King(1968) and especially with Homage to Casals andSarasate (1975). The music that followed generallyblends the ethnic with the avant-garde. My youthfulexperiences with the modest Orfeo Enric Morera,however, did not end with the composition of cantatas.
In all my operas, Zapata, Christopher Columbus, Deathof Columbus, and Faust-bal, choral participation is ofthe utmost importance.
No-res (Nothing) a symphonic tragedy for narrator,chorus, orchestra and tape, was written in 1974. Whenthe death of a beloved one occurs, for those of us who donot believe in life after death there are two reactions:accept it or protest against it. The second option was myreaction after the death of my mother, to whom the workis dedicated. No-res is the result of this protest in whichI try to find answers to questions which philosophicallyhave no answers.
The French writer Jean Paris wrote the text, afterconversations in which we agreed on the subject and thecreative direction of the work (he had also lost hismother at that time and felt similarly about the subject.)No-res consists of two parts. The first describesdeath, in the voice of the narrator, and the reaction of thechorus. Death occurs not only to men, but also toanimals, vegetables, to things and to actions. Owing tothe universality of death, the poet makes use of anextended number of languages. The text containsgeneral quotations of poets from all over the globe... \Ishall not go gently into this good night!"..."How manyworlds since I fell from the heights of man's firstmorning?". Also, in brief moments, the poet useslanguages of his own invention. The music takes placein this description of death not only through its tragiccharacter, but also through its metaphysical vision. Ittranscends its purely musical qualities into sounds ornoises from the real world. At the beginning the prerecordedhowling of the wolf is picked up by the chorusin imitation with dramatic expansion through aleatoricdevices. Aleatoric moments alternate with traditionalwriting; atonal massive sonorities and tone-clusters arefollowed occasionally by some lyrical lines; layeredhorizontal structures are contrasted by heavy verticalpulses, all in its depiction of hopeless fatality. Theorchestra and the tape have an "ending" quality. Thereare extra-musical elements like broken glass, longrebounding, cracking trees, which together with otherpurely musical effects contribute to the feeling of anend. In one of these instances, the tape recreates thenoises of animals in their more pure form. Its absurdityreflects the absurdity of the ending of our existence. Inthis first section and in Catalan, I added to the text someof the sentences pronounced by my mother shortlybefore her death, in which I believe, are some of themore emotive fragments of the score. At the end of thefirst part everybody on stage freezes, as if in a giganticsculpture. It is the end of everything.
The second part is in English and is a total creationof the poet, with the narration to be translated every timeinto the language of the place where the work isperformed. Here the general character changes radically,although the same technical devices as in the first partare used. Its character, however, is defiant, almostmilitant against the taboos that try to hide the immutabletruth. It is like a tantrum of protest in which theexistence or fairness of God is questioned. "I will notyield. Non serviam! Never...Never!". The music has noextra-musical elements in this part. It is abstract, directand dramatic.
Completed in 1974, the work was revised later, andbelongs to my avant-garde period. The world premi?¿rewas given in 1997 by the Orquestra Simfonica deBarcelona i Nacional de Catalunya with the NationalChorus of Spain in Barcelona conducted by LawrenceFoster. No-res won the International Composition Prize,City of Barcelona. It is dedicated to my mother'smemory.
The cantata Ebony Fantasies is in four movementsand is freely taken from four negro spirituals. Thecomposition is not a simple exercise of harmonizingpopular melodies, but is a creative effort on its own. It ismodern and different from what one may expect whendealing with Afro-American materials. Although themelodies are present, they are not so in an obvious anddirect manner. Sometimes the music is conceivedtexturally or with aleatoric devices instead of lyrically.
The harmonies can have a percussive approach ratherthan being supportive of the melodies. These harmoniescan be as contrasting as a tone cluster is from a triad.
Ebony Fantasies was composed in 2003.
The first movement, Nobody knows the trouble I'veseen, is brilliant with a mechanistic character and usesirregular rhythms and layers of sounds texturally. Thesecond, I got a crown, has the melody only in theorchestra, while the chorus performs short notes inabstract vertical lines. Were you there? is like a farmurmur, almost a silent dialogue between the chorusand the strings, and War no mo', in contrast, is rhythmicand brilliant.Leonardo Balada
English translation: Susannah Howe"