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Music for choir and guitar
Coro Cervantes, Carlos Fernández Aransay (conductor)
Download only
Label: Signum Classics
Recording details: July 2008
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Lennart Dehn
Engineered by Stephan Flock
Release date: April 2009
Total duration: 78 minutes 59 seconds

Cover artwork: Cover by Bob Masters.

Coro Cervantes is a unique professional chamber choir. Through its performances and recordings it aims to bring the music of Iberia and Latin America to audiences everywhere. This disc of twentieth century music for the unusual yet fabulous combination of choir and guitar coincides with the 70th birthday of Brazilian composer Marlos Nobre, whose work Yanomam, inspired by the death rituals of the indigenous Yanomami people, gives the album its title. The choir is accompanied by the Brazilian Fabio Zanon, one of most all embracing talents in the international guitar scene.


'The guitar is the element that binds together the mix of chanting, shouting, extended vocal techniques, conventional singing, and twelve-tone choral procedures into a work of compelling dramatic unity' (AllMusic, USA)» More
“We are the two most fortunate composers in the world: you have Florence as your home city, I have Granada”. So said Manuel de Falla in Florence to the 25 year-old Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968), who was just starting to compose. Mario had first visited Granada in 1913 as a reward for his brilliant results at the end of his school days. In 1932, this time in Venice, Falla introduced him to Andrés Segovia, who would commission him to write numerous pieces for the guitar. “It is the first time I have met a composer who immediately understands how to write for the guitar” said Segovia of Variazioni attraverso i secoli, Castelnuovo-Tedesco´s first piece for him.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco was descended from a family of Spanish Jewish bankers, who had fled Spain many centuries earlier, during which time the original surname Castilla Nueva was “Italianised”. Neither was this the only time when his family had to flee their homeland, for in 1938 the increasing anti-Semitism of Mussolini´s regime forced the family, outspokenly Jewish, to leave for America. It was only thanks to Mario´s influential friends such as Jasha Heifetz and Arturo Toscanini that he managed to get a migrant´s visa for his whole family. Within a few years of moving, Castelnuovo-Tedesco was established in Beverly Hills as a successful composer of film scores (including Agatha Christie’s “And then there were none”) and his students included the young André Previn, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Henry Mancini.

The Romancero Gitano (1951) links Castelnuovo-Tedesco back to Granada, where Federico García Lorca was born. The texts belong not to a “Gypsy Romance Book” but to Lorca’s Poema del Cante Jondo of 1921 (Poem of Deep Song, a type of Flamenco singing). In 1922 García Lorca and Falla had organised the first International Competition of Cante Jondo in Granada.

The Spanish composer Carlos Suriñach (1915-1997) also migrated to the U.S. Unlike Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Suriñach (who changed his surname to Surinach) used an openly Andalousian idiom for his Via Crucis: A cycle of fiteen Saetas (1970) and his Sonatina (dedicated in 1959 to Andrés Segovia). Both composers—who would become American nationals—portrayed in their music the passion and fervour of the Spanish Holy Week. Castelnuovo did so in the central and most substantial movement of his Romancero Gitano – Procesión, paso, saeta (Procession, float, saeta)—and Suriñach in his Via Crucis, a depiction of the Fourteen Stations of the Cross, during the Passion of Christ. Saetas are improvised songs typically performed a cappella by a singer from a balcony. They are dedicated to a particular image of Christ or the Virgin, represented by a float carried during Holy Week processions. There is no more spine-chilling moment during a procession than when an impromptu saetero bursts into song: the whole procession comes to a halt, and the singer—in a state of semi-trance—spins his deep and plaintive song. Suriñach depicts this trance—perhaps toying with minimalism—with small melodic cells in the choir and the use of repetitive flamenco rasgueado chords in the guitar.

Some of the Sacred Pieces (1998) by Fernando Moruja (1960-2004), all of which constitute a testimony to a life dedicated to choral music, also feature minimilism. “Fefe”, as he was universally known in his native Buenos Aires, was killed by a bus on New Year’s Eve 2004, when he was only 44 years-old. The Argentinean choral community has been mourning him ever since, for here was a promising conductor and composer who brought a contagious enthusiasm to his music-making. This enthusiasm is still spreading posthumously all over the world: his sacred pieces—Lux aeterna and O bone Jesu in particular—are quickly becoming favourites of choirs and audiences alike.

Marlos Nobre (1939), a pupil of Ginastera, Messiaen, Malipiero, Copland and Dallapiccola, has dedicated several pieces to the native people of Brazil—his country—including Ukrinmakrinkrin Opus 17 (dedicated to the Xucuru people), Xingú Opus 75 and Yanomami Opus 47 (sometimes spelled Yanomani), which was commissioned by the Swiss choir “Choeur des XVI” in 1980 and was dedicated to the memory of a Yanomami chief. During a trip to Germany, Nobre heard of this death and the struggle of his people, who live on the shores of the Orinoco River, artificially divided between the national boundaries of Venezuela and Brazil.

Written for solo tenor, guitar and choir, Yanomami sets to music a mix of words in their original language and some in Portuguese. When their chief dies, the people gather to mourn him, crying, clapping and dancing with the shaman. After the ceremony, they return to their huts and wait for the arrival of dawn. During the night, the spirit of the dead leaves his body and reaches the celestial forest where thunder reigns. In the middle of the piece, a moment of silence marks this moment. The chief returns then to a different form of life, and this transformation affects the music, which is now inverted, both in its rhythm and melody.

Later his remains are cremated, accompanied by the words “O cacique é morto” (“The chief is dead”, in Portuguese) in a motet written with a twelve-tone serial technique. After a month has gone by, the shaman and the elder of the community will mix his ashes with fruits and food. For the Yanomani, death is always the result of evil spirits sent by their enemies to inflict pain on their community, and grief gives way to a desire for revenge: “Mata, mata, mata” (“Kill, kill, kill”) they cry together.

Carlos Fernández Aransay © 2008

“Somos los dos compositores más afortunados del mundo, tú por tener como ciudad Florencia y yo Granada.” Eso le dijo Manuel de Falla a Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968) en Florencia, cuando éste contaba sólo con 25 años de edad y apenas empezaba a componer. Mario había visitado Granada en 1913 durante un viaje que hizo por España como premio por sus brillantes resultados al final de sus estudios escolares. En 1932, esta vez en Venecia, Falla le presentó a Andrés Segovia, quien, más tarde, le encargaría muchas piezas. “Es la primera vez que encuentro un compositor que entiende inmediatamente cómo se escribe para la guitarra”, dijo Segovia de las Variazioni attraverso i secoli, la primera obra que le dedicó el compositor italiano.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco descendía de una familia de banqueros judíos que había huido de España muchos siglos antes, italianizando su apellido original de Castilla Nueva. Tampoco fue esa la única ocasión en que habrían de abandonar su patria, puesto que la familia, abiertamente judía, se vio forzada a dejar Italia y emigrar a los EE.UU. en 1938, debido al creciente antisemitismo del régimen de Mussolini. Gracias a su amistad con artistas influyentes como Jasha Heifetz y Arturo Toscanini, Castelnuovo-Tedesco consiguió, tras muchas dificultades, un visado de emigración para toda su familia. En pocos años, se estableció con mucho éxito en Beverly Hills como compositor de bandas sonoras para películas como “Diez negritos” de Agatha Christie. Entre sus alumnos estaban Andre Previn, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith y Henry Mancini.

El Romancero Gitano (1951) une de nuevo al compositor italiano con Granada, de donde era oriundo Federico García Lorca. Los poemas elegidos por Castelnuovo-Tedesco pertenecen a otra obra lorquiana: el Poema del Cante Jondo, de 1921. Un año más tarde, Federico y Manuel de Falla organizarían en Granada el primer Concurso Internacional de Cante Jondo.

El compositor español Carlos Suriñach (1915-1997) también emigró a los EE.UU. A diferencia de Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Suriñach (que cambió su apellido a Surinach) empleó un idioma claramente andaluz en su Via Crucis: Un ciclo de quince saetas (1970) y en su Sonatina (dedicada en 1959 a Andrés Segovia). Ambos compositores—los dos acabarían por adoptar la nacionalidad estadounidense—retrataron la pasión y el fervor de la Semana Santa española en su música. Castelnuovo lo hizo en la pieza central y más sustanciosa de su Romancero Gitano – Procesión, paso, saeta—y Suriñach en su descripción de las Catorce Estaciones de la Pasión de Cristo. Los saeteros siguen hoy día improvisando sus cantos a las vírgenes y cristos de las procesiones andaluzas, entrando casi en un estado de trance. Algo que Suriñach describe, por medio de un minimalismo muy personal, con los repetitivos rasgueados de la guitarra y las pequeñas células melódicas del coro.

Algunas de las Piezas Sacras (1998) de Fernando Moruja (1960-2004) tienen también algo de minimalistas. Todas ellas constituyen un testimonio de una vida dedicada a la música coral, puesto que “Fefe”, como era conocido por todos en su Buenos Aires natal, murió atropellado por un autobús la nochevieja de 2004. La comunidad coral argentina lo ha estado llorando desde entonces. Moruja era un prometedor director y compositor, cuyo entusiasmo contagiaba a todos los que hacían música con él. Con similar entusiasmo coros y oyentes de todo el mundo están convirtiendo algunas de sus obras—especialmente Lux aeterna y O bone Jesu—en verdaderas favoritas.

Marlos Nobre (1939), discípulo de Ginastera, Messiaen, Malipiero, Copland y Dallapiccola, ha dedicado varias piezas a los pueblos nativos de su país, Brasil: Ukrinmakrinkrin Opus 17 (para los Xucuru), Xingú Opus 75 y Yanomami Opus 47 (también escrita Yanomani). Esta última fue un encargo del coro suizo “Choeur des XVI” en 1980 y está dedicada a la memoria de un jefe Yanomami. Durante un viaje a Alemania, Nobre leyó la noticia de la muerte de dicho jefe y la lucha por la supervivencia de los Yanomami, divididos artificialmente por las fronteras de Venezuela y Brasil, en las orillas del río Orinoco.

Escrita para tenor solista, guitarra y coro, esta obra pone en música palabras yanomamis y otras en portugués. Al morir el jefe del poblado, su gente se reúne para llorarlo, haciendo palmas y bailando con el chamán. Después de la ceremonia, vuelven a sus chozas y esperan la llegada del alba. Durante la noche, el espíritu del muerto abandona su cuerpo y alcanza el bosque celestial donde reina el trueno. En medio de la obra musical, un silencio marca ese momento. El jefe renace con una forma diferente de vida. Esta transformación afecta también a la música, que ahora sigue su camino en inversión, tanto rítmica como melódicamente.

Posteriormente se procede a la cremación de sus restos, acompañada de las palabras portuguesas “O cacique é morto” (“El jefe ha muerto”) en un motete escrito con una técnica serial dodecafónica. Pasado un mes, el chamán y los ancianos de la comunidad mezclan sus cenizas con frutas y comida. Para los Yanomami, la muerte la traen siempre los espíritus malignos enviados por sus enemigos para inflingir dolor a su comunidad. Por ello, al duelo le sigue el deseo de venganza: “Mata, mata, mata” gritan todos.

Carlos Fernández Aransay © 2008

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