SONGS, DRONES AND REFRAINS OF DEATH

1968

Baritone and instrumental ensemble (5 musicians)
amplified guitar, amplified piano & electronic harpsichord, amplified double bass and 2 percussionists

DURATION • 29 minutes

EDITOR •  Peters, n° P66463

PREMIERE • March 29, 1969, United States, Iowa, Center of New Music, by Harold Heap: baritone

From 1962 to 1970 a large part of my creative activity was focused on the composition of an extended cycle of vocal works based on the poetry of Federico García Lorca. The cycle includes Night Music I (1963) for soprano, keyboard and percussion, Quatre livres de Madrigaux (1965-1969) for soprano and a variable combination of instruments; Songs, Drones and Refrains of Death (1968) for baritone, amplified guitar, amplified piano and harpsichord, amplified double bass and percussion; Nuit des Quatre Lunes (1969) for viola, banjo, alto flute, amplified cello and percussion, and Ancient Voices of Children (1970) for soprano and seven instrumentalists.

 

Of the eight works in this cycle, Songs, Drones and Refrains of Death is the most advanced from a conceptual point of view, and the most intensely dramatic due to the dark images conveyed by Lorca's poems. Although the first sketches date back to 1962, it was only in 1968 that I felt that my musical ideas had taken on a definitive form. Songs, Drones and Refrains of Death was commissioned by the University of Iowa, the premiere having taken place in the spring of 1969.

 

The main formal elements are announced in the name of the work. They come from four of Lorca's most beautiful black poems: La Guitarra, Casida de las Palomas Oscuras, Canción de Jinete - 1860, and Casida del Herido por el Agua. Each of these poems is preceded by an instrumental "Refrain" (sometimes containing vocal elements emitted by instrumentalists, in most cases purely phonetic sounds) which presents, in various forms, the fateful rhythmic motif heard at the beginning of the work. Finally, three long "Death-Drones" played by the double bass over a quarte interval, dominate the musical texture in the first and last "Songs", as well as in the third "Refrain".

 

García Lorca's poetry, whose expression is tremendously rich and evocative, offers a fascinating support to musical creation. The Guitarra, a clearly fatalistic poem, depicts an atmosphere of desolation, which nevertheless reveals a sense of wonder and profound mystery. The first lines of the poem - "The lament of the guitar begins, the wine glasses of the dawn are broken, the lament of the guitar begins, It is useless to silence it, It is impossible to silence it..." - contain one of the most recurrent images of Lorca's poetry: the guitar, embodying the voice of the primitive darkness of the world and evil (in another poem, Malagueña : "Black horses and sinister people pass through the deep paths of the guitar"). My musical interpretation of this poem includes cadenzas composed in a quasi-flamenco style, which played on electric guitar further amplify its surrealist character.

 

 

 

The Casida de las Palomas Oscuras, with its underlying irony (indicated in the score: "gently sardonic; in a bizarre, fantastic style"), offers a necessary moment of relief from the darkness and intensity of the work. I tried to increase the worrying fantasy of the poem by asking the baritone to sing in various ways ("mock-lyric", "mock-menacing", or "in mock-chant style"). The instrumental parts are laid out in the score in the form of circular notations, which symbolically represent "El Sol" and "La Luna" (The Sun and The Moon).

 

Canción de Jinete, 1860, is a poem of violence and terror. In my first books of Madrigals (Book II), I had only used the verses of "chorus" ("Little black horse. Where are you taking your dead rider? Little cold horse. What a scent of the flower of a knife! "), but through the complete form of the poem, I was able to transmit more faithfully the demonic force of Lorca's imagination. The interpretation of the song is indicated by: "panting, leading the rhythm with determination! ", then the image of the galloping little horse is wildly projected by the hammered rhythms of the lujon, rattlesnakes, drums, baguette instruments, and the electric harpsichord. The song's climax is marked by a thundering passage entitled "Cadenza appassionata for two drummers". The prototype of the genre represented by Canción de Jinete, 1860 is obviously Erlkönig de Schubert.

 

Finally, Casida del Herido por el Agua is Lorca's favourite poem among those I have had the opportunity to set to music in recent years. The dreamlike beginning of this song, with its gentle oscillations between the notes B / G# and the tender lyricism of the baritone melody, is a conscious reminiscence of Mahler. The third and last "Death-Drone", announces the dark and passionate central verse of the poem. The bumblebee takes the form of an immense sustained crescendo; at the point of maximum intensity ("What a fury of love, what a hurtful edge, what nocturnal murmurs, what a white death!") the crying voice of a flexatone overhangs the whole; the bumblebee seems to "explode", and as the intensity gradually fades the music releases an aura of transfiguration. The first sounds of the work are heard again, this time punctuated by the deep notes of the drone of the piano and double bass. Two sentences, gently floating among the last harmonies, are played on tuned crystal glasses and conclude the work.

 

Lorca's vision of her haunting and even mystical death is the original force of her tenebrous genius. In composing Songs, Drones and Refrains of Death, I wanted to find a musical language that would highlight this magnificent poetry.

Original Poems

LA GUITARRA

 

 

 

de la madrugada.
Empieza el llanto
de la guitarra.
Es inútil callarla.
Es impossible
callarla.
Llora monótona,
como llora el agua,
como llora el viento
sobre la nevada.
Es imposible
callarla.
Llora por cosas
lejanas.
Arena del Sur caliente
que pide camelias blancas.
Llora flecha sin blanco,
la tarde sin mañana,
y el primer pájaro muerto
sobre la rama.
¡Oh, guitarra!
Corazón malherido
por cinco espadas.

 

 

CASIDA DE LAS PALOMAS OSCURAS

 

Por la ramas del laurel
vi dos palomas oscuras.
La luna era el sol,
la otra luna.
Vecinitas, les dije :
¿dónde está mi sepultura?
En mi cola, dijo el sol,
en mi garganta, dijo la luna.
Y yo que estaba caminando
con la tierra a la cintura
vi dos águilas de mármol
y una muchacha desnuda.
La una era la otra
y la muchacha era ninguna.
Aguilitas, les dije :
¿dónde está mi sepultura?
En mi cola, dijo el sol,
En mi garganta, dijo la luna.
Por la ramas del laurel
vi dos palomas desnudas.
La una era la otra
y las dos eran ninguna.

 

 

CANCIÓN DE JINETE, 1860

 

En la luna negra
de los bandoleros,
cantan las espuelas.
Caballito negro.
¿Dónde llevas tu jinete muerto?
...Las duras espuelas
del bandido inmóbil
que perdió las riendas.
Caballito frío.
¡Qué perfume de flor de cuchillo!
En la luna negra,
sangraba el costado
de Sierra Morena.
Caballito negro.
¿Dónde llevas tu jinete muerto?
La noche espolea
sus negros ijares
clavándose estrellas.
Caballito frío.
¡Qué perfume de flor de cuchillo!
En la luna negra,
¡un grito! y el cuerno
largo de la hoguera.
Caballito negro.
¿Dónde llevas tu jinete muerto?

CASIDA DEL HERIDO POR EL AGUA

Quiero bajar al pozo
quiero subir los muros de Granada
para mirar el corazón pasado
por el punzón oscuro de las aguas.

El niño herido gemía
con una corona de escarcha.
Estanques, aljibes y fuentes
levantaban al aire sus espadas.
¡Ay qué furia de amor! ¡qué hiriente filo!
¡qué nocturno rumor! ¡qué muerte blanca!,
¡qué desiertos de luz iban hundiendo
los arenales de la madrugada!
El niño estaba solo
con la ciudad dormida en la garganta.
Un surtidor que viene de los sueños
lo defiende del hambre de las algas.
El niño y su agonía, frente a frente
eran dos verdes lluvias enlazadas.
El niño se tendía por la tierra
y su agonía se curvaba.

Quiero bajar al pozo
quiero morir mi muerte a bocanadas
quiero llenar mi corazón de musgo
para ver al herido por el agua.

Translation

THE GUITAR

The weeping of the guitar
begins.
The goblets of dawn
are smashed.
The weeping of the guitar
begins.
Useless to silence it.
Impossible to silence it.

It weeps monotonously
as water weeps,
as the wind weeps
over snowfields.
Impossible to silence it.
It weeps for distant things.

Hot southern sands
yearning for white camellias.
Weeps arrow without target
evening without morning,
and the first dead bird
on the branch.

Oh, guitar!
Heart mortally wounded
by five swords.

CASIDA OF THE DARK DOVES

By the laurel branches
there go two dark doves.
One was the sun,
the other the moon.
"Little neighbour," I told them.
"where is my grave?"
"At my tail," said the sun.
"In my throat," said the moon.
And I, who was walking
with earth at my waist
saw two eagles made of marble
and a naked young woman.
By the laurel branches
there go two dark doves.
One was the other
and the young woman was neither.
"Little eagles," I told them.
"where is my grave?"
"At my tail," said the sun.
"In my throat," said the moon
At the branch of the cherry tree
I saw two naked doves.
One was the other
and both were none.
By the laurel branch
there go two dark doves.

SONG OF THE HORSEMAN, 1860

In the black moon
Home to the horseback bandits
Spurs ring a song:

"Woah black pony!
Whither with your dead rider are you going?"

These are the strong
Spurs of a stirless bandit
Whose reins are down:

"Woah cold pony
What a fragrance in the dagger's flower"

In the black moon
The side of Sierra Morena1
Bled from a wound.

"Woah black pony!
Whither with your dead rider are you going?"

The night spurs
Its black flanks, spangling
Itself with stars:

"Woah cold pony!
What a fragrance in the dagger's flower"

In the black moon
A cry! And then the long
Deep bonfire horn.

"Woah black pony!
Whither with your dead rider are you going?"

CASIDA THE CHILD WOUNDED BY WATER

I want to go down to the well,
I want to climb onto Granada's walls
to gaze at the heart impaled
on water's hidden spike.

The wounded child was groaning
under a crown of frost.
Pools, cisterns and fountains
were lifting swords into the air.
Oh, what rage of love, what slashing blades,
what dark murmuring, what white death!
And the deserts of light, how they buried
the sands of dawn!
The child was alone
with the city asleep in his throat.
Water spouting out of dreams
saves him from the ravenous algae.
The child and his agony, face to face,
enlaced like two green rains.
The child lay on the ground
curled up in his agony.

I want to go down to the well,
I want to die gulping down my death,
I want to fill my heart with moss
to see the child wounded by water.

 

© Paul Archer