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Manuel de Falla (1876-1946):  Siete canciones populares españolas (Seven Popular Spanish Songs) (1914)

Despite the undeniable “Spanishness” of most of de Falla’s music, this cycle of seven songs is one of the few to directly use pre-existing Spanish melodies. Written in Paris, toward the end of his seven-year stay, the songs have remained so popular as to have overshadowed most of his other vocal works. Their premiere occurred shortly after that of his opera La Vida breve. At the eve of a World War there is a certain naive quality to be found in these songs, a nostalgia for the folk-music of his homeland. An intense period of work produced a series of quasi-nationalist masterpieces. Incredibly the end of 1915 saw the first performances of both El amor brujo (a dance-work or “gitanería” in one act) and the tone poem (and piano concerto in all but name) Noches en los jardines de España.

Spanish Text Free translations by Albert Combrink
El Paño Moruno
Al paño fino, en la tienda,
una mancha le cayó;
Por menos precio se vende,
Porque perdió su valor.
¡Ay!(Gregorio Martinez 1881-1947)
The Moorish Cloth
On the fine cloth in the store
a stain has fallen; 
It sells at a lesser price, 
because it has lost its value. 
Seguidilla Murciana
Cualquiera que el tejado 
Tenga de vidrio, 
No debe tirar piedras 
Al del vecino. 
Arrieros semos; 
¡Puede que en el camino 
Nos encontremos! 
Por tu mucha inconstancia 
Yo te comparo 
Con peseta que corre 
De mano en mano; 
Que al fin se borra, 
Y créyendola falsa 
¡Nadie la toma!
Seguidilla Murciana
Who has a roof of glass 
should not throw stones 
to their neighbor's (roof). 
Let us be muleteers; 
It could be that on the road 
we will meet!
For your great inconstancy, 
I compare you 
to a [coin]
that runs 
from hand to hand; 
which finally blurs, and,
believing it false, 
no one accepts!
Por ver si me consolaba,
Arrime a un pino verde,
Por ver si me consolaba. 
Por verme llorar, lloraba.
Y el pino como era verde,
Por verme llorar, lloraba.
To see whether
it would console me, 
I drew near a green pine, 
To see whether
it would console me.  
Seeing me weep, it wept; 
And the pine, being green, 
seeing me weep, wept.
Dicen que no nos queremos
Porque no nos ven hablar;
A tu corazón y al mio
Se lo pueden preguntar. 
Ya me despido de tí,
De tu casa y tu ventana,
Y aunque no quiera tu madre,
Adiós, niña, hasta mañana.
Aunque no quiera tu madre...
They say we don't love each other
because they never see us talking
But they only have to ask
both your heart and mine. 
Now I bid you farewell
your house and your window too
and even ... your mother
Farewell, my sweetheart
until tomorrow.
Duérmete, niño, duerme, 
Duerme, mi alma, 
Duérmete, lucerito 
De la mañana. 
Naninta, nana, 
Naninta, nana. 
Duérmete, lucerito 
De la mañana.
Go to sleep, Child, sleep, 
Sleep, my soul, 
Go to sleep,
little star Of the morning. 
Sleep, little star of the morning.
Por traidores, tus ojos,
voy a enterrarlos;
No sabes lo que cuesta,
»Del aire«
Niña, el mirarlos.
»Madre a la orilla
Dicen que no me quieres,
Y a me has querido...
Váyase lo ganado,
»Del aire«
Por lo perdido,
»Madre a la orilla
Because your eyes are traitors
I will hide from them
You don't know how painful
it is to look at them.
"Mother I feel worthless,Mother"
They say they  don't love me
and yet once
they did love me
"Love has been lostin the air
Mother all is lost
It is lost Mother"
¡Ay! Guardo una, ¡Ay! 
Guardo una, ¡Ay! 
¡Guardo una pena en mi pecho, 
¡Guardo una pena en mi pecho, ¡Ay! 
Que a nadie se la diré!  
Malhaya el amor, malhaya, 
Malhaya el amor, malhaya, 
¡Y quien me lo dió a entender! 
Ay! I keep a... (Ay!) 
I keep a... (Ay!) 
I keep a sorrow in my breast, 
I keep a sorrow in my breast (Ay!)
that to no one will I tell.  
Wretched be love, wretched, 
Wretched be love, wretched, 
And he who gave me to understand it! 

(“Ay” can be translated as “alas” or as a cry of pain. In the context of this fiery song, “alas” is too mild an exclamation. Melismatic “Ay”s are a feature in Spanish gypsy-influenced cante hondo.)

Musical Considerations

In the music of De Falla, the world of Flamenco is never far from the surface. His accompaniments are inspired by guitar-figuration and his melodic material full of the flattened intervals and embellishments of the Flamenco style. A performance trend that has yielded interesting fruits has been to apply Flamenco performance tradition on what has essentially been regarded as a mainstream classical tradition.

Picasso: "The Old Guitar Player" 1903

Picasso: "The Old Guitar Player" 1903

Jason O'Donnell: "Picasso's Old Guitar Player" 2003

Jason O'Donnell: "Picasso's Old Guitar Player" 2003

1. Vocal Style:

Operatic Mezzo-Soprano Jennifer Larmore sings a very idiomatic and passionate rendition of “Cancion del amor dolido” from the Theatre/Dance work (often referred to as his “ballet” “El amor Brujo”. Listen to Jennifer Larmore HERE. Another astonishing recording in the classical vein is that by Leontyne Price, excerpts of which can be heard HERE. Her voice is clearly a soprano, yet her strong lower register and the “chest” sounds so useful in her portrayals of Verdi heroines, is here put to dramatic use. Yet, it is still broadly operatic in conception.

Compare that classical style of performance with that of Ginesa Ortega, a Flamenco Singer. Or the cantaora in this clip with Pierre Boulez. I have not found any recordings of the Siete canciones in the Flamenco style, but it is clear that the melodies use Flamenco inflections. Lullabies with tranquil melodic lines share the stage with more fiery outbursts. In particular, the dark fury of the 7th song Polo reflects the Spanish “Duende” or “gravitas” in its melismatic writing. De Falla was clear that the melismas were not to be executed as coloratura in Italian opera, but rather as “extensive vocal inflections”  based on the flamenco style. (Martha Elliott: “Singing in Style: a giude to vocal performance practices” p.269)

2. Influences on the accompaniments:

– De Falla and Riccardo Vines

While not achieving the fame as performer of his fellow Spaniards Granados or Riccardo Vines, De Falla nonetheless had an excellent reputation as a performer. In Paris he performed in the salons alongside the likes of Debussy. Vines in particular premierred many of his piano works and encouraged him to stretch his creative palet beyond his own abilities. The piano parts of the Siete canciones are virtuosic and remarkably pianistic,

–  De Falla and Garcia Lorca

De Falla was an excellent pianist and performed as soloist and acompanist. It appears that he played a bit of guitar as well. In the 1920’s he worked with playwright Frederico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936), acting as a mentor and guide to the writer’s musical aspirations. By all accounts he became quite an expert pianist and guitar player under de Falla’s guidance. They perhaps did not overtly “colloaborate” on projects, but it is clear that works such as Lorca’s Canciones Españolas Antiguas were not only fashioned along the model of De Falla’s Siete canciones, but that in fact De Falla was the overseer of the process which led to their completion. Lorca was firstly a pianist and appeared to have made arrangements for guitar later such as the 12 Canciones. Lorca and de Falla shared a deep love for Flamenco and in 1922 organised a festival of Flamenco’s “Dark and Deep Song”, the Cante Jondo at the Alhambra in Granada. Their musical relationship is explored on this Compact Disc Recording.

–  De Falla and Andres Segovia

Siete cancioneswas composed for piano, but has been orchestrated and arranged for guitar accompaniment. Segovia brought the virtuosic abilities of the solo guitar to the attention of many composers of the day and comissioned many new works. Falla wrote a large number of guitar works for Segovia, and it appears that they collaborated on transcriptions. It is not clear if the Segovia transcription of the Siete cancioneswas done in collaboration with De Falla. What is clear however was that the guitar version was done much later. Guitar-like figurations abound in the piano part. Repeated tremolo-figures reminiscent of repeated plucking of the same string abound in the writing. Strummed chords are recreated in “apreggiated” figures. Repeated pedal notes reflect an imagined guitar.

A comparison of recorded versions of the different accompaniments

Here follows some links to Youtube of various recordings of this cycle all featuring famous Spanish Mezzo-Soprano Theresa Berganza.

With original Piano version by De Falla With Orchestral arrangement made by Luciano Berio With Guitar – version by Segovia
Full Cycle with Gerald Moore
Part 1
Part 2
5. Nana only
Full Concert part 1
Full Concert part 2
Full Concert part 3
1. El Paño Moruno
2. Seguidilla Murciana
3. Asturiana
4. Jota
5. Nana
6. Canción

7. Polo
Theresa Berganza – Mezzo-Soprano
Gerald Moore Piano
London 1960
Theresa Berganza  – Mezzo-Soprano
Paris 1987
Theresa Berganza  – Mezzo-Soprano
Gabriel Estarellas – Guitar
Edinburgh 1987

The following link is to Amazon.com, featuring a disc by South African Soprano Andrea Catzel, giving a beautiful and idiomatic performance of this cycle with Thomas Rajna on the piano. The site has MP3 samples of the music. Andrea Catzel sings Falla et al.

A free copy of the Sheet Music in the original key can be downloaded HERE. A transposition of the entire set up a whole tone, was published by Boosey & Hawkes.

Cape Town Soprano Filipa van Eck and myself will be performing songs from the cycle Siete canciones populares españolas in various upcoming recitals such as this one:

Lindbergh Arts Foundation – 18 Beach Road, Muizenberg

Thursday 17 September 2009

10.30 am

R50 including Tea and Refreshments

Bookings: 021 788 2795

screenshot lindberg copy

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There are many different arrangements of the Bachianas Braisleiras in print and in recorded media. I here offer a few versions in different styles, genres and voice-types.

Bidu Sayão -The first soprano to record Villa-Lobos’s large-scale “Symphony Cantata” “Amazon”. Performed in the presence of the composer, her performances are regarded as authentic as one can claim. We also have her to thank for the very existence of the vocal version of the work. Villa-Lobos originally conceived the melodic line for a violin, and it was Mz. Sayão who suggested the Vocalise concept. She did not however sing the World Premiere. The lyricist of the Aria (Cantilena) Ruth Valadares Corrêa gave the first performance in 1938.

Barbara Hendricks – A modern recording of a beautiful soprano rendition with the original orchestration.

Galina Vishnevskaya (Original Orchestration with Mstislav Rostropovich playing the solo cello) – It might seem alarming that the dedicatee Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” and performer of Russian works such as Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District” would tackle this work, and yet it is deeply moving in its own right. The famous “Slavic Wobble” is absent, and the white vibrato-less sound for which her Tosca and Aida were criticised, seems to suit the ethereal cantilena. Russian poet Anna Akhmatova wrote “Listening to the singing” in 1961 after hearing this performance. Villa-Lobos himself played the cello, and it says something of the power of this piece that a great solo cellist such as Rostropovich would join a “cello-choir”.

Camile van Hulsen Organ transcription – A version which exploits the sustaining qualities of the organ.

SEBA – I think this version performed by a Crossover Jazz Ensemble would be more interesting if the performance was not so compromised.

Trio Arrangement for Soprano, Piano and Cello which attempts to combine the prominent elements of the Piano Arrangement with the textured movement of the cello part, reduced to one lone cello. There are successful elements at work here, but it is almost impossible to remain consistent throughout the work as the staccato passages are passed between the instruments.

Eva Marton and the New York Harp Ensemble – Mz Marton’s unsuitability to the vocal line apart, I felt the harps either too resonantly recorded or just not dry enough to capture the guitar-like texture. A useful experiment and a surprising failure.

Elena Garancia (Reorchestrated) – A Mezzo-soprano singing the soprano line magnificently. Yet while she sings in the traditional “operatic” voice, the accompaniment has been fleshed out. Perhaps as there is a certain discomfort in the original version, given that we are not used to listening to an orchestra made up of only baritonal cellos? A lovely version, but it definitely can not be called “authentic”. Is that a problem? Let the listener decide.

Victoria de los Angeles – The doyenne of Spanish singers is for many the ideal interpreter of this work. I personally find the cellist’s overindulgent rubatos too much to handle.

Machaca Ensemble (re-orchestrated with percussion) – An interesting orchestration including Xylopohone. An experiment that perhaps is not yet complete. The use of percussion can be further explored.

Martin Ostertag and Boris Björn Bagger both teach at the University of Music Karlsruhe and made an interesting version for Guitar and Cello only with the Cello replacing the voice. A lovely arrangement perhaps, but a rather dry-eyed performance. Sheetmusic available at http://www.edition49.de

An audio clip is available on Amazon by Miles Davis protégé Wayne Shorter – as authentic and heartfelt a response to this work as one can hope to hear. Reinvented, original and beautiful.

Reinvented but much more baffling is a version by Jorge Aragao, a Samba artist who started performing in the 1970s. The carnival feel seems very far removed from the heartfelt cantilena of the “moon rising over the infinite beauty of transparent clouds”

John Williams & Nana Mouskouri – This rather baffling rendition has divided opinion for almost 40 years. Nana Mouskouri had an instantly recognisable voice ideally suited for folk music, aunique personal style which she applied to everything that she sang. She transposes the high notes down, making it a very strange listening experience. Yet it was hugely popular in its time and broadcast on BBC4.

Joan Baez – A folk singer with a voice similar to Nana Mouskouri, but a vastly more successful performance in its original orchestration. Even when it was first recorded, critics had little idea what to make of this version. It was not classical, it was not folk. And it deffinitely was not bad. No it is not “classical”. Some might say, “Thank God”.

Frida Boccara turns in a surprisingly successful version where the voice does not take centre-stage but rather melds with the cellos, at some points indistinct enough that it almost becomes one of the instruments of the orchestra.

Lance Bryant’s version is for SAXOPHONE and String Quartet – Perhaps with a world-class saxophonist this version has potential.

Bachianas goes Café del Mar: The Operatica rethink has left me undecided. New art or travesty?

And just when you think you have heard it all – I am afraid to comment on this choral version. Perhaps a successful choral version such as the “translation” of Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” into a choral “Agnus Dei” still waits to happen for this work.

I include a version for Jazz Vibraphone and Harpsichord mainly for the dubious sake of completianism.

I leave the worst for last. Undoubtedly an amateur, Hayley Westenra here reveals all the virtues  and mysteries of her non-art. Breathing in the middle of phrases is the least of her flaws. An attempt at pretty singing simply falls flat. It is as meaningless a performance as one could have the misfortune to encounter. ANd Mz Westenra commits the ultimate Bachianas Crime: to bore the listener.

Useful links

A  list of recordings of works by Villa-Lobos currently in the catalogue

A list of scores and some archive recordings

Text and translation

Some published arrangements

The Aria (Cantilena) has also been arranged for:

Voice and Guitar as performed by Andrés Segovia

Voice and piano by Burle Marx

Concert Band by W. Herbert

Organ solo by Camil Van Hulse

Flute and Piano by James Galway

Viola and piano by William Primrose

Clarinet Choir by John Krance

Alto sax solo and sax quartet accompaniment by Frank Bongiorno

Solo Soprano Sax (C Instrument), 2 Alto Sax, Tenor Sax, Bass Sax all published by AMP (Hal Leonard)