About this Recording
8.557343 - BALADA: No-res / Ebony Fantasies
English  Spanish 

Leonardo Balada (b. 1933)
No-res • Ebony Fantasies

My enthusiasm for choral music began in my youth just outside Barcelona in a lovely little town, Sant Just Desvern, and ever since it has only intensified. I was a member with my friends, a group of idealistic individuals, of an amateur chorus, the Orfeó Enric Morera, where classical music and folk-inspired Catalan compositions were sung. Belonging to that choral group was also for us a defiant expression against the repressive regime of the dictator Francisco Franco, who had prohibited any free press or liberal expression. Franco, a shrewd politician, did not forbid the existence of those musical organizations which were harmless to his regime and worked as a release valve to minimise political 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 my compositional craft, composing choral works like cantatas became my favoured medium of expression. Maria Sabina (1969), a work for narrator, chorus and orchestra, was the first of them, which was the result of a collaboration with the Spanish writer Camilo José Cela, who was to win the Nobel Prize for literature years later. The dramatic text of Maria Sabina, a Mexican- Indian priestess who was condemned to death, inflamed my musical imagination. This work corresponds to my avant-garde period of the 1960s, abstract but expressive. This was followed by Las Moradas (1970), a cantata with text from St Teresa of Avila, and No-res (1974), belonging to the same stylistic period and all dealing with controversial subjects. Two more choral works followed, Torquemada (1980), based on the Spanish Inquisitor, and Ebony Fantasies (2003). The latter distinguishes itself in its uses of folk elements – in this case Negro-Spirituals – as opposed to the abstract content of the other cantatas. This use of ethnic-folk ideas in my music started with the orchestral works Sinfonia en Negro-Homage to Martin Luther King (1968) and especially with Homage to Casals and Sarasate (1975). The music that followed generally blends the ethnic with the avant-garde. My youthful experiences with the modest Orfeó Enric Morera, however, did not end with the composition of cantatas. In all my operas, Zapata, Christopher Columbus, Death of Columbus, and Faust-bal, choral participation is of the utmost importance.

No-res (Nothing) a symphonic tragedy for narrator, chorus, orchestra and tape, was written in 1974. When the death of a beloved one occurs, for those of us who do not believe in life after death there are two reactions: accept it or protest against it. The second option was my reaction after the death of my mother, to whom the work is dedicated. No-res is the result of this protest in which I try to find answers to questions which philosophically have no answers.

The French writer Jean Paris wrote the text, after conversations in which we agreed on the subject and the creative direction of the work (he had also lost his mother at that time and felt similarly about the subject.)

No-res consists of two parts. The first describes death, in the voice of the narrator, and the reaction of the chorus. Death occurs not only to men, but also to animals, vegetables, to things and to actions. Owing to the universality of death, the poet makes use of an extended number of languages. The text contains general quotations of poets from all over the globe... “I shall not go gently into this good night!”...”How many worlds since I fell from the heights of man’s first morning?”. Also, in brief moments, the poet uses languages of his own invention. The music takes place in this description of death not only through its tragic character, but also through its metaphysical vision. It transcends its purely musical qualities into sounds or noises from the real world. At the beginning the prerecorded howling of the wolf is picked up by the chorus in imitation with dramatic expansion through aleatoric devices. Aleatoric moments alternate with traditional writing; atonal massive sonorities and tone-clusters are followed occasionally by some lyrical lines; layered horizontal structures are contrasted by heavy vertical pulses, all in its depiction of hopeless fatality. The orchestra and the tape have an “ending” quality. There are extra-musical elements like broken glass, long rebounding, cracking trees, which together with other purely musical effects contribute to the feeling of an end. In one of these instances, the tape recreates the noises of animals in their more pure form. Its absurdity reflects the absurdity of the ending of our existence. In this first section and in Catalan, I added to the text some of the sentences pronounced by my mother shortly before her death, in which I believe, are some of the more emotive fragments of the score. At the end of the first part everybody on stage freezes, as if in a gigantic sculpture. It is the end of everything.

The second part is in English and is a total creation of the poet, with the narration to be translated every time into the language of the place where the work is performed. Here the general character changes radically, although the same technical devices as in the first part are used. Its character, however, is defiant, almost militant against the taboos that try to hide the immutable truth. It is like a tantrum of protest in which the existence or fairness of God is questioned. “I will not yield. Non serviam! Never...Never!”. The music has no extra-musical elements in this part. It is abstract, direct and dramatic.

Completed in 1974, the work was revised later, and belongs to my avant-garde period. The world première was given in 1997 by the Orquestra Simfónica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya with the National Chorus of Spain in Barcelona conducted by Lawrence Foster. No-res won the International Composition Prize, City of Barcelona. It is dedicated to my mother’s memory.

The cantata Ebony Fantasies is in four movements and is freely taken from four negro spirituals. The composition is not a simple exercise of harmonizing popular melodies, but is a creative effort on its own. It is modern and different from what one may expect when dealing with Afro-American materials. Although the melodies are present, they are not so in an obvious and direct manner. Sometimes the music is conceived texturally or with aleatoric devices instead of lyrically. The harmonies can have a percussive approach rather than being supportive of the melodies. These harmonies can 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’ve seen, is brilliant with a mechanistic character and uses irregular rhythms and layers of sounds texturally. The second, I got a crown, has the melody only in the orchestra, while the chorus performs short notes in abstract vertical lines. Were you there? is like a far murmur, almost a silent dialogue between the chorus and the strings, and War no mo’, in contrast, is rhythmic and brilliant.

Leonardo Balada
English translation: Susannah Howe


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