About this Recording
8.570533 - Choral Music - CASALS, P. / GRANADOS, E. / MORERA, E. / OLTRA, M. (Song of the Stars - A Celebration of Catalan Music) (Voices of Ascension, Keene)
English 

Pau Casals (1876–1973)
Song of the Stars

 

Enric (Enrique) Granados was born on 27 July 1867 in Lleida, near Barcelona. After his family moved to Barcelona, Granados began piano study there in 1879 and soon after he continued with Joan Baptista Pujol. In 1883 he won a competition performing Schumann’s Sonata, Op. 22. One of the jury members was the noted composer Felip Pedrell, who began giving Granados classes in harmony and composition the following year. In 1887 Granados went to Paris, where he studied piano with Charles de Bériot. After returning to Barcelona in 1889, he published his Danzas españolas, which brought him international recognition. In addition to his approximately 250 piano works he composed some of the finest vocal music ever written with Spanish and Catalan texts, as well as chamber music, six operas, and important orchestra works. Both a pianist and conductor, during his career Granados performed concerts in Spain, France and New York, collaborating with violinists Eugène Ysaÿe and Jacques Thibaud, pianists Mieczysław Horszowski and Camille Saint-Saëns and conductors such as Isaac Albéniz and Pau Casals. Granados was also a fine teacher. In 1901 he founded the Academia Granados, which continues today as the Academia Granados-Marshall.

In 1912 Granados met American pianist Ernest Schelling, who was the first pianist to perform Granados’s music outside Spain. Schelling arranged for Granados’s works to be published by G. Schirmer in New York and encouraged him in his plans to convert his piano suite Goyescas into an opera, later arranging for its première at the Metropolitan Opera. Terrified of the ocean, Granados nevertheless sailed to New York for the première of the opera on 28 January 1916. While in the United States he performed numerous concerts, made piano-roll recordings, and also performed at the White House. Granados and his wife set sail back to Europe via Liverpool but while crossing the English Channel on the British ship Sussex, their boat was torpedoed by a German submarine and they both perished.

Granados is universally recognized as one of Spain’s and his native Catalunya’s most important composers. His music is multi-faceted, although it is essentially Romantic with some Nationalist characteristics. He has been variously described as “the Spanish Chopin”, “the last Romantic”, and by his compatriots as “our Schubert”. No single characterization adequately describes his personality since Granados had a distinctive voice that is instantly recognizable and entirely his own. He was primarily influenced by mid-nineteenth-century European Romanticism, especially the music of Schumann and Chopin and by Wagner. The introverted luxuriance of his luminous harmonies, his rich palette of pianistic color, loose formal structures and his vivid imagination, always tinged with nostalgia, place him firmly within the Romantic School.

On the night of 11 March 1911 one of the most significant concerts in the history of Spanish music took place at Barcelona’s Palau de la Música Catalana. The program was devoted entirely to the music of Granados, all performed by the composer himself. The program included the world premières of his piano suite Goyescas (8.554403), of Azulejos (8.555325), and of Cant de les estrelles, scored for piano solo, organ and choruses, and performed with the Orfeó Català.

Critics were unanimous in their praise and singled out Cant de les estrelles, conceived specifically for performance in the Palau de la Música Catalana. There were two choruses on the stage, and a women’s chorus was placed above the auditorium near the cupola, giving an antiphonal effect.

Cant de les estrelles is a masterpiece, one of Granados’s finest compositions. It was composed in the Romantic-Modernista style, with post-Wagnerian harmonies and no traces of Spanish Nationalism. Comparable to a virtuoso piano concerto with chorus and organ rather than an orchestra, Cant de les estrelles was composed by Granados as a vehicle for himself although he dedicated it to the pianist Mieczysław Horszowski.

Cant de les estrelles is subtitled “Poem for piano, organ and voices inspired by a poem by Heine”, referring to the German poet Heinrich Heine. The non-attributed Catalan text set by Granados is not a translation of any specific poem by Heine. Rather, the text is a kind of response to Heine’s poems which deal with love and the stars, but, in this case, written from the point of view of the stars themselves. Granados did not know German and thus must have read Heine’s poetry in translation, perhaps in the Catalan translation by his colleague Apeles Mestres.

Theoretically at least, Apeles Mestres might be the author of the text. However, Granados always attributed to their authors the texts he used in his compositions, and, in addition, the text does not resonate with the style of other works by Apeles Mestres. Walter A. Clark comments that “the preoccupation with death expressed in the final strophe is eerily portentous of the fate soon to visit the other possible author of these lines: Granados himself.”

In spite of its success Granados did not publish the score of Cant de les estrelles and neither he nor any other pianist had occasion to perform it again until now. Following Granados’s death the various manuscripts of Cant de les estrelles remained in the family archive until 1938 when his son Víctor brought the manuscripts of that piece and several others to New York, where he signed a contract for their publication with Nathanial Shilkret. Víctor, however, was not the sole heir to his father’s music and not authorized to enter into any contractual agreements without the consent of other members of the Granados family. Communication between New York and Barcelona was difficult at best during World War II and the matter could not be resolved.

The Granados manuscripts remained in the Shilkret archive for decades, and after a fire in 1964, all the manuscripts were feared lost. Through the years the Granados family, with the assistance of José Iturbi and Alicia de Larrocha, made numerous attempts to recover the manuscripts but without result. In 1982 Granados’s daughter Natalia appointed Douglas Riva as the family representative in this matter. Years of contacts between the parties failed to yield any result. Thanks, however, to the efforts of Shilkret’s grandson, Niel Shell, an agreement was reached and the manuscripts were finally brought to light. Now, almost a hundred years after its first and only previous performance, the glorious music of Granados will finally reach the public.

Granados composed his setting of the Salve Regina as an entry for a competition in 1896. The prize was not awarded since the jury decided that none of the entries followed the guidelines of the Holy See. Granados dedicated Escena religiosa “to the memory of beloved Doña Cecilia”, wife of his patron, Eduardo Conde. The work was probably composed for her funeral. The manuscript contains a text placed above the score: Angel: Come, my soul, God calls you to reward your martyrdom. Soul: I will live with God and pray for my family. Romanza is an overlooked gem of the chamber music repertoire, highly emotional and poetic.

Pau (Pablo) Casals was born in 1876 in El Vendrell, south of Barcelona, and died in 1973 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, exiled from Spain. Celebrated throughout the world as a cellist, conductor and as an advocate for the freedom of Catalonia, Casals was also the composer of a small body of very beautiful music.

The choral works of Casals included here were composed for the male choir of the Monastery of Montserrat, the centre of Catalan Catholic faith. Each piece expresses deep spiritual feelings in a simple, genuine and personal manner. Rosarium Beatae Virginis Mariae, a series of short movements, each with a different colour and mood, some evoking medieval or renaissance styles, was written to be sung during the services at Montserrat. In Recordare, Virgo Mater the melody is sung by the women in unison, while the men provide the harmonic accompaniment. Nigra sum is one of Casals’s most popular compositions, with floating treble vocal lines perfectly depicting the Biblical text.

The music of Manuel Blancafort is characterized by its clarity, simplicity, and purity of expression. Blancafort was a founder of the Grupo Nueva Música and also a celebrated choral conductor. Enric Morera, one of the most important Catalan Nationalist composers, produced some 800 works, notably operas, symphonic and other instrumental compositions. Founder of the chorus Catalunya Nova, Morera is perhaps best known today for his choral arrangements of Catalan folk-songs. Morera’s El Rossinyol and Blancafort’s Cant d’amor are both evocative of their traditional Catalan texts. In the tender and mystical Ave Maria Morera sets the soprano solo against a luminous background of women’s voices.

Manuel Oltra, one of Catalonia’s most distinguished living composers, is Professor of Composition at the Conservatori Superior de Música, Barcelona. His highly varied compositions include symphonic works, chamber music, and especially choral music. In 1994 the Generalitat de Catalunya awarded him the Premi Nacional de Música. Composed in 1964–65, his Eco and Preludio are brilliantly written for chorus, and also recreate the vivid atmosphere of Federico Garcia Lorca’s poems from Three Songs of Love.


Douglas Riva

 

Special Thanks: To the members and staff of Church of the Ascension, Fifth Avenue at Tenth Street, New York City, the Rev. Andrew W. Foster III, Rector, Niel Shell, Walter Clark, F. William Chickering, Yolanda Guasch, and Lila Deis.


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