About this Recording
8.223719 - CASTILLO: Paal Kaba / Quiche Achi

Ricardo Castillo (1894 - 1966)

Ricardo Castillo was born in Quetzaltenango on 1st October, 1891 and died in Guatemala City on 25th May, 1966. His childhood interest in music persuaded his mother, fulfilling one of his father’s great wishes, to send him to Paris to study the subject.

From 1906 to 1922 he lived in Europe, studying violin with A. Lefort and harmony with Paul Vidal. Gradually, he focused on composition, abandoning his violin studies. During his stay in Paris he composed his first piano works, published in that city and in 1918 married Georgette Contoux Quanté, a French pianist who had obtained the Prize for Excellence as a pupil of Alfred Cortot at the Conservatoire. They moved to Guatemala in 1922 and a few years later Castillo was appointed harmony, composition and music history professor at the National Conservatory of Music. In 1948, using three different pseudonyms, Castillo won the three prizes at the Science, Literature and Arts National Contest in Guatemala and in 1951 the same prize in that contest with his Eight Piano Preludes.

Castillo never showed special interest in opera, the Lied or choral music and for this reason his personality reflects the autochthonous musical culture of Guatemala rather than the use of limited melodic contours or rhythmical formulae of folklore music. Musical culture in the pre-Columbian civilization in this region was merely instrumental; expression through the human voice was not as appreciated or developed as in other civilizations.

The orchestral work of Castillo is symphonic (Sinfonieta, Xibalbá) or dramatic (ballets La Doncella Ixquic and Paál Kabá). His piano works are mainly descriptive (Escenas Infantiles, El Agua que Corre, Guatemala: impressiones, Poema Pastoral, San Andrés Xecul. The series of Nocturnes, Preludes and the Seven Piano Pieces contains his only abstract musical compositions.

Ricardo Castillo was largely a composer of short pieces, and the attraction of his music derives from a certain quality and freshness of ideas, as well as his candour, bordering on ingenuousness.

Paál Kabá
The music for the Paál Kabá ballet is Ricardo Castillo’s most complete and elaborate work. Its composition took so long that it makes one reflect on the fact that Paál Kabá took up a long period of the composer’s creative activity, owing to the fact that we can foretell this ballet elaboration from his works in 1940.

Paál Kabá’s subject is based on a Mayan legend which tells of the sacrifice of a young maiden in honour of the young God of Corn so that there would be many fruitful crops.

After being painted blue, Paál Kabá is sacrified before the villagers in Tikal’s Central Temple after the priest has performed an exorcism in order to dispel the evil spirits. The Paál Kabá’s sacrifice is followed by the ceremony where several ritual dances are performed, and it is during the culminating moment of the War Dance that the God of Corn, unexpectedly, falls and is destroyed. This is a terrible omen which terrifies the villagers who then flee and abandon the city.

For the composer, Paál Kabá’s subject probably represented the premonition of the Spanish conquest which was to come. Like many other famous scores destined for the theatre, Paál Kabá is also a symphonic narrative which does not need choreography and can be performed in concert. Paál Kabá was completed in 1956.

La Doncella Ixquic
La Doncella Ixquic, a symphonic poem of 1944, is one of Castillo’s outstanding works. Apparently he had two huge projects which were only partially carried out. The first one, to write a series of cycles for different instrumental combinations entitled Guatemala, and the second, a series of works illustrating passages or situations described in the Popol Vuh, the cosmological book of the Maya-Quiché people.

La Doncella Ixquic and Xibalbá are the result of this second project. These two works can have the same brief introduction “Once upon a time…” thus creating an environment of legend, of myth. The stories of Xibalbá and the Doncella Ixquic are intimately related. Xibalbá is a world lower than the ones of the Quichés, the dark place governed by Bolontikú, the Nine Masters of the Night, each of them governing at a different level and responsible for death and disease in mankind. Xibalbá is the night ambit for the sun. The legends of Popol Vuh refer to the encounters between the masters and heroes of the superior world with the ones of Xibalbá. Those clashes are antagonistic, described as a descent to Hell.

In one of these legends, two of the upper world gods, Hunhunahpú and Vucb-Ixbalanqué, die at the hands of Xibalbá. From their decapitated heads, grows a magic tree. When Doncella Ixquic, intrigued, wanders near the tree, the skulls of Hunhunahpú and Vucub-Ixbalanqué deposit their saliva in her hand and fertilize her. Persecuted for her pregnancy, she seeks shelter with Hunhunahpú and Vucub-Ixbalanqué’s mother, who recognizes the signs of her maternity. From Doncella Ixquic two twin heroes of the Popol Vuh, will be born, Hunhunahpú and Ixbalanqué, who in time, will take revenge against the god of Xibalbá.

Estelas de Tikal
Castillo composed his symphonic fantasy Estelas de Tikal in 1945. In this composition, Castillo uses different themes which come from Mam and Quiché folklore and were written down by his brother Jesús, with added themes of his own invention. Although this score was conceived for concert, it has also served as the bases for diverse choreographic versions, especially one devised by Colonel de Basil.

Quiché Achi
The music for Carlos Girón Cerna’s drama, Quiche Acid, was composed by Ricardo Castillo in 1947. This is his third piece of incidental music for the theatre, following Girón Cerna’s Doncella Ixquic and before Miguel Angel Asturias’s Culculcán. Just days before his death, the composer destroyed these three compositions. However, a copy of Quiché Acid was already part of the Fleischer Collection and this was the basis upon which I reconstructed the score. Quiché Achi is a document within Castillo’s work since it appears as the first version of what later became Paál Kabá and it is quite probable that the author, conscious of the existing similarly of the two pieces, decided to destroy the first one.

Instantáneas Plásticas
The series of abstract images Instantáneas Plásticas, for orchestra were written in 1963 and constitute the most free and audacious work written by Ricardo Caetillo. Together with Abstracción and the Seven Piano Pieces it belongs to the composer’s latest style, which is characterized by a greater chromatism, the use of cells of two or three notes which organize the language and a greater rhythmic freedom. Instantáneas Plásticas is divided into seven sections which, like a musical photograph, each looks towards fixing an imaginary choreographic scene.

Composed in 1965, Abstracción is the last orchestral piece written by Castillo. It was composed in a very short time and uses a series of musical ideas which could also have been a group of notes and sketches for pieces of different nature and formats. In different aspects, this piece appears as an unfinished work, not only owing to the connection of its ideas but also owing to its schematic orchestration which in my revision, I had to modify and complete. Abstracción, which frees itself from many precepts, is a composition that aspires to the freedom suggested by the title.

© 1994 Rodrigo Asturias

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