About this Recording
8.557342 - BALADA: Guernica / Symphony No. 4 / Zapata
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Leonardo Balada (b

Leonardo Balada (b. 1933)

Guernica • Symphony No. 4 • Homages to Casals and Sarasate


In the personality of an individual nothing has more influence than experiences as a child. Another important influence is an artist’s masterpiece which translates into an ideal stimulus for creation. Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, a mural that expresses the horror after the bombing of a defenceless Basque town during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), was for me that artist’s masterpiece. In addition it was also a symbol of the struggle and contempt I felt, like so many Spaniards, for the dictator Francisco Franco, who crushed the young Spanish democracy in that war. Picasso was our hero, likewise Pablo Casals, Luis Buñuel and many other great artists and intellectuals who fled Spain at the end of that tragic war. I had to compose Guernica: my memories as a child crying and running with my family into the “metro” station in Barcelona to shelter us from the fascist bombings had been haunting me for three decades. I also had to compose it as my way of saying thanks to Picasso and all those exiled, who from overseas waved the flag of freedom, and I had to compose it as a protest against wars. Picasso was my hero and to him I dedicated the symphonic work. After its first recording was released, on an LP by the Louisville Orchestra, I had planned to visit him in the south of France and give him a copy of the work. Camilo José Cela, the late Nobel Literature laureate with whom at that time I was collaborating on the cantata Maria Sabina, had given me an introduction to the artist assuring me that Picasso would respond to my gift with one of his own: one of his paintings. My excitement was at its highest in the summer of 1972 when I had decided to make that visit to the south of France but it was not to be. For personal reasons I had to cancel that trip and Picasso died some months later without my ever meeting the master, one of the big disappointments in my life.

               My composing Guernica came in 1966, when the New Orleans Philharmonic announced a reading of new orchestral works. The anti-Vietnam War demonstrations that year at Columbia University in New York were an added stimulus for me, having attended meetings of protest at the MacMillan Theater on that campus. Childhood, Picasso, Vietnam all came together and in two weeks with the brevity of a bullet shot, my composition was conceived and done. Guernica became a turning-point in my output.

               Stylistically Guernica belongs to a new moment in my work which could be construed as my avant-garde period. Before that in the early 1960s my music was somewhat neo-classical, at a time when the contemporary musical scene in New York was practically limited to the twelve-tone serial style. But dissatisfaction with myself was strong and obsessive; I did not want to continue on the conservative path. How could I be so conservative, the son of a liberal Catalan family who had not even been baptized in a Spain were this Catholic ritual was a given for any newly born child? On the other hand the twelve-tone music I was hearing in New York proved extremely boring and intellectual to me. In consequence a relentless search for something that would satisfy my aesthetic vision followed, and the visual arts became my source of inspiration. From Rauschenberg to the happenings of the time and to Dali, with whom I was collaborating in New York, all helped me conceive my new strategy of sound. The avant-garde techniques of that time became secondary to my more Mediterranean approach. With a good degree of arrogance I was telling myself that I would put those techniques to good use. So, as sudden as lightning, my style jumped from a neoclassical-medieval-like Guitar Concerto No.1 (1965) to the abstractions of Geometries No.1 for ensemble and Guernica, both of 1966. For about a decade my compositions now were abstract, angular, dramatic, propelled by rhythm and heavy textures, and full of passion. The symphonic works that followed like Steel Symphony, Sinfonía en Negro-Homage to Martin Luther King, cantatas María Sabina and No-res are all in that spirit.

               A new stylistic adventure started in 1975 when I felt again the need for change. Now those abstract sounds would be blended with traditional ideas and the avant-garde would meet with the ethnic and traditional in a symbiosis. This brought criticism from some quarters by suggesting that I was trading austerity for comfort; the implication being that it is facile to compose music based on folk elements. It may seem facile, but it is not easy if those folk elements are presented in a non conventional context, different from the traditional one. Homage to Casals and to Sarasate were the first in this new period, although Sinfonía en Negro (1968) already hinted at this new style by using Afro rhythms with those avant-garde techniques. The other two works on this CD, Symphony No.4 ‘Lausanne’ and Zapata: Images for Orchestra use Swiss and Mexican folk ideas. Nevertheless that symbiotic approach did not stop me from sometimes composing works in which the ethnicity is absent and the composition remains an abstract one, as is the case of Divertimentos (1991) for string orchestra. I see no conflict in this if there is a personal stamp in the works of the composer.



Leonardo Balada

               Guernica was composed during the last two weeks of 1966 in New York City and was written as a protest against wars and a tribute to that mural. It is dedicated to Picasso. Despite the fact that the work is not programmatic, one is always aware of the sounds of war, the shouting of the people and the loneliness of destruction, as part of the dramatic total. It was first performed in 1967 by the New Orleans Philharmonic conducted by Werner Torkanowsky and first recorded by the Louisville Orchestra conducted by Jorge Mester.

               Homage to Sarasate of 1975 uses the Zapateado, a composition of the nineteenth-century Spanish violinist and composer Pablo de Sarasate, as the main idea. This came to Balada’s mind after he had seen the painting by Picasso called Las Meninas. Everybody knows Las Meninas as being by Velazquez, but Picasso gave his own interpretation so that one can see the Velazquez and the Picasso in the same modern painting. The opening moments of Homage to Sarasate present little more than rhythmic fragments suggesting the rapid triple meter of a zapateado, the traditional Spanish dance. To this are gradually added brief snatches of melody alluding to Sarasate’s composition. These emerge in a variety of tonal and rhythmic dislocations and quickly dissolve as other figures come to the fore. Sharp interjections from the winds or percussion occasionally punctuate the proceedings, and the Zapateado music is surrounded by rich, colourful, orchestral sonorities. The work grows more dense with bits of melody, becoming a big collage.

               Homage to Casals, written in the same year, is based on a Catalan folk-melody, Song of the Birds, which the great cellist Pablo Casals used to play at the conclusion of his recitals. Homage to Sarasate and its companion piece Homage to Casals represent a new direction in the composer’s music, reinstating melody and traditional harmonies though at the same time he uses aleatoric devices, minimalistic moments, textural layer-on-layer and clustered sounds. It is a blending of the ethnic and the avant-garde.

               In an article about the composer in the Sunday edition of the New York Times, Pete E. Stone wrote: “Balada lived in Barcelona, an ancient city host to Gaudí and Picasso, where old narrow streets empty into modern avenues ... Thus his music encompasses ... (the) old and the new”. The two Homages won the City of Barcelona international prize for orchestral compositions and were first given by the Pittsburgh Symphony in 1976 conducted by Donald Johanos. They are dedicated to the composer’s father, Pepito.

               Symphony No. 4 ‘Lausanne’, written in 1992, is part of a group of works composed during Balada’s ethnic-avant-garde period. The work develops in one single movement and next to the exuberance of the orchestral colour we find quotations of Swiss folklore. The Lausanne Chamber Orchestra commissioned this work for the fiftieth anniversary of its founding and first performed it in 1992 under Jesús López-Cobos to whom the symphony is dedicated. The Americam première was given by the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra conducted by Keith Lockhart.

               Balada collaborated with his countryman the surrealist painter, Salvador Dalí, in New York in 1960, and this had an unconscious effect on the composer during those formative years. This influence emerged in the composition of the opera Zapata, from which Zapata: Images is taken. The influence of surrealism is especially apparent in the Waltz. This dance encounters a number of metaphysical transformations after starting with an almost imperceptible pulse which becomes gradually a fully-fledged Viennese rhythm. Soon two different waltzes are superimposed: a regular waltz with the strings and a faster one with the brass. This tension is heightened by a frantic accelerando that transforms the waltz into an orchestral representation of a revolutionary shooting. In that movement all the motifs are original. That is not the case in the March, which again presents an almost surrealist interpretation of a revolutionary march. Here the popular

La Cucaracha is gradually presented and eventually taken over by three other international revolutionary anthems, becoming a gigantic collage. A fragment of the popular melody Adelita, with muted trumpets and trombones, forms the essence of Elegy. These create a cloudy texture as background to two original motifs, played by the muted violas and solo cello. Elegy is taken directly from the opera where the cello plays the singing of Zapata and the violas the singing of his brother dying in his arms. The Wedding Dance mixes the popular Jarabe Tapatio with Balada’s original motifs. The National Orchestra of Spain gave the world première of Images in Madrid in 1988. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performed the American première.

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