About this Recording
8.572073 - GARCIA ABRIL, A.: Madre Asturias - A Collection of Asturian Songs (Pixan, Torres-Pardo)
English  Spanish 

Antón García Abril (b. 1933)
Madre Asturias: A Collection of Asturian Songs


In the work of Antón García Abril the relationship he maintains with the musical folklore of Asturias constitutes a peculiar facet of his creative career. With a mixture of craftsmanship and poetic fantasy, this composer from Teruel has recreated the musical landscape of Asturias from three different perspectives, chorus, orchestral Lied and Lied for the piano, enveloped in the same aesthetic ideal which blends both folk tradition and personal inspiration.

In 1982, at the request of the Asturian Choral Association, García Abril composed his Tres canciones asturianas para coro a capella (Three Asturian Songs for a cappella chorus), Una palomina blanca (A White Dove), ¡Que me oscurece! (It is darkening for me!) and Cuatro pañolinos tengo (Four scarves have I), all deeply rooted in melodies taken from the Cancionero musical de la lírica popular asturiana (Songbook of Asturian Folk Lyricism) by the folklorist and composer Eduardo Martínez Torner. The composer’s characteristic combination of fidelity to the folklore tradition in the melodic line with imaginary recreation in the developments and harmonies takes definite form in these choral pieces.

Two years later, in 1984, García Abril wrote the series Catorce canciones asturianas (Fourteen Asturian Songs) for voice and orchestra for the music project Lírica Asturiana (Asturian Lyricism), which was inspired and promoted by the tenor Joaquín Pixán. Funded by the regional government of the Principality of Asturias and various Asturian companies and societies, these songs were performed by Joaquín Pixán and the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Jesús López Cobos and issued by CBS in 1984.

The first Lírica Asturiana project ran basically along three lines: first, to promote and disseminate Asturian culture beyond regional borders, especially in Spanish-speaking America; secondly, to create a concert repertoire which, while starting from Asturian folk motifs, would transcend the merely local nature of the music to achieve a cultivated work with universal appeal; and finally, to compose new songs and poetic musical developments based on lyrics by the Asturian writer José León Delestal (Ciaño, Langreo, 1921–Madrid, 1989). Of the fourteen songs in the series, four do not come directly from folklore, but are new pieces: Madre Asturias (Mother Asturias), reflecting Asturian emigration; El canto del urogallo (Song of the Capercaillie), a symbol of nature in Asturias; Adiós Xana (Goodbye Water Nymph), an ecological protest against the pollution and destruction of the land; and El Naranjo de Bulnes, a famous mountain peak in Asturias, a piece characteristic of mountain-climbing songs.

The piano beyond folklore

Tanto ha llovido,
Los naranjales han florecido
¡Pino verde!

Such has it rained,
The orange groves have blossomed
Green pine!

– Asturian popular song

The new Colección de canciones asturianas (Collection of Asturian Songs) represents that third facet of the work of García Abril: the Lied for voice and piano. Written in 2004, this series of songs is drawn directly from the previously mentioned work for voice and orchestra, published in 1984. Does this present us with a new work or is this merely a reduction or transcription from orchestra to piano of the Catorce canciones asturianas series?

Undoubtedly this collection for voice and piano begins in the same way as the orchestral work; the lyrics are the same and the vocal line, save tiny, insignificant changes, is similar in the two works. The piano, however, is not a mere accompaniment but a leading player, together with the voice, lending this work a fresh compositional and interpretative significance. This is not simply a reduction of the orchestral work, but rather a re-creation, a sort of “re-examination”, which essentialises and transforms the original orchestral work, acquiring profound artistic meaning through the pianism of Rosa Torres-Pardo.

In these songs García Abril intertwines two opposing ideas into an inseparable dialogue: imaginary folklore, in the pianistic conception, and direct data, or real folklore, in the vocal line. The aesthetic antecedent for this treatment goes back to Asturiana from the Siete canciones populares españolas by Manuel de Falla, although with greater technical complexity in the piano in García Abril’s work. The piano not only takes up a melody, but also re-creates it, evokes it, frames it and projects it with lyricism, fantasy and freedom.

The actual sources of the fourteen songs are basically to be found, in order of importance, in the following song-books: 40 canciones asturianas, by Baldomero Fernández (1914); 20 canciones asturianas, by Manuel del Fresno (1931); and, now and again, the song-book by Hurtado, Cien cantos populares asturianos (1890), and the song-book by Torner. To these must be added the four previously mentioned songs based on lyrics by Delestal. In the pianistic conception of the songs, García Abril employs some stylistic features, such as modal ambiguity and tonal fluctuation; the use of counter-melodies, which are derived, as though it were a process of internalisation, from small cells of the vocal melody; rhythmic variety; and, the search for a suggestive colour which liberates, enriches and individualises each of the fourteen songs.

[1] Vaqueiras. The vaqueirada, termed a “tambourine dance” by folklorists, is a form of singing and dance characteristic of the vaqueiros de alzada (highland herdsmen), inhabitants of the highland herding huts in western Asturias who, as a distinct social group, developed quite peculiar expressions of folklore. Composed in 3/8 time, these vaqueiradas, taken chiefly from Baldomero Fernández (Nos. 21 and 22) and Torner, present several melodic modalities, threaded together by a melody which is heard in the piano prelude and is derived from a melodic ornament, a sort of melisma, that closes every vaqueira. Modal ambiguity, rhythmic counterbeats and displacements and heterometres are some of the characteristics lending vigour and strength to these vaqueiras. As in folk music, the vocal range is limited, moving between a and g’ on the final “Ey!”.

[2] Non te pares a mió puerta (Don’t stop at my door) is a charming song in three sections. The song comes from the song-book by Baldomero Fernández (No. 30), keeping the initial key of E flat major, although with a slightly polytonal treatment using an open C minor on the piano. The middle section, “Amor siento y amor canto” (“Love I feel and love I sing”), develops the composer’s own vocal melody for original lyrics by Delestal, a sort of variation of this moving song of romantic disenchantment.

[3] Ayer vite na fonte (Yesterday I saw you at the fountain) is based on the song-book by Manuel del Fresno (No. 9), with which it shares the initial key of F sharp minor. The piano prelude, intercalated with the vocal melody, gives the piece a very descriptive, plastic nature. While conserving the traditional lyrics, García Abril modifies and varies the melody with tremendous expressive naturalness in the middle section, “sospiro por amores que yo tenía” (“I sigh for loves I once had”). The tessitura of the voice oscillates between F sharp and F sharp an octave higher in the coda.

[4] Tengo de subir al puerto (I have to climb to the pass) has a theme taken from the song-book by Baldomero Fernández (No. 33). This song was made popular in Asturias by the singer José Manuel González, “El Presi”. In the predominant key of F sharp minor, the initial piano motif prevails throughout the piece, recreating the melismatic ornament of the voice on the words “¡qué haré yo!” (“What am I to do!”), which close each verse.

[5] The source of Yo no soy marinero (I am not a sailor) is to be found in Baldomero Fernández (No. 10). In the key of C minor, the repetition of quaver chords creates a lively rhythmic tension. The middle section, beginning with “Si el amor es cadena no es de hierro” (“If love is a chain, it is not of iron”), is a variation written by León Delestal over which the composer lays an original melodic line. Once again the melodic creation is linked quite naturally with the folk-song on which it is based.

[6] Ella lloraba por mí (She cried for me): “La cabraliega” (The Woman from Cabrales), or “Cuando salí de Cabrales” (When I left Cabrales), is one of the prototypes of Asturian folk-song, traditionally sung a cappella. The treatment given the piano, suggestively romantic in nature, along with the modulating sense of the harmony every time the song repeats (F major–minor, A major, F sharp major, E flat major), imbues the roughness of the folk-song with delicate emotion.

[7] El Naranjo del Bulnes or Urriello Peak, is the legendary mountain which consolidates a great deal of the history of mountaineering in Asturias. Using lyrics by Delestal, García Abril composed a song which has certain conventional characteristics of an anthem. In two sections, the first in E minor and the second, the refrain, in E major, the work ends with a G sharp on the word “arriba”.

[8] No llores, niña, no llores (Don’t cry, girl, don’t cry) once more comes from Baldomero Fernández (No. 9). The first verse, in A minor, is traditional. Following a piano interlude, Delestal supplied the words for a second verse, with the same initial melody, but in C minor.

[9] In Una estrella se perdió (A star was lost) García Abril brought together three different melodies: “Menéate, Buena moza” (“Move, pretty lass”); “xiringuelu” (Asturian folk-dance) as collected by Baldomero Fernández (No. 27), a variation of this melody with words by Delestal which begin “Al vuelo de tu donaire” (“At the flight of your grace”); and, finally, following a transition of a rhythmic nature, “Si la llevan, que la lleven” (“If they are taking her, have them take her now”), No. 4 in Manuel del Fresno’s song-book.

[10] Duérmete, neñu (Go to sleep, my boy), an “añada” (“lullaby”), is found in the songbook by Manuel del Fresno (No. 2). The motif of the piano prelude, which has a certain questioning nature, starts off with the lament “¡Ay, agora non!” (“Oh, not now!”). The middle section, “Tras las montañes ya duerme el sol” (“Behind the mountains the sun already sleeps”), is a new melodic creation for lyrics by Delestal.

[11] El Canto del Uragallo (The song of the capercaillie) is another of Delestal’s original songs, in which the capercaillie, one of the icons of Asturian fauna, represents an allegory of the lover’s song. García Abril does not follow Asturian folk models in the music, but rather adopts a free and flowing musical discourse in the predominant key of F minor.

[12] Hasta los naranjales han florecido (Even the orange groves have blossomed), an “añada” is from the songbook by Baldomero Fernández (No. 36). The very modal melody, based in the F mode, has an evocative, archaic character. The middle section, “Si a las nubes miras, dime qué ves” (“If you look at the clouds, tell me what you see”), in A flat, was written by Delestal. The rhythmic variations of the piano descriptively allude to the rocking of the cradle. This is one of the most beautiful songs in the series.

[13] Delestal wrote Adíos, xana (Goodbye, water nymph) with explicit ecological undertones to denounce open-pit mining and the brutal loss and deterioration of the natural landscape. The piano prelude, in the key of G minor, serves as a gateway into this song, which has an inspired melody and is in two sections.

[14] Madre Asturias (Mother Asturias) is the song of the Asturian emigrant whose love and nostalgia for his homeland grows with distance. García Abril composed this song, which conforms to the general forms of the Spanish folk-song, for original lyrics by José León Delestal. It has a prelude in the key of A minor, and two sections: the first, in G minor, followed by the optimistic G major of the refrain. With deeply evocative force, one of the accompaniment lines recreates a melodic flourish characteristic of the Asturian folk-song.

Ramón Avello
English version by Lyn Warner

Close the window