About this Recording
8.572176 - BALADA, L.: Caprichos Nos. 2-4 (Cardenes, Turner, Pittsburgh Sinfonietta, Lawrence Loh)
English  Spanish 

Leonardo Balada (b. 1933)
Caprichos Nos. 2, 3 and 4


The attitude of some composers and critics, when they think about contemporary works, puzzles me. They ask “ Are those works atonal? Do they use ethnic or world music ideas? Are they old fashioned? Are they avant-garde?”, as if music should be judged for the immediacy of technique rather than its artistic achievement, as if the value of a work depended on technique rather than the intrinsic value of that work. Did creative composers through history follow the prescriptions of those techniques as spelled out by theoreticians rather than the other way around? Theoreticians derived their theories based on the composer’s works, a posteriori. Schoenberg with his serial technique was the only one who wrote the theory a priori and composers followed.

The distorted concept of eclecticism, as meaning several styles instead of several techniques also puzzles me. A work may be written based on several techniques resulting, or not, in one style, depending on how skillful the composer is.

When I was a student at Juilliard in the late 1950s the art world was submerged in abstract expressionism and Salvador Dalí, with whom I was collaborating at the time, was dismissed by the “intelligentsia” as unimportant. So was art-deco. In retrospect we now see the lasting importance of those expressions. At that time I heard well-known composers say that tonal music was finished or pitched notation was obsolete, only for the world to realize that both aspects of music were alive and well and will continue to be so. Some composers try to establish themselves by dismissing anybody else that may threaten their standing. Even now after decades of creative “democracy” in the arts, those composers pretend to be in possession of the absolute truth, claiming to be in the forefront when in fact what they do very often was already done half a century ago or more. I wrote the music for a film with Salvador Dalí, which he created and executed in 1960, Chaos and Creation. Dalí satirized Mondrian and his claims of omnipotence. I will never forget a comment Dalí made to me at breakfast in his hotel, the Saint Regis in Manhattan. “What Mondrian did I had already done as a kid”.

Caprichos are a collection of compositions in the form of “suites”. They consist of short movements with a soloist and a chamber orchestra. Generally speaking, in Caprichos traditional ideas are mixed with contemporary and avant-garde devices which were in my palette of the 1960s and early 1970s, when I composed expressionist works such as Guernica and Steel Symphony. From there I made a symbiosis of the avant-garde with the folk-traditional, which has become my stamp, starting with Sinfonia en Negro-Homage to Martin Luther King (1968), where Afro-American ideas are used, and in Homage to Casals and Sarasate (1975), where Spanish folk melodies are used. In the same way Manuel de Falla and Copland blended folk-music with the techniques of their time, I use the techniques of my time with the folk material of Mexico, Spain, Ireland etc. But sometimes I dispense with folk ideas, returning to the abstract world of my previous period. It is like wearing a Mexican hat while in Cuernavaca or no hat at all in New York. If my idiosyncrasies are unique, then I will be recognized for my individuality in both cases. Hopefully the idiosyncrasies and inner fibre of my writing will be recognized as my personal style whether I use folk elements or not. Several techniques to achieve one style? This is my aim.

An illustration of what I am trying to get at are in my stage compositions: the cantata Maria Sabina(1969) is an example of abstract “avant-garde”; the operas Zapata (1984) and Christopher Columbus (1986), which are full of folk-ethnic ideas (Mexican the first and Spanish the second), are examples of the ethnic; Faustbal (2007) again the abstract with no folk hints. But my inner workings are the same in the four compositions. The cantata without a hat, the operas with Mexican and Cordoban hats, and the last opera again without a hat. But Caprichos Nos. 2, 3 and 4, they all wear a hat…

Caprichos No. 2 is written for solo violin, strings (string quintet or string orchestra) and harp. This is a suite of three Latino American dances, presented in a free modernistic manner: I. Samba (Brazilian), II. Tango (Argentinean), III. Jarabe (Mexican), composed in 2004 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Caprichos No. 3 (Homage to the International Brigades), for violin and chamber orchestra, was finished in 2005 and is dedicated to Andrés Cárdenes. It consists of five short pieces and is a homage to the International Brigades, an army of volunteers from all over the world that went to Spain to fight during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39). They fought on the side of the democratic Spanish Republic, which was defending itself from the military uprising of fascist General Franco. The eventual loss of the democratic government was an added stimulus for Hitler’s adventures in Europe that led to World War II.

During the fight the idealistic International Brigade volunteers sang songs to overcome loneliness or express heroic moods by putting their own words to folk melodies of Spain or from their own countries. In Caprichos No. 3 a selection of these popular materials are used in a free modernistic manner. Movements I, III and V are based on Spanish folk-dances, while II, a meditation for a fallen comrade, is of German origin and IV is a sad lament taken from an Irish song. The work was given its première by Andrés Cárdenes and the Pittsburgh Symphony Chamber Orchestra on 15th November 2005, conducted by Lawrence Loh.

Caprichos No. 4, ‘Quasi Jazz’, was finished in June 2007 and is dedicated to Jeffrey Turner, principal contrabassist of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. The work was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and had its première with Jeff Turner and the Pittsburgh Symphony Chamber Orchestra conducted by Andrés Cárdenes on 27th March 2008.

In Caprichos No. 4 the ideas come from jazz, presented in a free modernistic manner with a contrabass as soloist, a string orchestra, a clarinet and a piano. Here jazz-related ideas are developed in an extroverted way, mixing conventional classical jazz idioms, harmonies and rhythms with avant-garde harmonies and aleatoric devices. The title of the first movement, Tan-ta Ta, Tan-ta Ta, mimics the fast brilliant pulse of traditional jazz. The second, Down, down, down, is a slow meditative, heavy number where the soloist uses lyrical Negro-Spiritual material while the ensemble keeps a steady pulse as background. The soloist floats several times from the lowest to a very high range in a sad deeply felt mood. The third movement, Funeral, is also slow with a steady pulse, that of a Negro funeral march that approaches and disappears in the distance, but here the soloist plays exclusively harmonic notes, very high sad lines. The fourth movement, Swing and Swing, is a portrait of a relentless unstoppable jazzy dance.

Leonardo Balada

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