About this Recording
8.573298 - BALADA, L.: Symphony No. 6 / Concerto for 3 Cellos and Orchestra / Steel Symphony (López-Cobos, Jensen)
English  Spanish 

Leonardo Balada (b. 1933)
Symphony No. 6 ‘Symphony of Sorrows’ • Concerto for Three Cellos ‘A German Concerto’ • Steel Symphony


Some people relate my music to a romantic avant-gardism, because the avant-garde techniques used are paired with an emotional impact. It is true that I have a great affinity for historical events which inspire in me intimate and subjective musical statements. To me, the brother-against-brother in-fighting of the Spanish Civil War, and the resurrection and subsequent recovery of the German people after two catastrophic world wars, represent two unique recent historical events. Two of the works on this recording, Symphony No. 6 and the Concerto for Three Cellos and Orchestra, are a result of that thinking.

In my compositions one also encounters transcendental themes, such as in the cantata No-res (Naxos 8.557343), a protest against death. Another such theme appears in The Resurrection of Columbus, in which I explore God’s imperfect creation and the possibility of a second, perfect attempt.

In the cantata María Sabina (Naxos 8.570425), the librettist presents the tragedy of a Mexican Indian woman condemned by her own people. In Sinfonía en Negro: Homage to Martin Luther King (Naxos 8.573047) I explore the theme of the freedom of black people from American slavery. The anti-war subject inspires Guernica (Naxos 8.557342) and Symphony No. 5 ‘American’ (Naxos 8.557749).

The third composition on this recording, Steel Symphony (Sinfonia del Acero), does not present an ideology, but is a homage to the workers of the inhumane steel foundries.

That is not to say that all my compositions are inspired by extra musical ideas. I have composed many concertos for soloists and orchestra—for piano, guitar, cello, clarinet, violin, viola, bandoneon etc.—that are completely abstract.

Symphony No. 6 ‘Symphony of Sorrows’ (2005)
(Dedicated to the Innocent Victims of the Spanish Civil War)

The catastrophic events of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) resulted in the merciless fighting of a divided country and its consequent human tragedy. Both sides were losers, even the one which won.

In Symphony No. 6 I have tried to portray the two opposing sides from a psychological perspective and, in so doing, the music brings desperate tensions as well as desolate intimate moments. The music does not present any programmatic or partisan perspective. The tragedy of the war resounds on both sides like a volcano and like an intimate dramatic cry caused by one’s own actions.

As musical materials, I use aspects of two hymns: The Himno de Riego which was the flag song of the Republican forces and Cara al Sol, which identified the Falangist armies of General Franco. In addition a two-note melodic interval appears obsessively throughout the work. Its simplicity stresses the enormous pain. Martial rhythms of war are present throughout.

The symphony, in one single movement, blends avant-garde techniques with traditional melodic ideas, a style that I initiated in 1968 with Sinfonia en Negro: Homage to Martin Luther King and especially in Homage to Casals and Sarasate (1975).

The work was concluded in April 2005 commissioned by the Barcelona Symphony and National Orchestra of Catalonia and was given its première on 26 February 2006, conducted by Salvador Mas. The American première took place in November 2013 performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos.

Concerto for Three Cellos and Orchestra ‘A German Concerto’ (2006)
(Dedicated to the cellists Michael Sanderling, Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt, Hans-Jakob Eschenburg and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra)

This concerto is in one single movement consisting of three sections. It takes as its principal motif the famous German song Die Moorsoldaten (The Peat-Bog Soldiers) composed in 1933 by an anonymous political prisoner in a German concentration camp. The song was later taken to Spain by German volunteers on their way to fight against General Franco during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). The concerto has an evolutionary form and conveys an emotional portrait of twentieth-century Germany. At the beginning the work is very abstract and modernistic; drama and tragedy gradually evolve into an ultimate triumph of the spirit. The German song is presented by the three cellos in a very high register but not in an obvious manner. It is like a lament, a cry set against the contrasting dramatic orchestral background. Throughout the first and second sections a slow evolution of the ideas takes place and little by little the music becomes more optimistic. The German song has become clear and obvious now. Towards the end of the second section that evolution leads the music to the third section which is optimistic and almost “folksy”. In this third section the happy character of a “marsch” is presented while the orchestra has become an earthy instrument imitating the sounds of the accordion with the woodwind and brass. Throughout the work all three soloists are afforded opportunities for both lyricism and virtuosity, sometimes as a team, sometimes as individuals. The concerto offers an almost surrealist technical and emotional transformation throughout, from the abstract to the ethnic, at times presenting a collage of techniques, from the sad and tragic to the positive and brilliant. I have been practising this ‘surrealist transformation’ approach to composition since 1975, starting with Homage to Casals. In ‘A German Concerto’ one also finds avant-garde techniques blending with traditional folk ideas. The work was finished in June 2006.

Steel Symphony (1972)

As a newcomer to the “Steel City” I was fascinated by the multitude and power of the factories in and around Pittsburgh. Before long I decided to write a symphony that would reflect some of the sounds produced by the steel plants. Each factory seemed to have its own rhythm and vibrations. The variety of metric pulsations was of special interest for my project. Noises of all kinds—whirling dynamos, buzzing saws, rivet guns, drilling machines—startled my musical imagination and I drew a variety of motivic material from them. Despite all these onomatopoeic sounds, the Steel Symphony is not a programmatic work; its form and intent are purely abstract with no extra-musical connotations. In short, the symphony is not a realistic imitation of the sounds heard in the mills; a tape could do this much better. My intention was to reflect the drama and poetry of the sonorities of the steel foundries in a sophisticated way.

The Steel Symphony has no formal beginning in the traditional sense. The musicians tune their instruments as they always do and without a break the tuning bridges into the opening bars of the symphony over an ostinato pattern. The form of the symphony is continuous with no melody and with an emphasis on polyrhythm. The rhythms are brusque and there are heavily moving masses of dissonant sounds. These sounds are impersonal like machinery and almost static like a big sculpture. They are a monument to the great industry that brought the industrial revolution to its summit and to the men whose rough work made it possible. The end suggests the metric climax of pulsation in a steel factory. Soon everything turns to a unison. The mass of sounds filters into one single note.

The Steel Symphony is dedicated to the steel workers of the world. It was given its première in 1973 by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Donald Johanos and later recorded for New World Records by Lorin Maazel with that orchestra.

Leonardo Balada

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