The Becoming, displayed in sound
Tone Compositions by Sergio Cárdenas,
by Rolf Leemann
I Zan Tontemiquico – We came only to dream (oboe and string orchestra)
A door slams for reasons unknown, opening a gateway to a world previously unseen. Or is this perhaps a word spoken by an Aztec deity? The rhythm of the poet? A space is born out of a sustained tone and crisp, mellow accompanying music. The momentum builds somewhat. Sounds from a factory; animals are to be heard. The overblown oboe symbolises bearing pains. Only after a pronounced breath do we hear it as a clear voice. And it dives immediately into chatter, clear and bold. The strings join in. It resembles a convulsion, a scream, as if multiple syllables were contending for one spot, for its word to be heard. – Another opening and final breath, and yet another: A space within a space takes form. An interspace. Intervals are established. Steps reverberate. A form breaks free from the concentric, unsettled plurality; phototactic, in search of light: a flower. Shapes, petals and colours sprout forth! They speak – it speaks, the oboe; the string section welcomes it into the fold. The cellos offer their own special bond in friendship. It becomes bold, proud, and wild; calls out, greets the sun, shakes, comes alive in disbelief. The ground around the plants expands downward, swallows up that which lies below. And with it grows a garden. Amplifying. The rhythm at the beginning and end portends things to come, though seemingly all voices could be forgotten, in one divine moment as in a dream. – A further short burst of breath, followed by a flourish. A heavy mood resembling sorrow descends – a transition. The superb cantilena now rings from the oboe, as if it somehow grasped the time, captured by the poignant breathing of the oboist himself. The heavenly expanse of the strings blossoms in unison, is transformed into a gentle, elegiac space. One senses its inner serenity. As if somehow the oboe had understood, expressing it in song through obfuscation, tremolos. One final breath in conclusion, one for the lowering of curtain. The end. – The strange Nahuatl poem "Zan tontemiquico" is recited, retold to us in the form of music. Whatever may come, striving to become complete, continues to live on within us through art.
II Antifaz – Mask (bassoon and string orchestra)
With its comical, Doric nose, the mask projects a careless air. It is on show, parading itself. Screaming out. We expect to hear a story. Something out of Stravinsky. The string section picks up on the mood in a brisk pizzicato. A response, at first high-spirited, is followed by a storm, unrest: The danger of falling back! A grinding sound is to be heard. This is followed by a nervous scratching, pounding, pangs of scoffing, the ever tauter play of the strings; a new and different, unearthly mask – a bellicose counter movement, a breath cast in doubt. The bassoon bursts out in panic to challenge this – the scoffing ceases. What remains is a short lamento, lacking drama, but even more evocative; a consolidation in the cadence. And then: Reprise – the gentle step of the bassoon. But would that not seem to herald a return to the grinding? Who or what is this mask? The gavotte, a sad clown?
III. Sonrisa de Amor Smile of love (string orchestra)
A summer afternoon breeze circulates within this wonderfully light and limber bolero. The listener is sitting on a terrace; a drink is served. He is already in the mood. The clear, lucent string movement suggests the presence of a friend, the passing by of someone dear and close, who perhaps briefly glances back in greeting; whose veil sings in the wind. A greeting in turn, an acknowledgement, flows from some deeply held emotion, a hint of passion. The repetition signals to us: Do not take this too seriously! The exhilarating dance between the two becomes a song, a highly individualised ballad, to be dispersed by a contented sigh: E-C, B-A… Rarely has the Light Muse come across both on a consciously and subconscious level so boldly ironic and skilfully performed.
IV Acerca tu oído al tronco de un árbol – Bring your ear close to the trunk of a tree (bassoon and strings)
How far-reaching can the musical interval of a second be? It can represent a world and, at the same this, its centre. In this astonishing composition, inspired by Dyma Erzban’s poem on Mozart, convergence becomes expansion. The result is a brilliant play on the idea of transcendence. The closest proximity and the greatest distance converge, as in the image of the young boy who presses his ear to the tree and hears a soul, or God’s ear resting on the child’s heart for the entire eighth day of creation. In this newly created world, in the aural sense, time and space blossom with the flower as the central element. Structure, colours and light find their expression in the rhythm of the waves crashing onto the beach. One is reminded of another poem, of William Carlos Williams’ "Flowers by the Sea". An atmosphere takes shape. Rain, wind and rays of sunlight; grasses, insects, in the rustling verdure of creation. All brought to the senses by the diverse sounds emanating from the bassoon, that itself is both the origin and echoes this newly created world. And by way of the divine, immensely rich exposition and crisp delivery of the strings, their passive and active vocabulary is able to capture and reproduce each emotion, each touch, each swing, each tremor, both dancing and moving towards silence in the foreground and background. As in the previous works discussed here, the string musicians are given the task of alerting the listener to the technical effects (col legno, flageolet, Bartok pizzicato, harmonics). It should come as no surprise that many young composers revisit the mastery of Sergio Cárdenas in particular to learn how to create a musical universe derived from poetic inspiration. (This is achieved not only through the use of bypassed seconds, or its elder siblings, the ninths, and its younger relations behind which a perfect fifth might suddenly emerge, as if secretly placed there by the hand of Mozart himself, embedded into the structure, but also in equal measure through rhythmic variability and language.)
V Guardián de tu soledad – Guardian of your loneliness (bassoon and strings)
This piece was commissioned for the International Horn Society. The French horn is wonderfully suited to herald in Rainer Maria Rilke’s concept of love. The composer is deeply familiar with the poetry and prose of the poet through his work translating these texts. And some might also recognise the name Lou Andrea Salomé, to whom once the poet confided his idea that a person who truly loves another respects the solitude of the other and would do all in his power to grant her personal freedom free of constrain. Here it is fascinating to hear how a space (land or sea) first needs to be forged in spite of the established opening, something resembling an undefined expectation. A horizon forms where the voices of the strings establish their own identity; a place is created where the French horn makes it first attempts at speech, sounding its first syllables and words; a place where it calls out, proclaims itself by name, listens to its own voice, experiments, all backed by the string orchestra that shifts between a musical portrayal of a landscape, a society in motion, or a classical Greek choir, something that by its very nature signals that to exist is to coexist. With dancing fugato steps, it goes so far as to form a Locus amoenus from which a supremely gentle violin pronounces its voice; it inspires and encourages the French horn to grand emotion or supreme calm with eloquent pauses, responding in turn by crying out and exclaiming.
For after all, without tumult, nothing happens. Love is after all exhilarating highs and painful lows, equally witnessed in the deeply emotional play of the violin towards the end. But the key element remains an inner proclivity towards the other, an open ear. (The violin and the French horn listen to each, grow into each other and transcend their own being.) It is the gentle steps, phases, shifts in direction, before ultimately reaching its crescendo in the high-spirited play of the French horn at the end, originating in a world where both play but a minor role.
Rolf Leemann: swiss poet (Zurich, *1940). Studied compared literature at the Illinios University (USA) and music at the Winterthur Conservatory (Switzerland). He has been professor at the Zurich University, as well as at the University of Aplied Sciences of Winterthur. His web-site is: http://www.lyrik.ch/leemann/index.htm
© Rolf Leemann, Zurich, 2008. Translated into English by © Claudio Maria Perselli, 2008.
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