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ClassicsOnline Home » CASTELLANOS, E.: Santa Cruz de Pacairigua / El rio de las siete estrellas / Avilena Suite (Venezuela Symphony, J. Wagner)
Evencio Castellanos belonged to the generation of Venezuelan composers who established a new nationalistic style in the first half of the 20th century. One of his best known works, Santa Cruz de Pacairigua pays homage to the construction of a church in Guatire, near Caracas, quoting popular dance rhythms and melodies, as well as a Venezuelan medieval carol. El Río de las Siete Estrellas (The River of the Seven Stars), inspired by a poem about the Orinoco River, describes events of pre-colonial Venezuelan history leading up to the country’s independence in 1821. The Suite Avileña, a compilation of scenes alluding to the coastal mountain of El Ávila, borrows from popular songs and Christmas carols, and features the cuatro (a four-stringed version of the European classical guitar) and maracas, two of the most typical Venezuelan folk instruments.
Notable orchestral music from Venezuela
Most classical music fans know Venezuela as the home of the extraordinary music education scheme El Sistema, which helped to create today's biggest classical music rock-star, the conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Now we're learning more about the mid-20th century classical music traditions in Venezuela upon which El Sistema was based.
Two of the three great Venezuelan composers born between 1915 and 1917 are fairly well known: the guitarist Antonio Lauro and composer/conductor Antonio Estévez, who wrote the famous Cantata Criolla. A third is Evencio Castellanos, a pianist and teacher, and, from the evidence on this new Naxos disc, a writer of impressive orchestral music.
Santa Cruz de Pacairigua from 1954 is a work jammed full of "local colur": folk dances, a medieval church tune, and plenty of percussion, all following a program about the building of a church. The Suite Avilena, written in 1947, contains a series of characteristic pieces representing various locations between Caracas and the sea.
The best work on the disc, though, is the 1946 work El Rio de las Siete Estrellas (The River of the Seven Stars). As often happens with music inspired by a river (Villa-Lobos's Amazon or Smetana's Moldau, for example) the representation of a strong current provides a structure for programmatic incidents that might otherwise seem unconnected.
I know the conductor Jan Wagner from a Bridge disc of orchestral music by Villa-Lobos, which coincidentally shares many characteristics with this one. The Bridge CD featured the Odense Symphony, which he led before and after the turn of the century. In this new Naxos disc he conducts the excellent Orqeusta Sinfonica de Venezuela, who play quite splendidly for their Danish leader. Wagner makes sure the music sparkles, for these are indeed showpieces, but he takes the time to emphasize Castellanos's more reflective moods. Aaron Copland once complained that Latin American music too often alternated between "the languorously sentimental or the wildly orgiastic mood, with very little in between". Wagner makes sure to present the subtleties that Castellanos, at his very best, does contain.more....
By Phillip Scott
By Brian Reinhart
Evencio Castellanos (1915–1984)
Santa Cruz de Pacairigua • El Río de las Siete Estrellas • Suite Avileña
Evencio Castellanos may well be considered one of the most significant and representative Venezuelan nationalistic composers of the twentieth century. Born into a family of active musicians, he received his first musical instruction in organ from his father, Pablo Castellanos, and piano lessons from Rafael González Guía in Caracas. At an early age he began to assist his father by playing organ in various churches in Caracas and eventually became the organist of the Cathedral of Caracas, a position his father held for many years. His first formal training in composition began at the Escuela de Santa Capilla, the founder of which was Vicente Emilio Sojo, perhaps the most imposing musical figure in Venezuelan musical history, who exerted a lasting influence over a whole generation of Venezuelan composers such as Gonzalo Castellanos-Yumar (brother of Evencio), Antonio Estévez, Ángel Sauce, Antonio Lauro, Carlos Figueredo, Blanca Estrella, José Clemente Laya, José Luis Muñoz, Raimundo Pereira, Modesta Bor and Inocente Carreño.
After furthering his musical studies in New York at the Dalcroze School of Music, Evencio Castellanos embarked on a dynamic and active musical life in Caracas, becoming a member of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Venezuela (of which Sojo was one of the founders in 1930) and, eventually, vice-president of its board of directors. In addition to his own prolific work as a composer he enjoyed a long association with the Escuela Superior de Música, teaching composition and ultimately becoming its director between 1965 and 1972. The work and influence of Castellanos as a conductor cannot be underestimated. He was the founder and director of the Collegium Musicum of Caracas and the orchestra of the Universidad Central de Venezuela. His association and work with the Experimental Orchestra of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Venezuela wielded lasting influence over the creation of the current and vibrant movement of youth orchestras in Venezuela founded by José Antonio Abreu.
The establishment of a nationalistic school of composition by Sojo came about partly as a result of the need to preserve much of the popular music which had found its place in the social and cultural life of colonial Venezuela. European musical forms such as the mazurka, the waltz, the minuet and the polka were embraced by Venezuelan culture, absorbing them and, thus, producing its own distinct expressive voice. Fearing that this tradition would fall into oblivion, Sojo and another notable figure, Juan Bautista Plaza, set about to write down a heretofore vocal tradition of hundreds of popular melodies which would later permeate the works of the new generation of composers educated by Sojo at the Santa Capilla.
The creation of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Venezuela and the first mixed choir, Orfeón Lamas, around 1930 provided a platform and outlet for the creative outpouring by this new generation of composers such as Evencio Castellanos, who not only were instrumental in the formation of the ensembles but actively participated in them as performers. Hence, the early history of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Venezuela is inextricably linked to the vital creative process and work of many of the composers of that generation.
Castellanosʼs compositional style can perhaps best be divided into works that are emblematic of the nationalistic influences set forth by Sojo, on the one hand, and on the other, sacred compositions influenced by his religious upbringing and life-long religious devotion. His major orchestral works are permeated with a nationalistic aesthetic and are infused with folkloric elements, as are most of his instrumental and chamber works. His various sacred choral and organ compositions are more representative of his religious orientation.
The title of the work Santa Cruz de Pacairigua (1954) pays homage to the construction of a church in Guatire, near the capital of Caracas, where Vicente Emilio Sojo was born and is perhaps Castellanosʼs best known and most frequently performed composition. The main theme introduced by a solo trumpet invokes and paves the way for the feast of San Pedro, when the folk dance to the rhythms of drums led by a principal dancer disguised as Maria Ignacia (a historic black slave of the region) wearing a long-braided wig. This first exuberant section, which introduces several contrasting melodic ideas, transitions into a more lyrical and reflective episode containing a Venezuelan vals and an allusion to a borrowed melody by Henrique de León. The sections are distinctively linked by the introduction of a four-note motive played by tubular bells which spells out the tuning of the Venezuelan cuatro (a folkloric, four-stringed version of the European classical guitar). The last section returns to the festivities of San Juan and Corpus Christi where Castellanos quotes an old medieval Lauda Sion over an incessant drum motive. A quirpa (a variant of a popular dance from the region of the tropical grassland plains called joropo janero) brings the festivities to an energetic conclusion.
El Río de las Siete Estrellas (The River of the Seven Stars), composed in 1946, was inspired by the poem Canto al Orinoco (Chant to the Orinoco River) by the Venezuelan writer and poet Andrés Eloy Blanco in 1943. The poem is a fabled account of pre-colonial Venezuelan history leading up to its independence in 1821 during which the protagonist tries to seduce the daughter of Cacique Yaruro (Indian chief). While she relates to him the mythological events of her past, vindicating herself historically speaking, the protagonist invents a fable which connects the Orinoco to the different historical events that took place in Venezuelan history. Each of the seven stars in the poem relates to a different historical period as they resurface from the mythical volcano La Parima at night, later to return to it to seek refuge at dawn.
The opening and recurring flute solo portrays the daughter of the Cacique Yaruro and the variation of the theme which ensues, the mystical landscape surrounding the fabled volcano. The seven stars are represented by falling and ascending eighth-notes (quavers) lightly introduced in the celesta. Thereafter, a series of brief impressions unfold, each representing the various episodes in the story. Military drums and brass fanfares clearly depict battle scenes (the Battle of Carabobo in 1821) and here Castellanos introduces the only “borrowed” thematic material in the entire work: a brief segment from the Venezuelan national anthem over which the words “Abajo cadenas” (“Down with the chains”) are sung, symbolizing, thus, the final liberation from the Spanish conquest.
The more eclectic Suite Avileña, composed in 1947, is an impressionistic compilation of short scenes that makes allusion to the coastal mountain of El Ávila separating Caracas from the Caribbean shoreline to the north. As the subtitle of the work suggests (“based on genuine popular motives”), most of the melodic material is borrowed from popular Venezuelan songs and both the cuatro and maracas, two of the most typical folkloric Venezuelan instruments, are used throughout the work. The first movement, Avileña, recalls chants by flower vendors in the early morning in Caracas. La Ronda de Niños (Round of the Children) uses popular childrenʼs songs such as Paloma Blanca. The third movement, Nocturno, brings a more contrasting and reflective air evocative of a serenade and a relaxed joropo. Movements four and five, titled Amanecer de Navidad (Christmas at dawn) and Navidad (Christmas) respectively, introduce popular Venezuelan Christmas carols including a popularized version of the melody to Adeste Fideles.
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