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ClassicsOnline Home » BALADA: Guernica / Symphony No. 4 / Zapata
The Catalan composer Leonardo Balada went to New York in 1956 to study composition, and has been a powerful creative force for more than three decades. The unique ‘avant-garde’ techniques, dramatically as well as rhythmically imposing, which Balada developed during the 1960s, set works such as Guernica (which was inspired by Picasso’s mural and the composer’s own experiences of the Spanish Civil War) apart from composers of the time. Later, in the seventies, he was credited as a pioneer in blending the modern with folkloric ideas and mixing the new with the old in works such as Symphony No. 4 and Homage to Casals and Sarasate.
Leonardo Balada (b. 1933)
Guernica • Symphony No. 4 • Homages to Casals and Sarasate
In the personality of an individual nothing has more
influence than experiences as a child. Another important influence is an
artist’s masterpiece which translates into an ideal stimulus for creation.
Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, a mural that expresses the horror after the bombing
of a defenceless Basque town during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), was for me
that artist’s masterpiece. In addition it was also a symbol of the struggle and
contempt I felt, like so many Spaniards, for the dictator Francisco Franco, who
crushed the young Spanish democracy in that war. Picasso was our hero, likewise
Pablo Casals, Luis Buñuel and many other great artists and intellectuals who
fled Spain at the end of that tragic war. I had to compose Guernica: my
memories as a child crying and running with my family into the “metro” station
in Barcelona to shelter us from the fascist bombings had been haunting me for
three decades. I also had to compose it as my way of saying thanks to Picasso
and all those exiled, who from overseas waved the flag of freedom, and I had to
compose it as a protest against wars. Picasso was my hero and to him I
dedicated the symphonic work. After its first recording was released, on an LP
by the Louisville Orchestra, I had planned to visit him in the south of France
and give him a copy of the work. Camilo José Cela, the late Nobel Literature
laureate with whom at that time I was collaborating on the cantata Maria
Sabina, had given me an introduction to the artist assuring me that Picasso
would respond to my gift with one of his own: one of his paintings. My
excitement was at its highest in the summer of 1972 when I had decided to make
that visit to the south of France but it was not to be. For personal reasons I
had to cancel that trip and Picasso died some months later without my ever
meeting the master, one of the big disappointments in my life.
composing Guernica came in 1966, when the New Orleans Philharmonic announced a
reading of new orchestral works. The anti-Vietnam War demonstrations that year
at Columbia University in New York were an added stimulus for me, having
attended meetings of protest at the MacMillan Theater on that campus.
Childhood, Picasso, Vietnam all came together and in two weeks with the brevity
of a bullet shot, my composition was conceived and done. Guernica became a
turning-point in my output.
Guernica belongs to a new moment in my work which could be construed as my
avant-garde period. Before that in the early 1960s my music was somewhat
neo-classical, at a time when the contemporary musical scene in New York was
practically limited to the twelve-tone serial style. But dissatisfaction with
myself was strong and obsessive; I did not want to continue on the conservative
path. How could I be so conservative, the son of a liberal Catalan family who
had not even been baptized in a Spain were this Catholic ritual was a given for
any newly born child? On the other hand the twelve-tone music I was hearing in
New York proved extremely boring and intellectual to me. In consequence a
relentless search for something that would satisfy my aesthetic vision
followed, and the visual arts became my source of inspiration. From
Rauschenberg to the happenings of the time and to Dali, with whom I was
collaborating in New York, all helped me conceive my new strategy of sound. The
avant-garde techniques of that time became secondary to my more Mediterranean
approach. With a good degree of arrogance I was telling myself that I would put
those techniques to good use. So, as sudden as lightning, my style jumped from
a neoclassical-medieval-like Guitar Concerto No.1 (1965) to the abstractions of
Geometries No.1 for ensemble and Guernica, both of 1966. For about a decade my
compositions now were abstract, angular, dramatic, propelled by rhythm and
heavy textures, and full of passion. The symphonic works that followed like
Steel Symphony, Sinfonía en Negro-Homage to Martin Luther King, cantatas María
Sabina and No-res are all in that spirit.
new stylistic adventure started in 1975 when I felt again the need for change.
Now those abstract sounds would be blended with traditional ideas and the
avant-garde would meet with the ethnic and traditional in a symbiosis. This
brought criticism from some quarters by suggesting that I was trading austerity
for comfort; the implication being that it is facile to compose music based on
folk elements. It may seem facile, but it is not easy if those folk elements
are presented in a non conventional context, different from the traditional
one. Homage to Casals and to Sarasate were the first in this new period,
although Sinfonía en Negro (1968) already hinted at this new style by using
Afro rhythms with those avant-garde techniques. The other two works on this CD,
Symphony No.4 ‘Lausanne’ and Zapata: Images for Orchestra use Swiss and Mexican
folk ideas. Nevertheless that symbiotic approach did not stop me from sometimes
composing works in which the ethnicity is absent and the composition remains an
abstract one, as is the case of Divertimentos (1991) for string orchestra. I
see no conflict in this if there is a personal stamp in the works of the
was composed during the last two weeks of 1966 in New York City and was written
as a protest against wars and a tribute to that mural. It is dedicated to
Picasso. Despite the fact that the work is not programmatic, one is always
aware of the sounds of war, the shouting of the people and the loneliness of
destruction, as part of the dramatic total. It was first performed in 1967 by the
New Orleans Philharmonic conducted by Werner Torkanowsky and first recorded by
the Louisville Orchestra conducted by Jorge Mester.
to Sarasate of 1975 uses the Zapateado, a composition of the nineteenth-century
Spanish violinist and composer Pablo de Sarasate, as the main idea. This came
to Balada’s mind after he had seen the painting by Picasso called Las Meninas.
Everybody knows Las Meninas as being by Velazquez, but Picasso gave his own
interpretation so that one can see the Velazquez and the Picasso in the same
modern painting. The opening moments of Homage to Sarasate present little more
than rhythmic fragments suggesting the rapid triple meter of a zapateado, the
traditional Spanish dance. To this are gradually added brief snatches of melody
alluding to Sarasate’s composition. These emerge in a variety of tonal and
rhythmic dislocations and quickly dissolve as other figures come to the fore.
Sharp interjections from the winds or percussion occasionally punctuate the
proceedings, and the Zapateado music is surrounded by rich, colourful,
orchestral sonorities. The work grows more dense with bits of melody, becoming
a big collage.
to Casals, written in the same year, is based on a Catalan folk-melody, Song of
the Birds, which the great cellist Pablo Casals used to play at the conclusion
of his recitals. Homage to Sarasate and its companion piece Homage to Casals
represent a new direction in the composer’s music, reinstating melody and
traditional harmonies though at the same time he uses aleatoric devices,
minimalistic moments, textural layer-on-layer and clustered sounds. It is a
blending of the ethnic and the avant-garde.
an article about the composer in the Sunday edition of the New York Times, Pete
E. Stone wrote: “Balada lived in Barcelona, an ancient city host to Gaudí and
Picasso, where old narrow streets empty into modern avenues ... Thus his music
encompasses ... (the) old and the new”. The two Homages won the City of
Barcelona international prize for orchestral compositions and were first given
by the Pittsburgh Symphony in 1976 conducted by Donald Johanos. They are
dedicated to the composer’s father, Pepito.
No. 4 ‘Lausanne’, written in 1992, is part of a group of works composed during
Balada’s ethnic-avant-garde period. The work develops in one single movement
and next to the exuberance of the orchestral colour we find quotations of Swiss
folklore. The Lausanne Chamber Orchestra commissioned this work for the
fiftieth anniversary of its founding and first performed it in 1992 under Jesús
López-Cobos to whom the symphony is dedicated. The Americam première was given
by the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra conducted by Keith Lockhart.
collaborated with his countryman the surrealist painter, Salvador Dalí, in New
York in 1960, and this had an unconscious effect on the composer during those
formative years. This influence emerged in the composition of the opera Zapata,
from which Zapata: Images is taken. The influence of surrealism is especially
apparent in the Waltz. This dance encounters a number of metaphysical
transformations after starting with an almost imperceptible pulse which becomes
gradually a fully-fledged Viennese rhythm. Soon two different waltzes are
superimposed: a regular waltz with the strings and a faster one with the brass.
This tension is heightened by a frantic accelerando that transforms the waltz
into an orchestral representation of a revolutionary shooting. In that movement
all the motifs are original. That is not the case in the March, which again presents
an almost surrealist interpretation of a revolutionary march. Here the popular
La Cucaracha is gradually presented and eventually taken
over by three other international revolutionary anthems, becoming a gigantic
collage. A fragment of the popular melody Adelita, with muted trumpets and
trombones, forms the essence of Elegy. These create a cloudy texture as
background to two original motifs, played by the muted violas and solo cello.
Elegy is taken directly from the opera where the cello plays the singing of
Zapata and the violas the singing of his brother dying in his arms. The Wedding
Dance mixes the popular Jarabe Tapatio with Balada’s original motifs. The
National Orchestra of Spain gave the world première of Images in Madrid in
1988. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performed the American première.
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BALADA: Guernica / Symphony No. 4 / Zapata