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ClassicsOnline Home » Choral Music - CASALS, P. / GRANADOS, E. / MORERA, E. / OLTRA, M. (Song of the Stars - A Celebration of Catalan Music) (Voices of Ascension, Keene)
A rich musical heritage and vibrant contemporary culture intersect in Catalunya in
north-eastern Spain. Granados’s long-lost masterpiece Song of the Stars is comparable
to a virtuoso piano concerto with chorus and organ rather than orchestra, gloriously
combining Romantic-Modernista poetry with post-Wagnerian harmonies. The internationally
famous cellist Pau Casals also composed a small body of very beautiful music,
including the deeply spiritual choral works on this disc. Morera’s The Nightingale and
Blancafort’s Love Song are evocative of their Catalan texts, while Oltra’s Echo and
Prelude explore themes of memory and hope through images of nature.
By David Denton
Pau Casals (1876–1973)
Song of the Stars
Enric (Enrique) Granados was born on 27 July 1867
in Lleida, near Barcelona. After his family moved to
Barcelona, Granados began piano study there in 1879 and
soon after he continued with Joan Baptista Pujol. In 1883
he won a competition performing Schumann’s Sonata,
Op. 22. One of the jury members was the noted composer
Felip Pedrell, who began giving Granados classes in
harmony and composition the following year. In 1887
Granados went to Paris, where he studied piano with
Charles de Bériot. After returning to Barcelona in 1889,
he published his Danzas españolas, which brought him
international recognition. In addition to his approximately
250 piano works he composed some of the finest vocal
music ever written with Spanish and Catalan texts, as well
as chamber music, six operas, and important orchestra
works. Both a pianist and conductor, during his career
Granados performed concerts in Spain, France and New
York, collaborating with violinists Eugène Ysaÿe and
Jacques Thibaud, pianists Mieczysław Horszowski and
Camille Saint-Saëns and conductors such as Isaac Albéniz
and Pau Casals. Granados was also a fine teacher. In 1901
he founded the Academia Granados, which continues
today as the Academia Granados-Marshall.
In 1912 Granados met American pianist Ernest
Schelling, who was the first pianist to perform Granados’s
music outside Spain. Schelling arranged for Granados’s
works to be published by G. Schirmer in New York and
encouraged him in his plans to convert his piano suite
Goyescas into an opera, later arranging for its première at
the Metropolitan Opera. Terrified of the ocean, Granados
nevertheless sailed to New York for the première of the
opera on 28 January 1916. While in the United States
he performed numerous concerts, made piano-roll
recordings, and also performed at the White House.
Granados and his wife set sail back to Europe via
Liverpool but while crossing the English Channel on the
British ship Sussex, their boat was torpedoed by a German
submarine and they both perished.
Granados is universally recognized as one of Spain’s
and his native Catalunya’s most important composers.
His music is multi-faceted, although it is essentially
Romantic with some Nationalist characteristics. He has been variously described as “the Spanish Chopin”, “the
last Romantic”, and by his compatriots as “our Schubert”.
No single characterization adequately describes his
personality since Granados had a distinctive voice that is
instantly recognizable and entirely his own. He was
primarily influenced by mid-nineteenth-century European
Romanticism, especially the music of Schumann and
Chopin and by Wagner. The introverted luxuriance of his
luminous harmonies, his rich palette of pianistic color,
loose formal structures and his vivid imagination, always
tinged with nostalgia, place him firmly within the
On the night of 11 March 1911 one of the most
significant concerts in the history of Spanish music took
place at Barcelona’s Palau de la Música Catalana. The
program was devoted entirely to the music of Granados,
all performed by the composer himself. The program
included the world premières of his piano suite Goyescas (8.554403), of Azulejos (8.555325), and of Cant de les
estrelles, scored for piano solo, organ and choruses, and
performed with the Orfeó Català.
Critics were unanimous in their praise and singled out Cant de les estrelles, conceived specifically for
performance in the Palau de la Música Catalana. There
were two choruses on the stage, and a women’s chorus
was placed above the auditorium near the cupola, giving
an antiphonal effect.
Cant de les estrelles is a masterpiece, one of
Granados’s finest compositions. It was composed in the
Romantic-Modernista style, with post-Wagnerian
harmonies and no traces of Spanish Nationalism.
Comparable to a virtuoso piano concerto with chorus and
organ rather than an orchestra, Cant de les estrelles was
composed by Granados as a vehicle for himself although
he dedicated it to the pianist Mieczysław Horszowski.
Cant de les estrelles is subtitled “Poem for piano,
organ and voices inspired by a poem by Heine”, referring
to the German poet Heinrich Heine. The non-attributed
Catalan text set by Granados is not a translation of any
specific poem by Heine. Rather, the text is a kind of
response to Heine’s poems which deal with love and the
stars, but, in this case, written from the point of view of
the stars themselves. Granados did not know German and
thus must have read Heine’s poetry in translation, perhaps
in the Catalan translation by his colleague Apeles Mestres.
Theoretically at least, Apeles Mestres might be the
author of the text. However, Granados always attributed
to their authors the texts he used in his compositions, and,
in addition, the text does not resonate with the style of
other works by Apeles Mestres. Walter A. Clark
comments that “the preoccupation with death expressed
in the final strophe is eerily portentous of the fate soon to
visit the other possible author of these lines: Granados
In spite of its success Granados did not publish the
score of Cant de les estrelles and neither he nor any other
pianist had occasion to perform it again until now.
Following Granados’s death the various manuscripts of
Cant de les estrelles remained in the family archive until
1938 when his son Víctor brought the manuscripts of that
piece and several others to New York, where he signed a
contract for their publication with Nathanial Shilkret.
Víctor, however, was not the sole heir to his father’s music
and not authorized to enter into any contractual
agreements without the consent of other members of the
Granados family. Communication between New York
and Barcelona was difficult at best during World War II
and the matter could not be resolved.
The Granados manuscripts remained in the Shilkret
archive for decades, and after a fire in 1964, all the
manuscripts were feared lost. Through the years the
Granados family, with the assistance of José Iturbi and
Alicia de Larrocha, made numerous attempts to recover
the manuscripts but without result. In 1982 Granados’s
daughter Natalia appointed Douglas Riva as the family
representative in this matter. Years of contacts between
the parties failed to yield any result. Thanks, however, to
the efforts of Shilkret’s grandson, Niel Shell, an
agreement was reached and the manuscripts were finally
brought to light. Now, almost a hundred years after its
first and only previous performance, the glorious music of
Granados will finally reach the public.
Granados composed his setting of the Salve Regina as
an entry for a competition in 1896. The prize was not
awarded since the jury decided that none of the entries
followed the guidelines of the Holy See. Granados
dedicated Escena religiosa “to the memory of beloved
Doña Cecilia”, wife of his patron, Eduardo Conde. The
work was probably composed for her funeral. The
manuscript contains a text placed above the score: Angel:
Come, my soul, God calls you to reward your martyrdom.
Soul: I will live with God and pray for my family.
Romanza is an overlooked gem of the chamber music
repertoire, highly emotional and poetic.
Pau (Pablo) Casals was born in 1876 in El Vendrell,
south of Barcelona, and died in 1973 in San Juan, Puerto
Rico, exiled from Spain. Celebrated throughout the world
as a cellist, conductor and as an advocate for the freedom
of Catalonia, Casals was also the composer of a small
body of very beautiful music.
The choral works of Casals included here were
composed for the male choir of the Monastery of
Montserrat, the centre of Catalan Catholic faith. Each
piece expresses deep spiritual feelings in a simple, genuine
and personal manner. Rosarium Beatae Virginis Mariae,
a series of short movements, each with a different colour
and mood, some evoking medieval or renaissance styles,
was written to be sung during the services at Montserrat.
In Recordare, Virgo Mater the melody is sung by the
women in unison, while the men provide the harmonic
accompaniment. Nigra sum is one of Casals’s most
popular compositions, with floating treble vocal lines
perfectly depicting the Biblical text.
The music of Manuel Blancafort is characterized by its
clarity, simplicity, and purity of expression. Blancafort
was a founder of the Grupo Nueva Música and also a
celebrated choral conductor. Enric Morera, one of the
most important Catalan Nationalist composers, produced
some 800 works, notably operas, symphonic and other
instrumental compositions. Founder of the chorus Catalunya Nova, Morera is perhaps best known today for
his choral arrangements of Catalan folk-songs. Morera’s
El Rossinyol and Blancafort’s Cant d’amor are both
evocative of their traditional Catalan texts. In the tender
and mystical Ave Maria Morera sets the soprano solo
against a luminous background of women’s voices.
Manuel Oltra, one of Catalonia’s most distinguished
living composers, is Professor of Composition at the
Conservatori Superior de Música, Barcelona. His highly
varied compositions include symphonic works, chamber
music, and especially choral music. In 1994 the
Generalitat de Catalunya awarded him the Premi Nacional
de Música. Composed in 1964–65, his Eco and Preludio are brilliantly written for chorus, and also recreate the
vivid atmosphere of Federico Garcia Lorca’s poems from
Three Songs of Love.
Special Thanks: To the members and staff of Church of the Ascension, Fifth Avenue at Tenth Street, New York City,
the Rev. Andrew W. Foster III, Rector, Niel Shell, Walter Clark, F. William Chickering, Yolanda Guasch, and Lila Deis.
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