Symphony: Cancionero Mudo
(Oboe 2 doubles on English Horn)
4 Horns in F
2 Trumpets in C
Percussion (3 players)
Wabbash Valley Youth Symphony, Carlos Carrillo Coto, Music Director.
Duration: ca. 22’
El canto quiere ser luz The Song wants to become The Light
En lo oscuro el canto tiene In the dark, The Song has
hilos de fósforo y luna. strands of phosphorous and moon.
La luz no sabe qué quiere. The Light does not know what it wants.
En sus límites de ópalo, In its opal-like limits
se encuentra ella misma, it finds itself
y vuelve. and returns
–Federico García Lorca (Trans. Armando Bayolo)
Symphony: Cancionero Mudo is the second of what is, up to this point, a loose trilogy of symphonies for different types of ensemble (no. 1, Chamber Symphony: Illusory Airs, is for large chamber ensemble; no. 3¸ Symphony: Savage Howls, for wind ensemble) each commenting on an aspect of the symphonic tradition from the vantage point of the early 21st century. For me, the term/title “symphony” has become a way to engage the past, and Cancionero Mudo is, of all my symphonies, the one that looks to the past most unabashedly. It is also perhaps the happiest, brightest piece I’ve ever written.
The title simply means “Mute Songbook.” Lyricism is intensely important to me as a composer and this symphony revels in it. It is not merely a collection of “songs without words,” however, but seeks symphonic unity through recurring themes first heard in the first movement in light of the Lorca poem that serves as the work’s epigram and inspiring leitmotif. This opening movement, “Prólogo (sonata)” presents the main themes for the symphony in a relatively compact, simple sonata-allegro structure not too different from those of the 18th century (or, perhaps, those of the early 20th century’s more neo-classical composers). The second movement, “…hilos de fósforo y luna…” (“strands of light and moon”) is a gentle nocturne where a tune devised from the first movement’s bass ostinato is sung over ever changing timbres in the orchestra. The third movement, “Rickroll,” is the symphony’s obvious scherzo. A “Rick roll” is an internet meme popular a few years ago where one would send one’s friends an email or other such message with an important link related to your message that would turn out to be, in fact, a video to English singer Rick Astley’s 1987 song, “Never Gonna Give You Up” (the meme became so popular that it led to Astley himself “rick rolling” a float in the 2008 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!). I never really quote the song in this movement, but its mechanical disco/techno spirit is evoked in the movement’s recapitulation, where the symphony’s evolving theme is transformed not into an apotheosis of its scherzo version but into a rambling discotheque anthem (labeled “Mahler in Ibiza” in the score) that gradually and violently collapses upon itself. This collapse leads directly to the symphony’s finale, “…se encuentra ella misma y vuelve…” (“she finds herself and returns”). The finale is a set of variations, each faster than its predecessor. In it the theme, developed, as in each movement, from the prologue’s bass ostinato theme, is gradually transformed from a gentle nocturne into a triumphal apotheosis.
Symphony: Cancionero Mudo was commissioned by the Wabbash Valley Youth Symphony, Carlos Carrillo, Music Director, in 2008. It was premiered by them, under my direction, in May, 2009. It is dedicated to my youngest daughter, Elena.