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Canciones lóbregas / Seamy songs

For low voice and piano

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Perhaps due to the general pessimism of the months of confinement and slow recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, in the fall of 2020 and without any commitment to attend to, I was seduced by the idea of composing a series of songs with a dismal and gloomy mood, as a consequence of reading the poem Das Grauen ("The Horror") by the Austrian poet Georg Trakl (1887-1914), whose reference I found in great essay Tension and Sense. An introduction to contemporary poetry, in whose presentation I was invited to participate by its author, my former student Mariano Peyrou, and which was not held as a result of the pandemic.

Cover of the book Tension and Sense, by Mariano Peyrou
(Taurus, 2020)

Reading this tremendous poem, together with that of L'ennemi ("The Enemy") by Baudelaire (1821-1867), which appeared a few pages later in the same publication, led me to conceive a cycle of three songs, for to complete which -and to look for a text in a language other than the two previous ones (German and French, respectively)- I turned to Silence ("Silence"), by the American Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), thus completing a trilogy of songs on texts from three of the most tormented writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, which I baptized with the title of Canciones lóbregas ("Seamy songs").
As is logical, the musical treatment is impregnated by the character of each of the poems, so I refer to the reading of the poems for the best appreciation of their setting to music.
Conceived for a low voice (preferably male, but without discarding that they can be sung by a woman), the Seamy songs were started in the French town of Cordes-sur-Ciel in August 2020, and finished in Madrid in October of that same year, not having yet been released at the time of writing these lines (May 2023).


Georg Trakl (1887-1914)

Das Grauen / The Horror

Ich sah mich durch verlass'ne Zimmer gehn.
- Die Sterne tanzten irr auf blauem Grunde,
Und auf den Feldern heulten laut die Hunde,
Und in den Wipfeln wühlte wild der Föhn.

Doch plötzlich: Stille! Dumpfe Fieberglut
Läßt giftige Blumen blühn aus meinem Munde,
Aus dem Geäst fällt wie aus einer Wunde
Blaß schimmernd Tau, und fällt, und fällt wie Blut.

Aus eines Spiegels trügerischer Leere
Hebt langsam sich, und wie ins Ungefähre
Aus Graun und Finsternis ein Antlitz: Kain!

Sehr leise rauscht die samtene Portiere,
Durchs Fenster schaut der Mond gleichwie ins Leere,
Da bin mit meinem Mörder ich allein.
I saw myself go through abandoned rooms.
- The stars danced crazily on blue ground,
And on the fields the dogs howled loud,
And in the treetops the foehn rummaged wildly.

But suddenly: stillness! Stuffy fever glow
Lets poisonous flowers bloom from my mouth,
From the branches like from a wound
Pale gleaming dew falls, and falls, and falls like blood.

From a mirror's deceitful emptiness
A countenance slowly lifts in the vagueness
Out of horror and darkness: Cain!

Very quietly the velvet curtains rustle,
Through the window the moon looks as if into emptiness,
There I am alone with my murderer.

Georg Trakl (1887-1914)

Primera página de la primera de las Canciones lóbregas

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

L'ennemi / The ennemy

(Fleurs du mal, 109)

Ma jeunesse ne fut qu'un ténébreux orage,
Traversé çà et là par de brillants soleils;
Le tonnerre et la pluie ont fait un tel ravage,
Qu'il reste en mon jardin bien peu de fruits vermeils.

Voilà que j'ai touché l'automne des idées,
Et qu'il faut employer la pelle et les râteaux
Pour rassembler à neuf les terres inondées,
Où l'eau creuse des trous grands comme des tombeaux.

Et qui sait si les fleurs nouvelles que je rêve
Trouveront dans ce sol lavé comme une grève
Le mystique aliment qui ferait leur vigueur?

— Ô douleur! Ô douleur! Le Temps mange la vie,
Et l'obscur Ennemi qui nous ronge le coeur
Du sang que nous perdons croît et se fortifie!

My youth has been nothing but a tenebrous storm,
Pierced now and then by rays of brilliant sunshine;
Thunder and rain have wrought so much havoc
That very few ripe fruits remain in my garden.

I have already reached the autumn of the mind,
And I must set to work with the spade and the rake
To gather back the inundated soil
In which the rain digs holes as big as graves.

And who knows whether the new flowers I dream of
Will find in this earth washed bare like the strand,
The mystic aliment that would give them vigor?

Alas! Alas! Time eats away our lives,
And the hidden Enemy who gnaws at our hearts
Grows by drawing strength from the blood we lose!

(Transl.: William Aggeler)

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

Primera página de la segunda de las Canciones lóbregas

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)


There are some qualities— some incorporate things,
That have a double life, which thus is made
A type of that twin entity which springs
From matter and light, evinced in solid and shade.

There is a two-fold Silence— sea and shore—
Body and soul. One dwells in lonely places,
Newly with grass o'ergrown; some solemn graces,
Some human memories and tearful lore,
Render him terrorless: his name's "No More."

He is the corporate Silence: dread him not!
No power hath he of evil in himself;
But should some urgent fate (untimely lot!)

Bring thee to meet his shadow (nameless elf,
That haunteth the lone regions where hath trod
No foot of man,) commend thyself to God!

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

Primera página de la tercera de las Canciones lóbregas

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(Score without watermarks available at www.asesores-musicales.com )