In the fall of 1996, my work La Raya en el Agua was premiered, composed by order of the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid for the solemn reopening of its Fernando de Rojas Room, closed for many years to be subjected to a deep restructuring. In this premiere -carried out with few material means, but with great artistic resources, provided by the intrinsic quality of all the performers- I was fortunate to collaborate for the first time with the sopranist Flavio Oliver, whose musical and theatrical gifts surprised me once and again. Thinking about his voice and his possibilities, after a few months I composed the role of Pasamonte in my opera D.Q. (Don Quijote en Barcelona, premiered in October 2000 at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, in a dazzling staging of La Fura dels Baus.
Sopranist Flavio Oliver
With all this, an idea that had been on my mind for some years began to take shape, consisting of writing a piece for voice and chamber ensemble around some of William Shakespeare's sonnets. The markedly ambiguous character -from the sexual point of view, it is understood- of them seemed to me ideal for being sung by an equally ambiguous voice, clearly a soprano but emitted by a man, with what this necessarily entails unreality and misleading sexuality. And when, after the previously mentioned collaborations with Flavio Oliver, the "Arbós" Symphony Orchestra offered me the proposal to write a symphonic work with or without soloists, I understood that all the circumstances were favorable to carry out my project on Shakespeare's sonnets, but changing the initial chamber approach for the symphonic one. On the other hand, this work completes a chapter in my catalog in which I have been immersed for a long time (the one related to vocal music, and with it to the always difficult and complex relationships between music and words), with this first lieder cycle for voice and orchestra.
Cover of the first edition of the Sonnets (London, 1609)
Choosing the sonnets was a difficult task, although highly rewarding, looking for different contrasts in them that would guarantee variety in their musicalization. Thus, the number 40th (Take all my loves, my love, yea take them all...) already opens with an orchestral introduction in which in a very few bars it goes through a rapid succession of sound and stylistic climates, in a way of general declaration of the aesthetic principles that will inspire the whole of the work. The lyricism of this first sonnet gives way to the scherzante character of the second, the 130th (My mistress'eyes are nothing like the sun...), with frequent comic and burlesque moments. The last movement unites and intertwines the two remaining sonnets, 129th (Th' expense of spirit in a vast of shame...) and 26th (Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage...), in an attempt to synthesis of lyrical and violent contrasts, product of the impossible fusion of both texts into one.
Program of the premiere of Four Sonnets by Shakespeare (Madrid, april 24, 2003)
The Four Sonnets by Shakespeare were written between November 2001 and March 2002, and are dedicated to the Madrid Symphony Orchestra, under whose charge the premiere took place on April 24, 2003, with Flavio Oliver as soloist and conducted by Miguel Ángel Gómez Martínez, at the National Music Auditorium.
Sonnets for an unreal voice
By Carlos Forteza
(Report published in the supplement "El Cultural" of the newspaper El Mundo. Madrid, April 23, 2003)
The National Auditorium of Madrid hosts today the premiere of the latest creation by José Luis Turina, Four Sonnets by William Shakespeare. Commissioned for the celebration of the centenary of the Madrid Symphony Orchestra, it will be conducted by Gómez Martínez and will feature the sopranist Flavio Oliver as the main vocal performer.
The composer José Luis Turina, grandson of Joaquín Turina, is one of the leading figures in the current creative scene, a task that combines with his work at the head of JONDE and teaching. Among his latest compositions, a Piano Concerto, premiered at the Canary Islands Festival, or the opera D.Q.stand out. Awarded the National Music Prize in 1996, he premieres today his Four Sonnets by W. Shakespeare in what is his first foray into composition of vocal music with orchestra, following the path of Strauss's Four Last Lieder.
As Turina recalls, the idea of composing a work for the sopranist voice arose after working with Oliver in his stage-musical show La raya en el agua, based on La Celestina, commissioned by the Círculo de Bellas Artes of Madrid for the reopening of the Fernando de Rojas Hall. "It was in 1996 when Flavio Oliver had to replace the soprano who was to play the main role. The result was extraordinary. I was immediately dazzled by her way of interpreting, of being on stage and, above all, his voice". As a result of this meeting, Turina began to forge the idea of basing some of her compositions on that position, again using classical texts, in this case Shakespeare's sonnets. Oliver was fascinated by the idea, but the project would take time to see the light.
The freedom that came with the commission that Turina received three years ago for the celebration of the centenary of Madrid Symphony Orchestra, was an excellent opportunity to recover that project of the lieder for sopranist with texts by Shakespeare: "I was seduced by the idea of making use of of the vocal ambiguity that this type of voice entails. As it is a woman's voice emitted by a man, I found it very attractive to take advantage of that virtue to put music to texts as sexually imprecise as the Sonnets of the English writer".
In this sense, and as Turina indicates, in Shakespeare's Sonnets it happens that you never know who is speaking, "if it is a man addressing a woman, a woman addressing a man, a man to a man or a woman to another woman. That ambiguity came to the fore to be sung by a sopranist, on the other hand, a rather unreal voice. From a dramatic point of view, that visual contradiction of seeing a man sing like a woman is interesting. That is where I wanted to put the emphasis of my work, composing for an impossible voice".
Vocal resources. Flavio Oliver himself, in charge of the version that will be heard this afternoon, highlights Turina's deep knowledge of the voice: "By understanding the vocal mechanisms of each singer, he manages to bring out its best resources. The role of the Sonnets is made for my voice, which does not take away from the fact that it entails many difficulties and at the same time that it is of incredible brilliance". Oliver highlights Turina's concern regarding dramatic issues: "The singer has many indications to know how to approach the role, both vocally and with regard to the interpretation".
The work that will be premiered this afternoon at the National Auditorium is structured around four sonnets, sung in their original language. In this regard, Turina acknowledges that the selection of verses was very complicated: "I based myself on the bilingual edition by Agustín García Calvo. All of them, as literature, are wonderful, but not all of them lent themselves equally to being set to music. The ones selected are of lyrical-love and burlesque content". For a musician, at least in his case, the process of choosing the text is the part that costs him the most work: "Once the choice is made, the music has to be at the service of those texts, which solve many things for you: formal, harmonious, of character, of contrasts", he points out.
José Luis Turina does not consider himself a radically avant-garde musician, "and at fifty years of age, less; I have no qualms about using more traditional stylistic procedures, but not isolated but placed at the service, confronted, with other more current and avant-garde formulas. All with the same intention: to create a dramatic conflict".
Turina and Shakespeare
By Enrique Franco
(Review published in the newspaper El País. Madrid, 2April 26, 2003)
A premiere by José Luis Turina is always an event. He is one of the greats of the generation born in the fifties and from his first works he showed that he has a lot to say and, furthermore, he says it excellently. His Shakespearean Sonnets, written with the support of the Madrid Symphony Orchestra, haunted the mind of an author with a great track record in the relationships between staves and verses, and now we have seen the results of this effort, as important and difficult as dialogue with the great British supposes, after having supported him with Cervantes and, long ago, with Valle-Inclán.
Elucidating the melodica, the structure and the ideal musical atmosphere for four sonnets is, more than a challenge, a stupendous adventure, and Turina, who hardly had the air of a disciple but who shows off his masterful spirit from a very young age, has achieved a beautiful and demanding work, incited in part by the voice and art of a surprising sopranist, the Brescian Flavio Oliver, and in part by direct knowledge of these lofty love rhymes and their Castilian translation by Agustín García Calvo.
An example of ethics, aesthetics and profound originality that the audience insistently applauded after the magnificent creation by Oliver, the Symphony Orchestra and the always confident Miguel Ángel Gómez Martínez.
Rehearsal and premiere
By Antonio Iglesias
(Review published in the newspaper ABC. Madrid, April 26, 2003)
Even if it was very spaced out, the critic should attend one of the rehearsals that are the core of the concert, for multiple reasons, the most interesting being that of verifying a capital work for the healthiest interpretation of the scores. I just did it on Thursday at noon, and I was extremely gratified by my result, at the top of all of which was discovering one of the most interesting works of our contemporary musical heritage: the "Four Sonnets of William Shakespeare", written by José Luis Turina, attending to the commission for the Centenary of the Madrid Symphony Orchestra, in rigorous premiere.
Important premiere. From the gloomy initiation that opens the first of the "Sonnets", because the composer does not hesitate to consider climates of a romantic bias, very soon abandoned in favor of using a current style that uses the great orchestra with the addition of three percussionists, piano, celesta and harp. The necessary contrast will arrive fully due to the smiling character, increased vivacity and symphonic ease, when the second of the Shakespearean sonnets, to which the uninterrupted third and fourth will be added, over which floats a certain, very tenuous, Straussian halo -of the best Richard Strauss- with an enormous but well-governed freedom. There are very interesting developments, fundamental germs -one of five or six notes, repetitive, perhaps too much when the trumpets play- and poetry, a lot of tenderness also in the face of which is arid. Turina uses a countertenor as soloist (sopranist seems inconvenient), an unsympathetic timbre for whom it writes, fortunately in retreat perfectly replaced by the female voice. The role is lived by the Spanish Flavio Oliver, delivered in expression and with a very complete and safe technique.
And if the "Four Sonnets of William Shakespeare", by Turina, deserve my utmost attention, both for their value "per se" and for being able to estimate them as a magnificent call for our best contemporaneity, the meticulous orchestral work, knowledgeable from the well unraveled score, the Granada and European baton of Gómez Martínez, I considered it as one of the highest category in knowing how to delve into a page of our days. With Strauss's "Alpine Symphony", surely, in the afternoon, already at the concert, he would round off a well-deserved triumph.
Straight flush for José Luis Turina
By José Luis López López
(Review published in the Internet magazine Mundoclásico. May 15, 2003)
This first part of the concert was crowned with Four Sonnets by Shakespeareha, by J. L. Turina. The very selection and arrangement of these specific Shakespearean sonnets means a considerable success: it begins with the 40th ("Take all my loves..."), deeply lyrical in nature, to continue with the 130th ("My mistress eyes are nothing like the sun..."), ambivalent in its mixture of burlesque irony and a finale full of tenderness. The third and fourth sonnets chosen are a "fusion" of the 129th and the 26th, full of sweet and violent contrasts, a kind of contradictory and impossible synthesis. The music with which Turina serves these incomparable texts has evolved from a chamber approach with a sopranist voice, going through an orchestral treatment, also to accompany a sopranist, until arriving at this version, equally orchestral, but for soprano voice, for which "the pertinent adaptations have been necessary," says the author. The variety of the sonnets is aimed at a diversity of musicalization, in which a set of sound and stylistic climates that gather multiple aesthetic influences from the 20th century are perceived, very well assembled, in a kind of anthological homage to the history of the "musical breath of our time".