My first contact with Luis Cernuda's book took place in 1980, in Rome, by the hand of my fellow student at the Spanish Academy of Fine Arts, Carlos Colón, who put in my hands a copy of "Ocnos", with the suggestion of composing a musical work based on the poems contained in it.
During the summer of 1982, repeated readings of the book encouraged me to carry out the composition, which began in the first days of September of that year, and whose development was interrupted several times by the need to attend to other works, official and unofficial commissions, which demanded a more pressing performance (the Trio for violin, cello and piano, the musical radio tale Sin orden ni concierto, commissioned by the Spanish Broadcasting Society for the "Prix Italia 1983", and Pentimento, commissioned by the National Orchestra of Spain. The score could finally be completed in June 1984, with the prospect of its possible presentation to the increasingly prestigious "Reina Sofía" Musical Composition Prize, from the Ferrer Salat Foundation,a fact that took place in the 1986 convocation (4th edition of the award), and that was resolved with the awarding of the same by the unanimity of a jury chaired by the illustrious French composer Henri Dutilleux and composed of Xavier Montsalvatge, Miguel Ángel Coria, Antoni Ros Marbà and Lluis Claret.
Henri Dutilleux's autograph commentary on Ocnos. (See translation in the "Reviews" section of this page)
With Queen Sofía and Carlos Ferrer Salat, at the delivery of the Queen Sofía Prize (1988)
Apart from these more or less anecdotal data, if there is something to highlight above anything else in these lines it is the presence of the name and the work of Luis Cernuda as an integral part of a musical work. According to what Ángel Mª Yanguas Cernuda, the poet's nephew and magnificent "collaborator" at the time of facilitating the complex bureaucratic procedures that led to the registration of a work of these characteristics, informed me, this was the first time that his authorization was requested, as the sole right holder of Cernuda, for the use of his texts in a symphonic work. I thought then that this was a piece of information of interest in a time like the present, in which this type of collaboration is more than common, because -I dared to predict, and thus it has been fulfilled- the figure and the work of Luis Cernuda were going to give a lot of himself in the musical field.
Facade of Cernuda's birth house in Seville
Jaime Gil de Biedma, in his wonderful prologue to the Spanish edition of "Ocnos" by me handled (Taurus, Madrid, 1977), reproduces a paragraph by Cernuda himself about his book, which I think it appropriate to include in these notes: "Around 1940 and in Glasgow (Scotland), LC began to compose "Ocnos", obsessed with memories of his childhood and early youth in Seville, which then, compared to the squalor and ugliness of Scotland, appeared to him as deserving of written commemoration and, at the same time, that they were thus exorcised. The little book grew (not much), and the search for a title occupied the author until he found in Goethe mention of Ocnos, a mythical character who braids the reeds that are to serve as food for his donkey. He found in it a certain pleasant sarcastic irony, taken the donkey as a symbol of all-consuming time, or of the public, equally unconscious and destructive. And in 1942 and in Oxford (where LC was on vacation), during the past war, the first edition of the book was printed ..."
Cover of the edition of Taurus de Ocnos
It is still curious that Cernuda, when giving a symbolic interpretation of the mythical character, pays more attention to the donkey than to Ocnos himself, which is, after all, who gives the title to his book. For my part, and wishing to be a little more respectful than the poet both with time and with the public, I will only add that I see Ocnos as an allegory, rather than as a symbol, of the artist, of the being to whom even the most superfluous and everyday activity (feeding the donkey) is compatible with the need to create something beautiful (the braided reeds) which we can call a work of art, if the product obtained and other considerations justify it.
For me, Cernuda's book has been nothing other than the trigger for a series of moods that can be transferred to a possible musical expression. Each of the movements is, if you like, a "gloss" of the poem that leads it, so it is not at all negligible to speak here of "descriptive" music, always within the limits of the purest abstraction.
The reduced space of these notes prevents me from an in-depth musical analysis, so I will discard any kind of technicality and limit myself to the simplest orography of the score. Written for a great symphony orchestra, Ocnos (Music for orchestra on poems by Luis Cernuda also requires an excellent first cellist and a reciter for its execution, in charge of the full reading of the four poems that lead each of the four movements that make up the work. The solo cello, a unifying element throughout the entire work, with which I wanted to musically evoke the figure of the poet, is almost always treated alone, as if it were another reciter, except in the last movement, in which it happens to play a concerting role.
The work opens with the movement entitled "Preliminary", based on Goethe's quote (taken by Cernuda from "Polygnote Gemälde in der Lesche zu Delphi") which, likewise, serves as a preliminary to the book.
Johann H. W. Tichsbein (1751-1829), Goethe in the Roman countryside (1787). Städel Art Institute, Frankfurt
Ocnos. Ocnos. Pio-Clementino Museum of the Vatican
"Pregón tácito (Unspoken proclamation)" and "La tormenta (The storm)" are the titles of the 2nd and 3rd movements, respectively. The fourth and last, "Escrito en el agua (Written in water)", is, for me, the poem with the highest literary quality and the deepest content in the entire collection: in a way, its dazzling structure serves as a guide to the entire work. For reasons that are not excessively clear, this poem, which closed the English edition (Oxford, 1942), does not appear in the first Spanish edition (Madrid, 1949), appearing in the most recent as "a poem excluded from Ocnos".
The score for OCNOS (Music for orchestra on poems by Luis Cernuda) is dedicated "to the city of Seville", the true protagonist of the book, to which, for obvious reasons, I feel especially linked.
Program of the premiere of Ocnos (Madrid, 1988)
The work was premiered at the Teatro Real in Madrid, in 1988, by the reciter Julio Núñez, the cellist Arturo Muruzábal and the Symphonic Orchestra of Radio Televisión Española under the direction of Juan Pablo Izquierdo.
In 2003 it was included in a CD of the RTVE label, within "Reina Sofía Prize for Musical Composition" collection.
Ocnos (Music for orchestra on poems by Luis Cernuda) is written for a large orchestra whose template is as follows:
Wood: 3 Flutes in C (the 3rd with Piccolo) 1 Flute in G; 3 Oboes, 1 English Horn; 3 B♭ Clarinets, 1 B♭ Bass Clarinet, 3 Bassoons and 1 Contrabassoon.
Metals: 8 French Horns in F, 6 Trumpets in C, 3 Trombones and 1 Tuba.
Percussion: 5 Percussionists, with 8 Timpani, 4 Suspended Cymbals, 2 pairs of Cymbals, Bass Tam-tam, Marimba, Xylophone, Glockenspiel, Bass Drum, Snare Drum and Wind-chimes in metal and glass.
String: 16 Violins I, 14 Violins II, 12 Violas, 10 Cellos and 8 Double Basses.
Others: 10 music boxes, the management of which is assigned to as many musicians from the orchestra.
Soloists: a Reciter, which can be dispensed with in a purely symphonic version, and a Violoncello.
A second version, made in 2001, reduces the Brass section to 5 French Horns, 4 Trumpets, 3 Trombones and 1 Tuba.
The work with the complete recitation of the selected Cernuda poems, lasts about 35 minutes.
Regarding the formal structure, it could be said that it is as free as that of the Cernuda poems that make up the Ocnos collection. The very formal freedom inherent to any prose poem was, in a certain way, a strong suggestion for the formal structuring of the music, which, broadly speaking, fairly closely follows the structural plan of the last of the selected poems: Written in Water. Therefore, I think it is appropriate to comment on this poem, before going on to detail the way in which its planning has influenced (or inspired) the music of my work. Written in water is a poem that Cernuda himself excluded from the definitive version of Ocnos, published in Spain. For its clarity in this regard, I transcribe here a fragment of Jaime Gil de Biedma's wonderful prologue to the 1977 edition of Taurus:
"To the thirty poems initially written in commemoration of his childhood and youth in Seville, the second and third edition add seven on the same theme, along with five more, evocative of moments in his life in Spain. Twenty-one joined them. They respond to very different testaments: some evoke experiences lived during the years of exile, others are rather ramblings with "intellectual resonance but with a poetic aftertaste," according to him. Some of the latter were probably written for another collection he had in mind and whose title -Marsias, Apollo's rival flutist, his favorite symbol of the poet and his tragic destiny- suggests motivations that have nothing to do with the commemoration, or exorcism, of certain moments in one's life. However, from the second edition, the poem that closed the book in the first one, and that was like a coda that made its meaning explicit, was suppressed. Written in water -which is how it was titled – exudes a complacent pathos that the author must have found a little embarrassing when rereading it. but perhaps its elimination was due mainly to the fact that as Ocnos grew and took another angle, those two pages were left without any function in the whole. This, in the form in which it has remained, does not lose poetic value or human interest, but it does lose unity and perhaps also its own entity. In a way it has become a marginal and complementary text to the second half of Reality and Desire, the one that goes from The Clouds to Desolation of the Chimera."
It goes without saying that the concern that Gil de Biedma supposes in Cernuda before the rereading of the last poem, whose sorrow leads him to exclude it, does not have to be reflected in the case of the score composed about Ocnos, in which I do not intend in any way put on music (or, better said, write a music that reflects) the book from top to bottom. That, from an artistic point of view, seems to me that it would not have made much sense, and, in any case, it was not my intention. Anyone interested in this whole matter may be surprised that I decided to finish the score of Ocnos with the recitation and consequent music on the poem excluded by Cernuda; but my intention was rather to imbue my music with the character and grief of the text. Hence the second and longer part of the title of my work: Music for orchestra on poems by Luis Cernuda, whose presence I consider even more important than that of the first, which is nothing more than a very clear reference to the most important work of the poet, and to which in a certain way gives reason for being to my score... and to the poem Written in water, in which the part dedicated to childhood and adolescence -whether or not Seville beats in the background of the text- is so or more primordial than that of the other poems of Ocnos.
Literary considerations aside, Written in water is clearly divided into four acts and an epilogue, considering each paragraph of the poem as such. The unity of each paragraph is perfect, and this is helped by the fact that each sentence is like a link in a chain, which fits perfectly with the one before and the one after. In turn, the last sentence of each paragraph serves as a link to the following paragraph, forming a kind of continuous transition, almost imperceptible, in which the poet goes through all the essential moods of his life in a couple of pages. Allow me a vulgarity: it is not possible to say more, with fewer words. And it goes without saying that the four acts and the epilogue are of a real drama.
The first act evokes the sense of permanence of childhood. The second, the unconsciousness of adolescence, with its constant search for love and its continuous disappointments that, in the long run, lead to a third act, that of youth and first maturity, in which the amorous passion can be directed towards nature. Since it also ends up being ephemeral, it becomes necessary to seek permanence, eternity (as a search for the sensation of the lost eternity of childhood) through what is considered immutable: God. But the fourth act, which for the believer is the end, absolute happiness, for the non-believer is nothing more than the beginning of a new ordeal: that of the realization, towards the end of life, that eternity does not exist, of the continuous and cruel deception that life has been. The epilogue is nothing more than the vital anguish resulting from the realization of the non-existence of the eternal, which leads the poet to think of his own insignificance, within the most absolute discouragement.
Among the rest of the poems that make up the Ocnos collection, I selected two others: one referring to a childhood memory (closely related to music, on the other hand, or better, with the musical aspect of an everyday event): Unspoken proclamation, and another related to nature and the way in which it impresses the poet: the description of an impressive phenomenon, and its effects (fear first, calm later) on the human being: The Storm. In the same way as Cernuda's book, my music opens with the recitation of the same text that he used as a Preliminary: a fragment by J. W. von Goethe, from Polygnote Gemälde in der Lesche zu Delphi. This fragment, and the music adjacent to it, serves, as in the book, as an introduction to the work. It describes the mythological character of Ocnos.
As for the music and its structural relationship with Written in water, Unspoken proclamation aims to evoke the atmosphere of the first act-paragraph: permanence, stability, the feeling that everything is eternal and immovable. The music is based on the repetitive (rings, retrogradable formulas, music boxes whose melodies, repeated incessantly, try to suggest that atmosphere of the infinitely lasting, at the same time that they take us back to childhood, whose timbre is usually one of the the most illustrious memories).
The second paragraph of the poem is evoked by the last section of this movement, made up of a very long crescendo of the string that gradually opens up until it explodes in a brilliant harmonic sequence that, like an orgasm, dissipates in a few seconds. The transformation of the music, from almost indifferent and imperturbable, to voluminous, corporeal, and sensually tonal, is nothing more than an evocation of the poet's immersion in the delirium of love, the tonal fragment wanting to be a recreation of carnal passion, which in turn it is abruptly broken (sudden change to D♭ major): "...but as soon as I approached to clasp a body against mine, it fled from my arms, leaving them empty". The Storm aims to reflect the passion for nature that emerges from the third paragraph of the poem, ending with a somehow disturbing arrival of calm. For its part, Written in water is, like the rest of Ocnos's music, a musical commentary on the poem of the same title. The fact that the general form of the work roughly follows the main lines of this poem does not give the movement that bears its title a special character. The music is intended to comment on the two final paragraphs of the poem, and thus pathos and desolation are necessary to its character. There is only a hint of grandeur in the crescendo of wood and metal, intended as a reflection of the luminous hope that precedes the invocation of God. When this hope is disappointed, the music, already reached its climax, breaks, shatters, tears itself apart, as the poet's soul must have been torn by becoming "the light of darkness" in it. Discouragement, loneliness, are the most characteristic notes of the end of the work, along with infinite poetry.
It was as natural a thing for Ocnos to braid his reeds as it was for an ass to eat them. He could stop braiding them, but then what would he do? That is why he prefers to braid the reeds, to occupy himself with something; and that is why the ass eats the plaited reeds, although if they were not, it would have to eat them all the same. They may taste better that way, or be more substantial. And it could be said, to a certain extent, that in this way Ocnos finds in his ass a form of pastime.
(Johann Wolgang von Goethe (1749-1832), Polygnote Gemälde in der Lesche zu Delphi)
Recording: Spanish Radio Television Orchestra. Julio Núñez (reciter) and Arturo Muruzábal (cello). Cond.: Juan Pablo Izquierdo I. Preliminary
First page of the first movement of Ocnos
Pregón tácito / Unspoken proclamation
With smiling affection, as the funny whims of the child are considered, you consider in your memory those white ice cream vendor carts (although ice cream does not greatly appeal to you) that, in the afternoon, appeared on the boulevards and avenues of the city, sounding cheerful, to attract buyers, its airy music box, childish, delicious, trivial.
Sometimes you heard them from a friend's house, a ground floor room with its sunny window open onto the seafront avenue, shaded by palms and eucalyptus facing the sea. The wonderfully bluish and Elysian sky gradually passed through all the nuances of the kaleidoscope that was the sunset there, coloring the air in elusive and inexpressible shades.
Other times you heard them from the high window of your room, down there, in the deep canyon of the avenue, you heard them coming from very far away, until finally you saw the little white cart sounding its flattering air. The sky fell into shadows, lighting up at the foot of your window the magic fair of urban lights, drawing a map in which you only knew how to distinguish and identify the light-like glow that crowned the Babylonian temple of the Mormons. And you still heard the air of a music box that, from a distance, continued to reach you intermittently.
The memory of some pleasant days, of a fortunate experience in our existence, can crystallize around a trivial object that, by indirectly becoming a symbol of that memory, acquires magical value. And yet, oh paradox, even if you can evoke and see within yourself the image of those ice cream carts, you cannot, on the other hand, remember or hum within yourself the little air they sounded, that little song, now unattainable, although ideally it continues sounding silent and enigmatic in your memory.
(Luis Cernuda, Ocnos, chap. 63)
Recording: Spanish Radio Television Orchestra. Julio Núñez (reciter) and Arturo Muruzábal (cello). Cond.: Juan Pablo Izquierdo II. Unspoken proclamation
First page of the second movement of Ocnos
La tormenta / The storm
Por el pinar de las brujas, tierra honda, troncos gigantes, cielo amenazador, donde la fronda centenaria más que brindarte protección parecía aliarse maléfica con la tormenta, el primer trueno rompió aún lejano, al cual fueron impulsando otros, como masa de aquellas piedras oscuras deprendidas de sus cimas y torrenteras, rodándole y rodando con él montaña abajo.
Through the pine forest of the witches, deep earth, giant trunks, threatening sky, where the centuries-old foliage seemed to ally with the storm rather than offer you protection, the first thunder broke still far away, which was driven by others, like a mass of those dark stones detached from their peaks and gullies, rolling him and rolling with him down the mountain.
In whom did the fright that infected the companion first appear, in you or in your horse?
From centuries ago, an ancestral suspicion returned to consciousness before what was not impossible to consider, in its din and its violence, as the anger of creation and its hidden god, matching the elemental instinct of being with the elemental forces of the earth. Everything came there to corroborate the legend of so many sabbatical meetings in that pine forest, whether it was accidental, like thunder and lightning, or consubstantial, like the crinkly and frowning of the place.
The rain, beaten down with force, made useless even the shelter of the most leafy trunks, because its silvery mass passed the branches, and then, when it touched the ground, divided into fragmentary veins down the slope. It seemed better to escape with it than not to wait for it motionless, as if the speed of the race could leave the thunder and the downpour behind his horse. But it was they who let you overtake them, already subsiding from the crests, while the sullen sky, there through a crack in the clouds, released a yellowish vapour.
Everything calmed down when the setting light appeared, although with a wild pause of unspeakable charm the murmur of the straggling drops could still be heard, falling from the edge of the leaves to the ground, which filled with water gave way under the horse's hooves. And with the light rose the song of a cuckoo, to which another soon answered, or the echo itself, its intervals of winged dialogue crossing through the sunset, until gleam and whistle join in the air with the same causality, just as before joined by him lightning and thunder.
Then you dismounted again, this time not to wait for the storm, but to see it off and contemplate among things that rebirth of a calm to which the man seemed oblivious, but without a doubt the witches, generous for a moment with the passer-by in their pine forest, allowed you to live and to know before returning to the town and the people, still startled, wet and happy.
(Luis Cernuda, Ocnos, chap. 41)
Recording: Spanish Radio Television Orchestra. Julio Núñez (reciter) and Arturo Muruzábal (cello). Cond.: Juan Pablo Izquierdo III. The storm
First page of the third movement of Ocnos
Written in water
Since I was a child, as far as my memory goes, I have always looked for what does not change, I have wanted eternity. Everything around me, during my early years, contributed to maintaining in me that illusion and belief in the permanent: the immutable family home, the identical accidents of my life. If something changed, it was to quickly return to what was customary, everything happening like the seasons in the cycle of the year, and behind the apparent diversity the intimate unity always shined through.
But childhood ended and I fell into the world. People were dying around me and houses were being ruined. Since then I was possessed by the delirium of love, I didn't even have a look for those testimonies of human expiration. If I had discovered the secret of eternity, if I possessed eternity in my spirit, what else mattered to me? But as soon as I approached to clasp a body against mine, when with my desire I thought to infuse it with permanence, it fled from my arms, leaving them empty.
Later I loved the animals, the trees (I have loved a poplar, I have loved a white poplar), the earth. Everything disappeared, putting in my loneliness the bitter feeling of the ephemeral. I just seemed durable among the leaking things. And then, fixed and cruel, the idea of my own disappearance arose in me, of how one day I too would part from myself.
God! I then exclaimed: give me eternity. God was already for me the love not achieved in this world, the love never broken, triumphant over the two-cornered cunning of time and death. And I loved God as the incomparable and perfect friend.
It was just another dream, because God does not exist. The fallen dry leaf told me, which a foot undoes as it passes. The dead bird told me, inert on the ground, its wing broken and rotten. My conscience told me that one day it will be lost in the vastness of non-being. And if God does not exist, how can I exist? I do not exist even now, that like a shadow I drag myself among the delirium of shadows, breathing these discouraged words, testimony (of whom and for whom?) absurd of my existence.
(Luis Cernuda. A poem excluded from Ocnos)
Recording: Spanish Radio Television Orchestra. Julio Núñez (reciter) and Arturo Muruzábal (cello). Cond.: Juan Pablo Izquierdo IV. Written in water
About Ocnos, by José Luis Turina, a work for large orchestra inspired by the poems of Luis Cernuda
By Henri Dutilleux, president of the jury of the IV "Reina Sofía" Prize for musical composition of the Ferrer Salat Foundation
(Comment written in October 1986, after awarding the prize)
It is a score whose writing denotes, both in terms of form and execution, a remarkable mastery by a still young composer. It is the work of an artist who is at once intelligent, sensitive, imaginative and concerned with clearly expressing his thoughts in a completely current language, totally of our time, without concessions to ease... ... What he is surely aware of is the a taste for a careful mise en oeuvre, for beautiful craftsmanship. The great musicians now recognized as "contemporary classics" (Strawinsky, Bartók, Schoenberg, Berg... to name but a few, after Debussy, Falla, Ravel, etc...) have each had his way, that taste for a job well done, irreproachable at the metier level, regardless of his genius. This quality, which is not so common in our time, is a joy to find in a young musician like José Luis Turina, all the more so when it is associated with other qualities in the field of invention...
José Luis Turina: "The ideal thing would be for the premiere of my composition «Ocnos» to take place in Seville"
By J. Félix Machuca
(Article published in the newspaper ABC. Madrid, november 2, 1986)
Premiere of Ocnos bay José Luis Turina
By Carlos Gómez Amat
(Review read during the program De Musica of the SER, on February 5, 1988)
But what interests us most is the premiere of José Luis Turina, which we point out as an important event for Spanish music. Minutes earlier, Her Majesty the Queen had presented composer Ángel Oliver with the award that bears her name, instituted by the Ferrer Salat Foundation, corresponding to last year, and then attended the presentation of the award-winning work in 1986. The first thing to be highlighted in Ocnos, the new work of Turina, is the choice of the beautiful texts of Luis Cernuda, and the tribute that poet and musician, without concessions, make to the city of Seville. The music is a kind of spiritual commentary on the words, which are recited or, in the absence of an audible voice, must be read by the listeners, as a starting point. José Luis Turina knows well one thing that we have repeated here: there are non-musicable texts, to which music cannot add anything, but an annoying confusion, and therefore they must remain in their verbal purity. As for the music, we find it simply masterful and mature. The use of timbres, the sound coherence and the impulse with which what is attempted is achieved are exemplary. This can only be achieved with great technique. The technique never exceeds and, contrary to what some believe, it does not cut the wings. Rather, it adds wingspan to fly higher. The uninformed viewer may at first find excessive the drama of this music, which begins with the same irony as that of old Goethe. But the truth is that there begins the great question about human activity in time and in the face of death, which must be rubricated with the last and moving prose poem by Cernuda: Witten in wáter.
Turina uses all the resources of his time, from the repetitive to the richness of the percussion. Far from the description, although it sometimes touches it, this is music of ambience, quite the opposite of the so-called "ambient music". This last one is heard like someone who hears rain, and José Luis Turina's rains on you and soaks you. It captures attention from start to finish. In these times, when there are composers who consider their own works "old" when ten years have passed, it is good that we are offered music with a timeless touch, not subject to fashion, and with a clear staying power.
In the commentary on young artists, very helpful elements are usually used: that of the generations, that of age, that of the influences received, etc. This is a country where you can be a "young composer" until administrative retirement. José Luis Turina is already in his maturity and is one of the first musicians in present-day Spain, as was his grandfather in his time. One and the other will remain. That a work like Ocnos is composed among us and warmly applauded by our public, is a reason for hope and pride. The success was very great, because the philharmonics have been forming their taste. The composer showed his gratitude to the immortal poet, raising his pages. The reciter, Julio Núñez, a little too theatrical, put conviction in his role, and was harmed by poor amplification. Cellist Arturo Muruzábal contributed the nobility of his art.
Cernuda, in Spanish music
By Enrique Franco
(Review published in the newspaper El País, February 6, 1988)
On the magnificent poems of "Ocnos", by Luis Cernuda, the Madrid composer José Luis Turina (1952) composed a work of the same title that won the Reina Sofía prize in 1986, and has now been premiered in a very careful and excellent version by the Chilean conductor Juan Pablo Izquierdo leading the RTVE Orchestra.
Ocnos is a great work and great music. Turina has a splendid craft but also talent, and his work is sensitive, new and solid, like a great symphony in four parts conducted by the recitations, discreetly done by Julio Núñez, and by a superbly played solo cello by Arturo Muruzábal.
It even assumes an internalized descriptivism that transfigures the poems and achieves the attraction of the profoundly novel and the emotion of what is truly felt. A great work, stupendously staged by orchestra and conductor.
Cernuda, en la música española
Por Enrique Franco
(Crítica publicada en el diario El País, el 6 de febrero de 1988)
Doña Sofía attended the world premiere of the 1986 award at the Teatro Real: Ocnos, based on texts by Luis Cernuda, by José Luis Turina (Madrid, 1952), included in the program of the RTVE symphony conducted by the Chilean Juan Pablo Izquierdo.
The premiere of Ocnos contains various meanings, apart from the intrinsic quality of the score: it is Luis Cernuda's great entry into Spanish music, so rich in Juan Ramón, Alberti, Lorca, Machado and Hernández and, to a lesser extent, Gerardo Diego.
José Luis Turina's attitude towards Cernuda can be summed up in the gesture with which he received the audience's applause at the end of the premiere: he took the poet's text and held it up. He has done nothing else in his score: serve and exalt that self-absorbed and dramatic Sevillian, capable of evoking the land of his childhood days in a language and from an ideology practically untold.
The music no longer becomes a parallel phenomenon, although it must inevitably be something, but an analysis of the poetic word, penetration, a trip to memory, evocation of that “illusion of light” that is cernudian Seville according to Adolfo Salazar.
Brilliant premiere of "Ocnos", by José Luis Turina, Queen Sofía Prize 1986
By Antonio Fernández-Cid
(Review published in the newspaper ABC. Madrid, February 7, 1988)
An hour after Her Majesty handed over, at the Royal Palace, the diploma certifying the Prize abdorned with her name, instituted by the Ferrer Salat Foundation and corresponding to the fifth edition of 1987, Queen Sofía witnessed, in the neighboring Theater Real, the premiere of the 1986 film: Ocnos, by José Luis Turina, under the direction of Juan Pablo Izquierdo, in which the will to serve and the abandonment of well-trodden areas stood out.
There are times when the critic deeply regrets not having more space to expand on the commentary on a concert. The one offered this time by the RTVE Symphony Orchestra, directed by the Chilean Juan Pablo Izquierdo, would demand a detailed gloss not only because of the important novelty already indicated, but also because of the interest of the entire program, accrediting, on the part of the maestro, a great willingness to serve, given the abandonment of appoggiaturas in well-trodden territories and the inclusion of some work -such as Alban Berg's Violin Concerto- that by itself gives prominence to a session. It is, at least, well underlined with applause the fact.
The fourth "Queen Sofía" award, granted by the sponsorship of Carlos Ferrer Salat, present and away for a few hours from his Olympic concerns, has come to confirm, on the one hand, the selective hierarchy achieved by the event, thanks to the success of his juries and the prestige that drives outstanding contestants; on the other, the great quality that, among the young promotions, José Luis Turina (Madrid, 1952) shows, grandson of a famous composer and determined to be one himself through very different paths.
His Ocnos, for a very large orchestra, with a particularly extensive supply of "quasi-Mahlerian" brass in the number, requires a reciter and a cellist with outstanding missions. That one, because the work is based on the original poems of the same title by Luis Cernuda that dazzled the young Turina when he met them in his Roman stage, back in 1980. Two years later he decided to gloss them in music. Four later he achieved the recognition of this award. And if Cernuda one day collected the memories of his childhood and his Sevillian youth, José Luis Turina dedicates this score to Seville, possibly the roundest, the most charming among those I know of his.
The work has four parts and the requirement is marked to precede them by reading the poems recited with applauded success, although somewhat taken the voice, by a well-known and prestigious actor, Julio Núñez.
A dry fortissimo chord opens the work and gives way to the first cello monologue. They must be as many as the parts that make up the work and only in the last one interpolates some intervention in those of the whole. It is very happy this other individualized, sensitive, coherent task, served splendidly by the soloist of the RTVE Symphony, who later and before played the rest of the program from his stand in a lesson in rare modesty, Arturo Muruzábal.
After that first monologue, the delicate incorporation of the orchestra is very logical. Since then, it has been noticed as a permanent characteristic that, without disdaining the great voice, far from it, José Luis Turina does not use the symphonic century as a mass, rather, he seeks refinement, the variety of timbres and a particular way of descriptivism, subtle gloss of the poems, of the atmosphere that emerges from them. The boiling of the "Preliminary"; the contrasts of the "Unspoken proclamation", from the soft backgrounds of the music boxes to the explosion that will lead to the monologal backwater of the cello; the timpani rolls heralding "The Storm", with the successive serenity that the rain brings -stitching of "pizzicatos"-; the dramatic force, so moving in the text of "Written in water", with the success of the note held by the cello, which at the end joins the reciter to soon join, as already said, the orchestra, are examples of a quality that culminates in the good taste of a very refined finish.
And since the version of the soloists, the orchestra and the government of Juan Pablo Izquierdo were very fortunate, success was infrequently achieved for a premiere work and José Luis Turina had to appear among his performers several times to applause.
Soul in music
By Arturo Reverter
(Review published in n. 22 of the magazine Scherzo. March, 1988)
The best thing from the point of view of global interpretation may be that the premiere work, IV Queen Sofía Prize from the Ferrer Salat Foundation, was awarded to a highly commendable score, well done and finished off, full of details of excellent and inspired music, good sample of the increasingly refined, heartfelt and profound art of José Luis Turina.
The composition appears structured in four clearly differentiated sections: Preliminary, which uses a text by Goethe, Unspoken proclamation, The storm and Written in water, which use prose poems from the book Ocnos by Luis Cernuda, whose dream world, nostalgic, bitter, gifted of a naked and impressive beauty, has tried to capture, from his point of view and with notable success, the composer. A reciter -in this case a somewhat faded and not always precise, but sober Julio Núñez- unravels the texts, sometimes underlined by music and separated from each other by intervals alluding to their intimate content. The organization of the ensemble follows, broadly speaking, that of the old melologues -or monologues or melodramas- of a Benda. The evocative and dramatic quality of poems and music support this ascription.
The cello is a great protagonist, with its permanent soliloquy, with its tense declamation, together with the reciting voice. He intervenes after the violent chord with which the work begins. After the first presence of the text, after successive figurations of the string soloist, there are passages in which the temperature of the piece begins to set: combinations of woodwinds-celesta-xylophone, appearance of brass at the end of a slow crescendo, subsequent climax . The trumpets, with sustained notes, close this initial part, culminating a slow process in which a dreamy dance has taken place, some soft touches of the bass drum followed by the metals and a fierce tutti chord.
The bass clarinet opens the musical commentary to Unspoken proclamation, in which a somber string phrase immediately stands out, struggling amid chromatic passages, leading inexorably to a huge crescendo and a liberating perfect chord. The section is signed by pizzicati del cello. The third part is perhaps the least successful and suggestive. Impeccably written, it gives way to a perhaps excessive descriptiveness, with kettledrums underlining phrases like "... the first thunder broke still far away." The percussion in full has its great moment here, the metals (reinforced on the usual template) shoot fast and violent volleys. Calm returns after a semi-random passage. Divisis, first music stands and cello, just one more time.
The pulse and the greatest finesse, the great music reappear in the staves alluding to Written in water, a truly devastating poem. The timbre of the marimba announces some sad and somber counterpoints, preparatory to an almost religious peroration of the metals. The violoncello -the soul of the poet- intervenes, already with the air of a final song, increasingly torn, the kettledrums mark a sinister dance, illuminated, over the dark voice of the bass clarinet, by slight pizzicati of the harp. A long, sharp note -"How can I exist?"- joins imperceptibly and delicately to the kettledrum, which with a soft touch, almost a caress, concludes the composition in a serene, contemplative, but sad climate, of assumption of a reality not at all encouraging: nihilistic.
To finish, in addition to the triumph, the excellent work of cellist Arturo Muruzábal should be noted.
Cernuda in José Luis Turina
By José Ramón Ripoll
(Commentary published in the booklet of the CD "Queen Sofía Prize of Musical Composition" of the RTVE label, and in the website of the Cervantes Virtual Centre. August 3, 2010)
In the 1970s, the figure of José Luis Turina (Madrid, 1952) began to emerge as one of the most solidly established values of his generation. With a dazzling expressive vitality, his work is comprehensive in that it assimilates the most advanced and liberating aspects of 20th-century Spanish music, while posing new proposals that make him worthy of his own decisive style. His extensive humanistic training encourages him to turn to other disciplines apparently unrelated to music to draw, not a sound parallelism with his work, but an amalgamation of thought, tradition and vision of the future. Thus, philosophy and literature have been assiduously visited by a prolific author who has cultivated almost all musical genres.
One of his most beautiful and interesting works, from a poetic point of view, and in terms of the relationship that the author establishes between music and poetry, is Ocnos, for which he received the Queen Sofía Prize for Musical Composition in 1986. Ocnos is a homonymous title of the book written by the poet Luis Cernuda around 1940, already exiled in England, about his childhood and early youth. It is a series of evocations in prose, where the author speaks of a wonderful and melancholy lost paradise at the same time, hard and delicate, in Seville. It is a book full, in turn, of musical suggestions, and in whose last text, "The chord", the author glimpses the purest essence of this harmonic combination. José Luis Turina read the book in Rome around 1980, and two years later decided to undertake a work in which the memory elements of the poet's childhood would serve to reconstruct not a sound plane parallel to his evocations, but an open space that triggers a series of emotions and motives suggested by the mythical poetic character. In any case, each one of the parts of the work can be interpreted as a sound gloss of the corresponding prose that, without escaping from the descriptive term of music, acquires an autonomous and independent entity by itself. Ocnos (Music for orchestra on poems by Luis Cernuda) is conceived for a large symphony orchestra with four musicians for each woodwind, eight horns, six trumpets, two harps, piano and abundant percussion; It also incorporates a cello, which acts as a soloist, and a reciter who reads the texts on which the four movements of the work are based. The cello serves as an allegory of the figure of the poet or the awareness of his own voice, which in the end comes to merge with the text and with the orchestra, in a concerted attitude, as an analogy of the natural union of the word with the whole.
The Goethe quote that opens the Cernudian collection, from which the Sevillian poet not only extracted the character destined to sprout his memories, serves as the basis for his first stage, called "Preliminary": "It was such a natural thing for Ocnos to braid his reeds, as for the donkey to eat them. He could stop plaiting them, but then what would he do?...". Like the first text, this work is dedicated to Seville, which, without being named, gives off its most intimate aromas.