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Gabriel Celaya (1911-1991)

Para saber si existo / To know if I exist

(On texts by Gabriel Celaya)

Mixed Choir



Para saber si existo (To know if I exist), written in Rome in November 1979, was born after reading a series of poems by Gabriel Celaya. One of them ("Biography") impressed me so vividly that I couldn't shake the temptation to put it in music. The text itself gave rise to a treatment of the chorus of extreme complexity, within an enormous freedom. The, in a way, resulting "chaos" suggested to me a continuation that was progressing towards "order." For this I selected a second poem ("Plucked from a depth / things emerge, visible..." ) that would serve, due to its poetic content, as a transition towards that "order", reflected in music by a completely traditional treatment of the choir, both in its vocal and in its purely harmonic aspects, at the service of a third and final text, simple and brief ("Hard and icy water, / January moon ..." ).
I must honestly confess that I never thought, when writing it, that Para saber si existo would be performed in concert. It was conceived more as a "technical exercise" than anything else, as it was my first and, for a long time, only a cappella work. The enormous complexity of his writing, the abundant numbers divided up to 40 different parts, especially in the first section, the constant tuning problems ... all this, in short, presupposes such a difficult assembly that it would not be fair to conclude these lines without applaud a priori the RTVE Choir and Pascual Ortega, its conductor, for daring to star in the premiere of this work within a concert offered at the Santander Festival on August 9th, 1986.

Para saber si existo's first page


Biografía / Biography

No cojas la cuchara con la mano izquierda.
No pongas los codos en la mesa.
Dobla bien la servilleta.
Eso, para empezar.

Extraiga la raíz cuadrada de tres mil trescientos trece.
¿Donde está Tanganika?
¿Qué año nació Cervantes?
Eso, para seguir.

¿Le parece a usted correcto que un ingeniero haga versos?
La cultura es un adorno y el negocio es el negocio.
Si sigues con esa chica, te cerraremos las puertas.
Eso, para vivir.

No seas loco. Sé educado. Sé correcto.
No bebas. No fumes. No respires. No tosas.
Dar el no a todos los nos
y descansar: morir.
Don't pick up the spoon with your left hand.
Do not put your elbows on the table.
Fold the napkin well.
That, to begin with.

Get the square root of three thousand three hundred and thirteen.
Where is Tanganyika?
What year was Cervantes born?
That, to continue.

Does it seem right to you for an engineer to write verses?
Culture is an ornament and business is business.
If you stick with that girl, we'll close the doors for you.
That, to live.

Do not be crazy. Be polite. Be correct.
Do not drink. Do not smoke. Do not breathe. Don't cough.
Give no to all no's
and rest: die.

Arrancadas a una hondura / Plucked from a depth

Arrancadas a una hondura
surgen, visibles, las cosas,
antes apenas sentidas
como llanto, brisa o sombra.

Poema, vuélvete objeto,
brilla redondo en la luz,
que ella te toque temblando
sin fundirte en lo uno-azul.

Ceda el rítmico latido
y hágase así tu silencio.
El de las cosas que están,
y estando están porque sí,
y están ahí sin saberlo.
Plucked from a depth
things emerge, visible,
before barely felt
like weeping, breeze or shadow.

Poem, become an object,
shine round in the light,
let it touch you trembling
without melting you into the one-blue.

Give in to the rhythmic beat
and so let your silence be.
The one of the things that are,
and being they be because yes,
and they are there without knowing it.

Agua helada y dura / Hard and icy water

Agua helada y dura,
luna de enero.
Tu madreperla
es el silencio.

Para saber si existo
canto, y no sé
si lo que soy ya fui
o si seré.
Hard and icy water,
January moon.
Silence is
Your mother-of-pearl.

To know if I exist
I sing, and I don't know
if what I am I have already been
or if I will.

(Textos de Gabriel Celaya / Texts by Gabriel Celaya)


New music and old music at the Santander festival
By Enrique Franco
(Review published in the newspaper El País. Madrid, August 11, 1986)

Gabriel Celaya's poetry is something very different in his representative Biography, made of life and memories shouted before being meditated. José Luis Turina did in his To know if I exist a musical creationism parallel to that of the verses in their order and in their freedom.