Five Songs for soprano and piano (1986)

Duration: 15′

Poetry by Federico Garcia Lorca in Spanish 
Written for soprano Rachel Rosales 
Read NATS article New Directions: “The Inspirational Lorca” by Sharon Mabry. 
See Performance history. 

This song cycle was inspired by five poems of the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936). The poems El silencio, La luna negra, Las seis cuerdas, andClamor” are drawn from the collection Poema del Cante Jondo (1921), and La mano imposible is from El Diwan del Tamarit (1931-35). Lorca’s poetry is born from the continuous juxtaposition of contrasting and opposing symbols which attempt to negate each other. His obsession with death, which he referred to as the Spanish lover, also pervades his work. 

In I. El silencio, Lorca materializes silence by telling us to listen to it. It is the quietest song of the collection with a certain purity imparted by the modal quality of the music. 

In II. La mano imposible we are presented with a white marble-like, disembodied hand, an anxiously sought for (perhaps divine) hand that protects the dying. The anxiety of the search for this imposible hand is represented musically by questionning ascending melodies that pause in their climax, asking for answers. The accompaniment is highly chromatic and the meters shift constantly. Towards the end, the poem’s atmosphere of anxiety lessens and there is a glimpse of accepting the impossibility of finding such a hand, even though, as Lorca says, “nothing else matters” except that hand. The song ends with a peaceful and consonant duet or interweaving lines between the soprano and the piano. 

Some symbols in Lorca’s work have dual meanings: the moon, for example, represents both death threats (personified by women that anchant men and lead them to death) and eroticism. In III. La luna negra , the “Black moon” is a terrible presence and a threat to the unwary. The music is given a floating quality by the lack of a tonal center and by the continuous trills in the piano part which surround the soprano melody. The eerie character of the music sustains the ambiance of magic and incantation that permeates Lorca’s poem.

In IV. Las seis cuerdas (“The six strings”) Lorca glorifies the guitar. This instrument is to Lorca a symbol of remembrance of lost souls and a connection with the dead; “the guitar makes dreams weep” and lets the sobbing of lost souls escape through its black wooden well. As in the previous songs, melodic dissonance in the vocal lines and piano writing portrays the anguish of the text.

Finally, in V. Clamor, Lorca personifies Death. We see her walking, crowned with withered citrus blossoms, and singing a song with her vihuela, while the church bells toll. Musically, the piece begins with the bell-tolling in the piano that sets up the appearance of Death (represented by a long and torturous chromatic melody in the soprano libe that starts in the low register, and slowly unravels as it reaches the higher register.) The melody’s accompaniment in the piano is dissonant, syncopated and rhythmically insistent.

Published by Southern Music Company.