América Salvaje (Symphonic Poem)
by Jimmy Lopez (2007)
This composition originated as a commission by the Minister of Education of Peru, Mr. Javier Sota Nadal, to celebrate the inauguration of the National Library of Peru. I was convinced that no other musical genre would be more appropriate for this occasion than the symphonic poem because of its clear link with literature. I decided to base my composition in “Blasón” by Peruvian poet José Santos Chocano. This poem manages to transmit the origins of the Peruvian nation with incredible strength and accurately depicts the eternal Spanish-Inca duality which remains present until today. The resulting composition intends to reflect over the multicultural roots of the Peruvian Nation with the same strength and clarity with which the poet conveys his message.
Jose Santos Chocano’s verse demands a musical language of equal power, thus América Salvaje explores the richness of Peruvian heritage through several sonic landscapes of diverse origin in which both, Peruvian and European instruments are employed. Each section exceeds the previous one in energy, the whole composition being a relentless crescendo whose apex is only reached at the very end. In this work, several elements come together: millenary Andean instruments, European contemporary compositional techniques, Afro-Peruvian folklore, and modal-tonal harmonies. It constitutes an ambitious attempt to reflect the richness and complexity of the musical heritage of Peru.
The composition is divided into four sections and a coda. Each section corresponds to a different verse of the poem.
The first section uses textures reminiscent of Pendereczky’s early period. Here, the duration of each musical gesture (given in seconds) is governed by the fibonacci series. The first sound is produced by a group of 10 pututos. The pututo being a ceremonial Andean instrument which was used to gather the population for events of great importance and generally of ritual character. Ocarinas and water whistles (which imitate the sound of birds) are also used, drawing wild sonic landscapes which contrast with the sound produced by string, percussion and low brass instruments which make their entry at the middle of this section before a swift transition towards the second section by the strings using overtones in soft dynamics.
The second section introduces harmonic elements which will serve as a the basic building blocks over which the rest of the piece will be constructed. The piece revolves around F. The main chord, though it appears complete only at bar 146 (section 3), is already in use during the second section. This chord is derived from a series of intervals which is governed by the following principle: the distance between two successive ascending notes is equal to the same distance between the previous two notes minus a half step. That is to say, if the first two notes are separated by a minor sixth, the third note must come only after a perfect fifth, the fourth after an augmented fourth, the fifth after a perfect fourth, and so on. In this way, a series of intervals are created starting on F and ending on F:
When all these sounds are put into the same octave, the result is the following scale:
Also worthy of notice is the fact that there is one added C after the initial low F, breaking the symmetry. The resulting chord as first seen in bar 146 is the following:
This set of intervals is the basis upon which the brass choral in this second section is based. The rest of the orchestra is divided into nine different groups, each presenting a full scale:
1.Oboe 1 & Flute 2 (Piccolo) / scale in B
2.Violin I / scale in F (original)
3.Oboe 2 & Flute 1 / scale in C#
4.Violin II / scale in G
5.Clarinet 1 & 2 / scale in D
6.Viola / scale in G#
7.Violoncello / scale in E
8.Bassoon 1 & 2 / scale in B
9.Double Bass / scale in F
Although there are 9 groups, there are only seven transpositions of the original scale each one starting at each the following notes: F, G, G#, B, C#, D, and E.
From the rhythmical point of view, the number of rests and the number of notes of each scale is exactly determined by the fibonacci series, but due to space constraints we won’t go into detail during the present article.
The percussion make their entry at the very end of the second section, serving as a nexus between the second and third sections. The third section (whose unit is the dotted quarter) is divided into five subsections of growing length and speed. The duration of each subsection and the tempo relationships between them are also governed by the fibonacci series. Each of these five subsections uses rhythms from a different Afro-Peruvian dance: Landó (84), Zamacueca (98), Alcatraz (114), Zacabón (133), and Festejo (156). This whole third section is made up of separate blocks contrasting with each other in instrumentation, harmony and motivic content. As the length of each individual block is shortened, so is the time interval between them.
Section four starts with the tempo indication quarter dotted note = 182. This section is similar to the second section in that the brass play a chorale independent of what happens in the rest of the orchestra. But unlike the second section where the harmonic content was derived from the same set of intervals, here, the brass instruments use modal/tonal harmonies whereas the rest of the orchestra continues to dwell on the same harmonic material as in the previous sections. This also goes for the strong rhythmic material of this fourth section which is in strict contrast with the, so to say, non-rhythmical scale content of the second section. But it is also important to keep in mind that, although the sound result is strikingly different between the chorales of the second and fourth sections, both use seven-note scales as their basis which makes them easily transposable. In fact, while composing the chorale of the second section, I first did a fully tonal version of it before ‘transposing’ it to the F-based seven note scale in figure 2.
The coda, which also constitutes the climax of this piece, sees the pututos reappear once again before the a final burst of scales and unison rhythms lead to a powerful conclusion with the whole orchestra playing F in unison.
Jimmy Lopez (2007)
Soy el cantor de América autóctono y salvaje:
mi lira tiene un alma, mi canto un ideal.
Mi verso no se mece colgado de un ramaje
con vaivén pausado de hamaca tropical...
Cuando me siento inca, le rindo vasallaje
al Sol, que me da el cetro de su poder real;
cuando me siento hispano y evoco el coloniaje
parecen mis estrofas trompetas de cristal.
Mi fantasía viene de un abolengo moro:
los Andes son de plata, pero el león, de oro,
y las dos castas fundo con épico fragor.
La sangre es española e incaico es el latido;
y de no ser Poeta, quizá yo hubiera sido
un blanco aventurero o un indio emperador.
José Santos Chocano (Lima-Peru, 1867-1935)
Blasón (Coat of Arms)
I am the singer of America, indigenous and wild
my lyre has a soul, my song an ideal.
My verse does not rock with the
slow swing of a hanging tropical hammock…
When I feel lnca, I render vasallage
to the Sun, which gives me the sceptre of its royal power;
when I feel Hispanic and evoke colonial times
my verses seem like crystal trumpets.
My fantasy comes from a Moorish lineage:
the Andes are made of silver, but the lion, of gold,
and the two castes I melt with epic heat.
The blood is Spanish and Inca is the heart-beat;
and had I not been a Poet, perhaps I would have been
an adventurous white man or an Indian emperor.
José Santos Chocano (Lima-Peru, 1867-1935)
Free English translation: Jimmy López