Recently I had the great good fortune to sing some of the great classics of Spanish vocal music in the capital city of Madrid; this coming Sunday evening, I will sing them again, and, silly me, I am contemplating making a two day journey across the continent to Los Angeles, simply to hear some of my favorite Spanish musicians perform a program there.
Two years ago, I like so many other classical musicians in the United States, would have dismissed the idea that there was a body of amazing classical vocal music that went beyond the few songs by Granados and De Falla that we were taught in our days in the conservatory — but now I know better. I know names like Abril, Rodrigo, Turina, Montesalvage, Sors, and Latin American names like Cordero, Guastavino and Ginestera, and many others. And I find myself a great lover of Spanish classical music, after years of slavish devotion to all that is German and French in the category of art song.
How did I get here? Well, the journey began from two different directions: first, I encountered the songs of Joaquin Rodrigo when I was working on my first recording, Weinachtsfreude, and second, I found myself singing at and worshiping in a church with a sizeable Spanish-speaking congregation. So, two years ago when I read the audition call from the Project Cancion Espanola, I decided why not go and spend some time learning about singing in Spanish.
At the end of my second summer in Spain, I have discovered a great passion for the the classical and classical flamenco music of the Spain and the Spanish speaking countries. And, for reasons that I had never imagined but that I would like to share with you.
You see, and to many of you this will hardly be surprising, there is a greater sense of freedom to be found in this vocal literature. For those of you who don’t know the classical world, the German vocal w0rld is governed by something called the fach system. Everything is rigidly defined, what you sing in each category is rigidly defined and limited.
If you have ever heard me sing, you may guess that, well, I don’t fit easily in any of the boxes. And I will admit to you that much of my singing life has been spent in agony over which category do I fit in, what material should I present at an audition, etc. and so forth.
Here is the attitude I encounter in Spain –does the music fit you emotionally…do you have the notes…then sing it if you want to sing it. In Spain and in the Spanish literature, I feel free to explore, to sing what fits ME rather than spending my time fitting myself into a straight jacket for the sake of order.
And one more thing…the composition of beautiful art songs is still very much a living art in Spain…I have met amazing composers, still producing beautiful, singable works of art.
Don’t misunderstand…I still love my German art songs. But in a way that the German literature never offered, Spanish classical music demands that I find expression and communication from the inside out, rather than from the outside in. That is a philosophy that suits me both musically and theologically.
So, even though I have yet to learn to speak Spanish on the level that I speak and comprehend German and Italian, I will keep singing these songs and will introduce them to all who will listen. There is freedom in this music, along with the pain, suffering, and the joy. And so I leave you with a great performance of one the pieces I’ll be singing on Sunday…just click here to hear the magnificent Teresa Berganza sing “Oh, muerte cruele…”