Publisher: Chester Music
Canciones del Alma (1975)
St John of the Cross
Chester Music Ltd
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
2 Countertenors [=2 Mezzo Sopranos]
Geoffrey Burgon writes: This work is a setting of two poems and part of a longer poem by the 16th century mystic St John of the Cross. It is scored for two counter-tenors and 13 solo strings, and was written during April of this year.
I first became familiar with the counter-tenor voice through hearing Kevin Smith sing when we were contemporaries at the Guildhall School of Music. Since then I have written many works for counter-tenor as I find its highly charged yet strangely disembodied emotional quality to be an essential part of my own musical language.
The opportunity to write for two counter-tenors therefore presented a rare chance to convey the richly erotic imagery of St John’s allegories. The strange ambiguity of the voice is a perfect vehicle for the sumptuous confusion of St John’s imagery.
The shape of these songs closely follows that of the poems and the colours and textures of the music is suggested by the successive images of the verse.
The three songs are ‘Oh llama de amor viva’, which begins urgently but soon opens into rapturous lyricism, ‘Tras de un amoroso lance’, which is a hushed scherzo, and, finally, the last five verses of ‘Canciones entre el alma y el Esposo’, a strophic setting with the melody line gradually being elaborated, both contrapuntally and harmonically.