Some commentaries on Spiritual Canticle

Some
commentaries on
Spiritual Canticle
 
San Juan de la Cruz
Gerald Brenan
María Zambrano
Amancio Prada
 
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"...These songs having been written under influence of that love which proceeds from the overflowing mystical intelligence, cannot be fully explained. Indeed I do not purpose any such thing, for my sole object is to throw some general light over them, since Your Reverence wanted it so. In my opinion it is the better course to leave the outpourings of love in their own fullness, that everyone may apply them according to the measure of his spirit and power, rather than to pare them down to one particular sense which is not suited to the taste of everyone. And though I do put forth a particular explanation, still others are not to be bound by it. The mystical wisdom - that is, the love, of which these songs speak - does not require to be distinctly understood in order to produce the effect of love and tenderness in the soul, for it is in this respect like faith, by which we love God without a clear comprehension of Him".

San Juan de la Cruz
(From the Prologue to the Spiritual Canticle)

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Dear Friend,

I am writing to thank you for the record of the Spiritual Canticle you sent to me. My niece and I put it onto our player and listened to it. It made quite a remarkable impression on us, a renewal of the essence of the poem which we had lost as a consequence of studying it so much when I was writing about it and my niece was translating the lines. The melodies seemed quite beautiful to me. I am not a great music buff and therefore cannot speak with more sophisticated terminology, but I was caught in a state of total tension until the record stopped. His musical interpretation of the lines of poetry seems to me most appropriate. You have produced a great work, which has great transparency.

I have already listened to the Canticle twice, and I shall play it again in a couple of days´ time.

Please forgive me that I write so badly. I am 84 years old and my head isn´t too good.

Thank you so much for the pleasure and delight that you have given to me.

Gerald Brenan
February 10th, 1978
Cańada de las Palomas. Alhaurín el Grande (Málaga)
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Since the Arts have gone their own way and gained their independence, the word, the thought, poetry, have been left without a voice. Music found traditional liturgies and meanwhile, the word found freedom and its own path. And thus it is that the great works of poetry have not found anything even near the voice that they deserve, except for some rare exception. The splendour of opera is at the cost of the poverty and even humiliation of the poetic word.

Previously, in Ancient Greece, thought was sung and even reading was taught to the music of the lyre. Sung poems were the basic texts of philosophical thought - Parmenides - in an intimate union. And prayer, speaking now in the sphere of Catholicism, had to be spoken out loud. And the sighs and the sobbing of eucharistic ecstasy were to be heard alongside the human sounds coming from the small square. And the warbling of birds could be heard mixed up with the cry of pain which saves the anguish. And this is what takes place in the Canticle of St. John of the Cross when it is sung by Amancio Prada. Where you can hear the silences of the Segovian night, of that unique night, born of the memory in love. The flow of transparent time where a poem appears, at the very peak of poetry in our language, so a universal peak. Not one word goes past us as we so privilegedly make its acquaintance in its miraculous present. He does not lose his way in its beauty, nor lose his head in his voice, not for one moment. Music and voice do not appear as added on appendages, but as extracted from the poem itself. It is a marriage of word and musicality. And of something more inaudible no doubt. A marriage which is celebrated there, in the "risen caverns of stone", "to the mountainside and to the mountain pass whence springs pure water". Some drops of that water drunk from that secret source infuse this song of Amancio Prada´s with life.

María Zambrano
Geneva, January 1982
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The Spiritual Canticle is the work which has brought me most pleasure. Today´s performance is special: to sing it again in Segovia, twenty years after its first performance in this city, where I lived for five years in love with the city, and perform its most recent version, with a classical string quartet. There have been countless concerts performing the Canticle, the majority of them in cloisters, in small churches and in cathedrals... all of them places privileged with the beauty of their historic buildings, the most appropriate setting for the personality and beauty of the poem. Welcome on this occasion to the Church of San Millán.

I began to compose the music for the Spiritual Canticle in 1971, not long after returning from Paris. From a silent reading of the text arose the musical temptation. And I fell into that temptation: I proposed to sing the Canticle. In April 1972 I presented the first version, for voice, guitar and cello, in the Gaďté-Montparnasse Theatre, in a programme produced and broadcast by Radio France, called "Libre Parcours Recital". It was a selection from the poem and lasted about fifteen minutes. Once living in Segovia, in 1975 by now, I took up the composition again with the intention of singing the complete poem and increasing the instrumentation for a trio of guitar, violin and cello. In 1977 I gave the first performance of the new version in the Romanic Church of San Juan de los Caballeros, surrounded by friends, on Easter Saturday and in very earthly cold temperatures... On the first of June of that same year I recorded the record, with Jesús Corvino on the violin and Eduardo Gattinoni on the cello. During the following years I took the Canticle to many and varied venues, and even sang it in the Teatro Real, as part of the first Madrid Autumn Festival (1984). On that occasion I performed the version that the composer Angel Barja jad written of my original work, accompanied by the piano, guitar, violin and cello. And then until the end of 1990 I did not perform the work again in public. As a result of the celebration of the fourth centenary of the death of St. John of the Cross in 1991, I began to receive requests for the Canticle from different centres and places. So I decided to revise the piece as it had first been recorded, to rehearse it anew and to add it to the programme for the recital "Troubadours, Mystics and Romantics". With this programme we gave the opening concert for the IVth Festival of Sacred Music in Maastricht (Holland), in September 1990, and two months later I presented in the Auditorio Nacional de Música, as part of the XIIIth Season of Chamber and Polyphonic Music. And so I started a lengthy tour of Spain. And since then I have not ceased to perform the Canticle.

Today, twenty years after its first performance on that night in San Juan de los Caballeros, it is my wish to offer with this performance the fruit of time spent in the "interior cellar", with the clarity and feeling reaped from so many venues and so many listening friends. Laus Deo.

Amancio Prada
Spiritual Canticle. XXth Anniversary Concert.
Church of San Millán (Segovia), 30th April 1997 (from the printed programme)
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