22/11/2017

The words of Joan Casas Cançó d'amor i de guerra

Joan Casas, Musical Producer

This is undoubtedly the most popular Catalan lyrical work and the most frequently performed in Catalonia. It was premiered on 16 April 1926 at the Teatre Nou in Barcelona, which at that time was located in Paral·lel street. Its authors could hardly know that this inspired score would enter into the collective memory of the Catalan people.

The censorship of the dictator General Primo de Rivera meant that its premiere was initially prohibited on the basis that the message of the original title, Els soldats de l’ideal (The Soldiers of the Ideal), was too “revolutionary”. After some bizarre negotiations involving Lluís Capdevila and Víctor Mora (co-authors of the libretto), the businessman Josep Llimona and the secretary to the Civil Governor, the work was eventually registered with the title Cançó d’amor i de guerra (Song of Love and of War).

Rafael Martínez Valls, the composer of the score and of Valencian origin, provides a glimpse of his operatic verismo, which is thrilling and pervaded with striking harmonies, and features a first-rate melodic discourse resulting from perfectly balanced instrumentation, as is the adaptation that appears on this CD by the composer Francesc Cassú, conductor of the cobla ensemble La Principal de la Bisbal. The leitmotif and the main theme of the composition are a good example of the author’s musical craft for which, on its own merits, he has won a place of honour in the history of fine Catalan music.

The prelude begins with a brilliant hymn played by the brass section that is repeated in the second act with the choir and also at the end of the work. All the songs in this zarzuela are original compositions by the composer. The only exception is in the prelude to the second act, in which he uses the popular song Muntanyes del Canigó, which boasts a spectacular arrangement with an overwhelming sensitivity that, in a display of virtuosity, the violin performs, note by note, imitating the inspirational theme. It also includes the first bars of La Marseillaise several times to refer to military action or a song of joy for the ... “approaching victory”.

The expressive force of the duet of Francina and Eloi, and the final scene of the first act, with an epic description of the drama and a return to the soul-captivating leitmotif, is particularly impressive. Rafael Martínez Valls also expertly deals with the musical discourse of the other characters such as Horaci, a comical version of a pseudo-revolutionary, or the pleasant couple Catrina and Baldiri. More surprising, however, is the sensitivity pervading the musical themes of the baritone, Grandfather Castellet. It is also evident in the amazing romance of Francina, which resembles a lament about her fate. Here the composer skilfully uses harmonic modulation to reflect the main character’s mood. The musical ecstasy, however, arrives when the tenor sings Pirineu, which has become one of Catalonia’s most popular songs since the very day it was first performed.

This CD includes, for the first time, the romance sung by the baritone No tingueu pena and the theme of the comic duet Quina costa més feixuga!, two hitherto unpublished scores from the original work. The Recitaire poem, which describes the situation of France and Paris during the Revolution, has also been recorded for the first time. The orchestra evokes a tense atmosphere with different tones that culminate with the majestic main theme sung by the choir. Mention should also be made of the poem L'ovelleta i el pastor, recited by Grandfather Castellet, and this is where we wish to do justice to Víctor Mora Alsinella and Lluís Capdevila, authors of the libretto of Cançó d'amor i de guerra. Both actually died in exile as a result of the diaspora caused by the 1936 Civil War, which was particularly devastating for the Catalans.

The action takes place during the French Revolution in the Vallespir region of northern Catalonia. The setbacks of love and social conflict stand out against the background of war-torn France. The values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity prevail among what the text describes as “noble and simple” folk, who are fighting for their freedom.