LA DAMA CENTINELA
(The Sentinel Lady)
Year of composition: 2009
Commissioned by the Council of Valencia
CIBM City of Valencia 2010: Test Piece in Honor Division
International Competition for Original Band Composition – Corciano (Italy): First Prize – 2010
Euterpe Award from the FSMCV: Best Symphonic Piece of 2010
Instrumentation: Symphonic Band (View details)
I. Pere Balaguer, mestre de pedra picada Pere Balaguer, master of the ground stone
II. Entrada Real Royal Entrance
III. La Prisión de Serranos The Prison of Serranos
IV. La Dama del Río The Lady of the River
July 3rd, 2010. CIBM Ciudad de Valencia. Honor Division.
Unión Musical Santa Cecilia – Guadassuar (Valencia)
Asociación Músico-Cultural “La Lira” – Pozuelo de Alarcón (Madrid)
Koninklijk Harmonieorkest Vooruit – Harelbeke (Belgium)
With over 600 years of history, the Serranos gateway has witnessed a great portion of the history of the city of Valencia. Despite that, the composition does not attempt to be a narrative or descriptive piece even though a historical treatment helps to shape its structure, at least in the sense of describing scenes and situations. It is more a piece which describes feelings and moods. My intention was to provide the monument with a human soul capable of transmitting the feelings produced by everything that has taken place around it. From that springs the title whose poetic metaphor attempts to represent the monument as a beautiful lady which, from its privileged vantage point overlooking the river, watches over, observes and protects the city during its six hundred years of life.
The piece is structured in four moments, three of which (the second, third and fourth) represent the three main functions the Torres have had throughout its history: Ceremonial Gateway, Prison and Emblematic Monument. The first part is a small tribute to the creator of this magnificent work, the architect or better yet, as the books from that era put it, the mestre de pedra picada (master stonecutter) Pere Balaguer. In turn, each movement is divided into two or three sub-movements representing certain episodes in the history of the Torres or the city. Of course, many important moments in our history were left out of the composition because realistically it would have been impossible to bring all of them together in only 20 minutes of music.
I. Pere Balaguer, mestre de pedra picada
The first movement establishes a parallel between the conception and construction of the Serranos gateway and the creative process involved in Art in general (and music, of course): Every work has an initial phase of being conceived in which artists look for that Inspiration that most of the time does not arrive through some kind of magic but rather through studying different sources. In this case, the inspiration for Pere Balaguer came mainly from a journey he took to Catalonia: It is now common knowledge, starting from the news of Pere Balaguer’s trip to Catalonia to view other city gateways, that the Serranos gateway is related to the Portal Real (Royal Gateway) of the monastery in Poblet. This gateway formed part of the fortifications of the great Cistercian monastery in Catalonia built by order of Pedro IV the Ceremonious starting in 1369, although the exact date when the towers to the principal gateway of the monastery were built is unknown.
With respect to the musical treatment, the following motif is stated in this section:
On one hand, this represents the initial and main idea of the architectural work and is simultaneously the basic motif of the musical composition. This is a simple motif, which from its main note of C progressively moves forward by opening up the interval from the semitone to the major third. This simple, ascending design symbolises seriousness, elevation and magnificence, qualities that are quite apparent in the architecture of the Serranos gateway and surely would have been part of the initial conception of its creator as well.
As its name indicates, the following section Construcción (Construction) represents the construction phase of the monument, which historically extended from 1392 to 1398. The main motif is developed in this section by using, among others, two fundamental elements: Repetition in the form of ostinatos of various short motifs and a progressive crescendo. Using this technique is an attempt to create a feeling of building activity.
Finally, the third phase, Contemplación (Contemplation), corresponds to the moment when the work was completed. Here the artist himself and the inhabitants of Valencia of his era contemplate the finished monument. The music introduces a new melodic theme, simple but also contrasting with the previous one which, first and foremost, attempts to transmit a feeling of satisfaction but also peace: It is very common, or at least it is for me, to feel these type of sensations when, after all the effort that went into it, you finally gaze upon your finished work.
Before concluding the movement, a transition section appears which, like a flash forward in cinema, links together the first two movements. For that purpose, over the G flat harmony of the finale of the previous theme, and mixed in with it, there is a variation in F for four trumpets scattered around the stage of the Marcha de la Ciudad, the famous fanfare used by José Serrano at the beginning of what is today the official Valencia Region anthem and one used in ceremonial acts in the city of Valencia for countless years. And thus the fourth trumpets announce the imminent Royal Entrance.
II. Entrada Real
During the 15th century, Valencia was a very important city of the Crown of Aragón and the Serranos gateway became the main entrance to the walled city. The fact that it was the most spectacular of the monumental gateways and faced towards the north turned it into the backdrop for the spectacular royal entrances. In addition to being an official reception, these ceremonies served to acknowledge the legitimacy of the king’s power and enabled the inhabitants of the city, his subjects, to pay homage to him1. Particularly significant entrances were made by John II of Aragon in 1459, Ferdinand II in 1469, Rodrigo de Borja, cardinal and bishop of Valencia who would late become Pope Alexander VI, in 1472 and, much later on, Philip II in 1586. This movement, representing one of these spectacular entrances during the era when the city of Valencia was enjoying its greatest splendour, is structured in two sections. The first represents the royal entrance and the second a dance which evokes the festival in the king’s honour that takes place after the entrance.
In the Torres de Serranos are royal banners, many dolçainas, ministers and trumpets.
The quotation which gives the first section its title is taken from Llibre de antiquitats de las Seu de València and refers specifically to the entry of Prince Ferdinand, the future king Ferdinand the Catholic. The most important thing about the quotation is that it confirms that music played a very significant role in providing the event with greater solemnity. On all those occasions, the vaulted chambers, the central body and the chemin de ronde must have been filled with musicians, public authorities and the general public, transforming the appearance of the gateway into a genuine triumphal arch for ceremonial use. The music begins with the statement of a new, modal theme by the four trumpet soloists, a theme which will be repeated by a group of wind instruments and thus creating a form of tonal call and response and simultaneously a spatial one between the trumpets scattered around the stage and the wind players sitting within the band. The movement progressively increases in tempo and intensity in developing the initial theme until reaching its climax (bars 76-82), after which the Danza Festiva (Festival Dance) begins.
The Danza Festiva is, without a doubt, the section requiring the greatest technical skill from the performers in the entire work. It begins with a new, lively modal theme which the piccolo introduces and then is incessantly and frenetically developed by the different instrumental sections.
III. La Prisión de Serranos
From 1586 to 1888, or half of its life, the Torres de Serranos was one of the main prisons for the city. It is interesting to observe that the beginning of its use as a prison coincides with the beginning of the period of great decline for both the Kingdom of Valencia and its capital city: Some of the most negative events in our history, including the expulsion of the Moriscos (Muslim converts to Christianity, 1609) and the repeal of the Fueros de Valencia (the regional charter, 1707), occurred precisely in that period when the Torres de Serranos functioned as a prison. I found this parallel between the history of the Torres de Serranos and the history of the Kingdom of Valencia especially interesting when it came time to approach the movement that finally was subdivided into two main sections titled Rejas (Bars) and La puerta del destierro (The Gateway to Exile).
Rejas begins with an inverted statement of the main motif of the piece. If the upward progression of the motif at the beginning provided a sensation of elevation and magnificence, now the downward progression gives the music a dark and mysterious character. It remains that way throughout the entire sub-movement, although sections within it offer great internal contrasts.
The Serranos gateway was witness to countless triumphal entrances but it also served as the exit gate to the city, in some cases a definitive exit, although that fact goes unnoticed in the history books. La puerta del destierro pays tribute in general to all those people who had to leave Valencia forever against their will for political, racial, religious or other reasons. In particular, it is a tribute to the Moriscos who were expelled from the Kingdom of Valencia exactly 300 years ago. The movement imagines how one of the Moriscos passing beneath the Gateway of Serranos says farewell to their city forever, full of pain and powerless to do anything to prevent it. The slow and painful melody is played by a soprano sax, an instrument which only appears at this point in the work to further emphasize and highlight its performance.
IV. La Dama del Río
Once the prisoners in Serranos Prison were transferred to San Miguel de los Reyes, the Torres de Serranos no longer had any practical use. But it is true that being a prison had spared it from destruction, along with the Torres de Quart, years before when the city government ordered the wall and all the other gateways to the city to be torn down, one of the most surprising and paradoxical events in city history.
The Torres de Serranos have been used for a number of things during the 20th century, some of them as interesting as being the shelter for works of art from the Prado Museum during the Civil War. But my interest in this movement lies more in the monument itself and the restoration process which has been taking place in various phases for more than 100 years. That brings us to the present day, a time when we can once again look at the Torres boasting the same magnificent presence it had when it was first built. Strangely enough, this restoration process has coincided to a certain extent with a renaissance of the city itself. That concept became really interesting when working on the music because it enabled me to incorporate a re-statement of the first movement and therefore make the piece as a whole more solid and substantial:
Restauración, el renacer de una ciudad (Restoration, the Rebirth of a City) is an altered re-statement of Construcción in the first movement. Here one can see how this feeling of constructive activity which emerges from the development of the main motif represents the restoration process on one hand and the rebirth of the city itself on the other. Contemplación final (Final Contemplation) is the current look at the monument overlooking the beautiful surroundings of the Turia riverbed. The theme from Contemplación in the first movement was used again for this movement. Through this technique, the gaze of Pere Balaguer and his contemporaries on their finished work is compared to the gaze of the present-day city inhabitants, and even more interesting: Using the same music with which Pere Balaguer contemplated his finished work, I now contemplate my own finished work.