Few Spanish composers today have a fairer claim to the pen name “Semionauta,” a navigator on literary journeys (coined by Nicolas Bourriaud) than José M. Sánchez-Verdú. From Italian poetry of the 20th century (Montale, Quasimodo) to the Syrian-Lebanese Adonis; from Omar Khayyam to the mystics of the Renaissance – both sculptural and philosophical, they come together in a universe of their own, populated by fragmentary resonances and echoes of different traditions, represented with indisputable attraction and energy.
Ever since the late 1990s, the Arab culture – words, image, and sound – has fascinated Sánchez-Verdú. Paraíso cerrado II reflects this attraction, on the one hand, by linking it to Granada, with the figure of Soto de Rojas from the somewhat earlier Paraíso cerrado [String Quartet no. 9], premiered in Hanover in June 2012. The piece summarises some of the creative aspirations of the composer from Algeciras, whose studies in the city of the Alhambra – if we recall his early Cuarteto nazari (1992–93) – are not unrelated to this interest.
Now, it is the poetry of Ibn Zamrak – from the Mirador de Daraxa (Daraxa Lookout) to the Patio de los Leones (Lion Courtyard) and the Sala de las Dos Hermanas (Hall of the Two Sisters), so eminently present in the Granada palace, that guides the music of Sánchez-Verdú with regard to its semantic content, its epigraphic aspect and the aesthetic coordinates that determine a comprehensive understanding of the architectural complex, a true “architecture of texts,” as José Miguel Puerta Vílchez has called it. In five movements – the third of which, Memoria del agua dispenses with the soprano voice and functions as the formal axis of the polyptych – Paraíso cerrado II is at the same time a possible musical guide through the twists and turns of the court space, totally alien to the 19th-century visions of the manners and customs of “Alhambrism” and exoticism; a nautical chart for the roots of the composer’s poetry. Suffice it to mention the synesthetic consideration of chromatic perception (Memoria del rojo, in this case, the altitude of the Sun) found in his Kitab al-alwan (Libro de los colores – Book of Colours, 2000–5); the interrelationships between speech, writing and graphical signs (Palacios de escritura – Palaces of Writing); the conceptual seeds of his workGRAMMA (Jardines de la escritura / Gärten der Schri – Gardens of Writing), premiered in 2006; the spatial dimensions of sound and the structural conditions of its apprehension (Geometría azul – Blue Geometry). Or, to quote Sánchez-Verdú himself:
...a musical vision of the Alhambra’s tilework in particular, and of the Arab art in general. Symmetrical structures, endless lines, stylised roses forming a musical surface. Like the Arab master facing the surface of his walls, the composer conceives the ornaments and the use of very complex systems to completely fill all the available space. In some lectures I have called it “Praise for the surface.” My great favourite Pablo Palazuelo is not far from this geometrical vision of material and perception in our consciousness.
Finally we come to the Memoria del jardín feliz (Memory of the Happy Garden), the garden area, a combination of nature and artificiality, a space for reflection and enjoyment (Paisajes del placer y de la culpa – Landscapes of Pleasure and Blame, 2003); QUALIA(Jardí blau – Blue Garden, 2004–10). It has also been, since the antiquity, a metaphor for the mental space of intimate discovery and transcendent initiation. The fierce interweaving of these aesthetic references in their possible acoustic representation; the innovative depth of the handling of instruments; the freedom and wealth of the vocal text; the desire to explore the dynamic thresholds, close to a silence but laden with expectation, and the unexpected interplay of subtly coloured rhythmic structures in the accentuation that Sánchez-Verdú demonstrates in his work. All these are aspects of the music that the listener has to discover for himself, without the need for a lengthy commentary...
Germán Gan (2012)
Paraíso cerrado II
for soprano and chamber orchestra (on poems by Ibn Zamrak)
Ibn Zamrak (1333–1394)
Poetic epigraphic fragments on the Alhambra (Granada)
1. Memoria del rojo [Memory of the Red]
“wala gãliba illa Allah”
[There is no victor but God]
Nasrid coat of arms repeatedly found all over the Alhambra
“La luna envidia mi diadema, los astros mis trazas desean”
[The moon envies my tiara, the stars desire my designs]
Tower of the Children
2. Palacios de escritura [Palaces of Writing]
“El cielo de cristal allí muestra maravillas
que en la página de la belleza escrita quedan”
[The crystal sky there shows wonders
that remain on the page of written beauty]
4. Geometria azul [Blue Geometry]
“Esta casa es un paraíso eterno”
[This house is an eternal paradise]
Courtyard of the Arrayanes (south side)
This inscription was destroyed when the Palace of Charles V was built.
5. Memoria del jard n feliz [Memory of the Happy Garden]
“Este es el palacio de cristal”
“No estoy sola, pues desde aquí contemplo un jardín admirable”
[This is the glass palace
I am not alone, for from here I can see a magnificent garden]
Entrance arch to the Lindaraja Lookout
“Jardín yo soy que la belleza adorna: sabrás mi ser si mi hermosura miras”
[I am the garden that beauty adorns: you will recognise my being when you contemplate my beauty]
Hall of the Two Sisters (Palace of the Lions)
“Agua y mármol parecen confundirse”
[Water and marble seem to blend]
“Es un amante cuyos párpados rebosan de lágrimas”
[He is a lover whose eyes are full of tears]
Fountain of Lions (Palace of the Lions)