Lost and Found: Granados's Cant de les estrelles for Piano, Organ, and Chorus

Walter A. Clark  

On the evening of March 11, 1911, a very special and historically significant concert took place at the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona . A local composer was about to emerge on to the stage of world recognition with the public premiere of a set of piano pieces that would define, along with the Iberia collection of Isaac Albéniz, Spanish nationalism in music. The composer was Enrique Granados, now approaching his forty-fourth birthday, and the work was the first book of Goyescas, consisting of four movements: “Los requiebros,” “El coloquio en la reja,” “El fandango de candil,” and “Quejas, o La maja y el ruiseñor.”

The performance began at 9:30 p.m. and featured the composer himself at the piano. This hour may seem late to us, but it was typical at the time. The best seats were thirty pesetas, while general admission cost a single peseta. In addition to Goyescas, for this one peseta one could also hear Granados perform his own Valses poéticos , transcription of a Scarlatti sonata in B-flat, and Allegro de concierto.1Of special interest was the premiere of a posthumous piano work by Albéniz, entitled Azulejos (Tiles), which Granados himself had completed at the request of Albéniz's widow, Rosina. The crowd received all of this music, new and old, with rapturous applause, and Granados tossed in his Danza española no. 7 for an encore.

The critics were likewise unanimous in their praise of the concert. One composition in particular caught their attention, however, as it was the only ensemble work on the program. Entitled Cant de les estrelles (Song of the Stars), it was scored for piano, organ, and choruses. Granados executed the piano part, accompanying the choir of the Orfeó Català, which was divided into three groups, in order to achieve a polychoral spatial effect. The piano was not merely accompaniment, however. The piece begins with an extended solo of great virtuosity. The piano part was not merely derived from the choral parts and doubled in the organ; rather, it was an integral part of the ensemble and indispensable to the work as a whole.

Cant de les estrelles employed a Catalan text, which the score states was inspired by a poem of the German Romantic poet Heinrich Heine;2 however, exactly which poem that was remains a mystery. A search of the complete poems of Heine has yielded no obvious candidate as the inspiration. Also a mystery is the author of the poem itself. Granados could not read German, so either he read the poem in translation or got the assistance of one of his German-speaking Catalan-modernist associates, perhaps Joan Maragall or Apeles Mestres. The leading suspect would seem to be Mestres, whose texts Granados employed in songs and stage works. But in every other case where Granados set a Mestres text to music, he freely gave credit to the author. The metaphysical tenor of these stanzas does not resonate with Mestres's customary theme: unrequited love and the alienation of the artist from society. The preoccupation with death expressed in the final strophe is eerily portentous of the fate soon to visit the other possible author of these lines: Granados himself.

Weakness invades the heart.
Eternal rest approaches!
We wish to know of the death of our worlds!
The charms of love are broken
but we can't break the shackles
of the eternal immensity!
Ah!3

After its 1911 premiere, one Barcelona critic praised the “great delicacy,” “novelty,” and “noble inspiration” of Cant de les estrelles.4 Another reviewer went much further and declared it a “triumph” of Catalan art; Granados himself was not merely a “new” musician but rather a musician “for all time.”5

Despite all this, the complete work was never published, and it was never performed again. The manuscript remained in the family archive after the death of Granados in 1916, and nothing was done with it for over twenty years. Then, in 1938, one of Granados's sons, Víctor, took the piano part and several other manuscripts of his father's to New York, where he was touted by the American press as an “official representative of the Loyalist regime in Spain” who had come to the United States to organize support among Loyalist sympathizers there.6

We do not know if he took these manuscripts with the permission of his brother-in-law, Antonio Carreras i Verdaguer, who was in charge of the archive. The family was in desperate financial straits, and they may have hoped he could make some money by selling them. He offered these to Nathanial Shilkret, head of Shilkret Publishing in New York. Shilkret was an outstanding musician, conductor, composer, and arranger, and he knew a good deal when he saw it.7He offered Víctor three hundred dollars as an advance against the royalties from publication and also helped him find work as a cellist.8

When it became clear to Antonio that Víctor was going to keep the money for himself, however, he set about trying to get the manuscripts back. Legal wrangling went on for decades between the family and the firm. José Iturbi, Alicia de Larrocha, Douglas Riva, and several lawyers tried in vain to retrieve the manuscripts and return them to their rightful owners. But in the end, the music was never returned to the Granados family. Shilkret wanted complete rights to the music, though he was willing to sell it back for the original purchase price. No deal was ever struck. In fact, the Shilkrets eventually reported that the valuable works were damaged or destroyed in a fire at one of the company's stores. That seemed to be the end of any possibility of ever hearing Cant de les estrelles.9

Last year, I decided to approach the Shilkret family again. Perhaps now they would be willing to search for the valuable works and 1) state with certainty they were lost, or 2) return them finally to Spain . I was able to meet with Nathanial Shilkret's grandson, Niel Shell, in New York in December 2003, and he showed me the manuscripts he had found in the store where the fire had broken out. Follow-up meetings between Riva and Shell produced further discoveries.

The works recovered include an orchestral score entitled Torrijos, incidental music to a play. We still do not know for certain which play. The only work with that title is a short drama in one act and two scenes by Narciso Díaz de Escovar and Ramón A. Urbano Carrere, published in 1886 (Madrid: Administración Lírico-Dramática). The undated score calls for chorus and orchestra and consists of various introductory numbers (preludes and choruses) for three scenes, not two. None of the text in the play appears in what the chorus sings, though the choral lyrics deal with the same historical episode as the drama: General José María Torrijos arrives by boat on the Andalusian coast in 1831 to lead a heroic but doomed uprising against the despotic regime of Fernando VII. Torrijos is not a major work in Granados's oeuvre, but it is an intriguing one and will require more research. In any case, Granados's attraction to this subject matter may give us a clue to his closely guarded political leanings, as the work clearly celebrates a heroic Spanish officer who was also a liberal reformer.

Unfortunately, not all the news from the Shilkret archive was good. No trace of Romeo y Julieta has surfaced, but it may turn up eventually. Only part of the first act of the orchestral score for the opera María del Carmen has been recovered, and it suffered water and fire damage; it may be some time before a proper inventory of the Shilkret archive will tell us whether any more of the score survives. The best news, however, is the survival of the missing piano part for Cant de les estrelles. The virtuosic and highly expressive piano part constitutes by itself a significant addition to the composer's keyboard works.

Riva was able to negotiate the purchase of all these manuscripts from the Shilkret family, and his editions of them will soon be published. He also plans to record Cant de les estrelles. At long last we will have a chance to enjoy this “celestial” music from Granados's mature period.

Cant de les estrelles

Texto: “inspiré d´une poesie de H. Haine [sic]”

Translated from Catalan to English by John Milton

Ah! Inmensitat eternal del espais!

Follia i febre d'amor,
deliri no hem conegut mai!
Mai!

Follia i febre d'amor,
deliri no hem conegut mai!
Mai !

Perxó es nostra vida eterna i serrena i pura nostra llum
quan en la nit calmada
guaitant del fons de la blavor llumyana
veiem con cerquen repós debades
pels vostres cors assedegats per la febre
i troncable del desitg.

Perxó es nostra vida eterna
i pura nostra llum
quan en la calma nit
de vosaltres ens compadim.
Ah!

Som filles de la nit,
d'es guard brillant qu'atravers del espai compasives guiem!
Som victimes del amor
no havem conhort
Ah!

L'eterna serenitat
Quan gusta plana en el cel
Enfondeix nostra pietat
Vers vostra esteril anhel.
Eterna serenitat del cel.
Ah!

Lluires voldriem volar
Ah!
Lluires voldriem volar
Son (o som) presoners de l'amor!
Com ens podrem desllinvar?

Feblesa porten al cor.
Debades repos cerque!
Volem coneixer nous mort!
Encisos d'amor trenquem
No podem rompr'els grillons
Inmensitat eternitat!
Ah!

Ah! Eternal immensity of space!

Madness and fever of love,
delirium which we've never known!
Ever!

Madness and fever of love,
delirium which we've never known!
Ever!

Such is our life, eternal and serene, and pure is our light
when the calming night
preserves the blue luminosity at the bottom
we see the approach of eternal rest
for your hearts thirsty from fever
and the toppling of desire.

Such is our eternal life
and pure is our light
when in the calm night
we feel compassion for you.
Ah!

We are children of the night,
keeping bright through space our guiding compassion!
We are victims of love
without cheer.
Ah!

The eternal serenity
when planned in the heavens
raises up our devotion
to your fruitless longing.
Eternal serenity of the heavens.
Ah!

We want to be free to fly
Ah!
We want to be free to fly
but we are prisoners of love!
How can we break free?

Weakness invades the heart.
Eternal rest approaches!
We wish to know of the death of our worlds!
The charms of love are broken
but we can't break the shackles
of the eternal immensity!
Ah!

1 A copy of this program is in the Museu de la Música [Mm], fons Granados, in Barcelona.

2 The score states that the text was “inspiré d´une poesie de H. Haine [sic].”

3 Translation by John Milton.

4 “Concert Granados,” Revista musical catalana 8 (1911): 90. The following day at the Palau, Juan Lamote de Grignon conducted his own orchestrations of three of the Danzas españolas (“Oriental,” “Andaluza,” and “Rondalla aragonesa”) at a Lenten concert of the Orfeó.

5 Pangloss, untitled review, La publicidad, March 15, 1911, 4.

6 According to the New York World Telegram , September 10, 1938. Clipping in the files on Granados in the library of the Hispanic Society of America.

7 For a biography of Shilkret, see Nathanial Shilkret, Nathanial Shilkret: Sixty Years in the Music Business , ed. Niel Shell and Barbara Shilkret (Lanham, MD : Scarecrow Press, 2005).

8 In a contract dated January 22, 1940, Víctor acknowledges his receipt of $300 from Shilkret. In a letter from New York dated November 30, 1939 (Mm, fons Granados), Víctor explained to Antonio the reasons for his actions. In truth, there were no good reasons, only poor excuses. By his own admission, Víctor was mentally unstable.

9 The Shilkrets did put their acquisition to some good use on August 29, 1954, when NBC Radio broadcast a performance by the NBC Concert Orchestra under Roy Shield of the Prelude to Act I of María del Carmen. Nathaniel Shilkret spent about $1,000 to have a vocal score of the opera made for the Met's consideration, and he arranged with both RCA Victor and Columbia to record the Prelude. Toscanini considered programming it on his Latin American Hour. And there was a real prospect for a U.S. performance of the whole opera, based on the original manuscript in Shilkret's possession. When the Granados descendants in Spain found out, however, that the sponsor was to be Scott Toilet Paper, they demurred. They did not want Granados's music associated with such a product. In the end, all these plans came to naught. Shilkret laid the blame squarely on Víctor, who had “made our firm look ridiculous.”

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