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José Mª Sánchez Verdú

Real Orquesta Sinfónica de Sevilla
Conductor: Juan Luís Pérez





1. Alqibla (1998)   14.40


Paisajes del Placer y de la Culpa (2003)

2. Jardín de Vidrio   04.23

3. Jardín de Seda   03.02

4. Jardín de Oro   03.41


5. Taqsim (2002)   06.41


6. Ciacona (2003)   05.23


Qabriyyat (2000)

7. I   06.15

8. II   02.17




... And Music, ever new, out the most trembling of stones, builds in unusable space its deified house. (R. M. Rilke, Sonnetts to Orpheus).


The ambition, depth and international prestige of José María Sánchez-Verdú (*1968) have developed consistently during the years between the composition of his first chamber music works, such as AST-TRIVIUM (1992) and Libro para un quinteto (‘Book for a quintet’, 1994) and his most recent première, Elogio del aire (2007) for violin and orchestra. Since then, the composer has reached maturity and has established his place in the Spanish music scene. Born in Algeciras and trained in Granada, Madrid and Frankfurt, he resides in Berlin and is a teacher at the Robert-Schumann-Hochschule, Düsseldorf.


The five orchestral pieces included in the present recording (which are all written between 1998 and 2003) give a firm impression of Sánchez-Verdú’s mastery, revealing poetic elements and cultural references that recur in other works of his. The composer’s interest in Arabic culture and music is evident in his re-interpretation of certain aesthetic concepts and literary, artistic and musical forms, in his search for harmonic and timbral variations (Alqibla, Qabriyyat, Taqsim), and in his fascination for certain technical and expressive procedures that originated in the West during the Middle Ages, the Renaissance (like in Qabriyyat), or the Baroque (Ciacona). These are strong expressions of Sánchez-Verdú’s openness towards a diversity of creative trends. Philosophical speculation (Neoplatonic Hermeticism in Paisajes del mar y de la culpa) and lyric poetry (by the Spanish mystics, in Qasid 7, 2001 and La rosa y el ruiseñor, 2005; and by Anna Ajmátova and Paul Celan in Libro del destierro, 2001/02) have also influenced his work greatly.


Sánchez-Verdú concluded his first major orchestral work, Alquibla, in November 1998, shortly before finishing his composition degree in Frankfurt, where he studied with Hans Zender, dedicatee of Qabriyyat. A year later, Alqibla was awarded the First Prize for Composition by the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie, the orchestra that premiered the work at the Berlin Philharmonie on 26th August 2000, under the direction of Lothar Zagrosek.Alqibla features an astounding mastery of the complex timbre of the orchestra, subjecting it to subtle treatment to emphasize the borders between its traditional sonority and the utterances produced by physical actions (blowing, friction, etc.). The result is a sound characterized by its singular internal vibration, a consequence of the use of accents and diverse tremoli. An introduction is built around the tone B and its microtonal environment, and eventually incorporating other tone centres and recognizable motives (different grades of vibrato, accentuated pizzicati, glissandi). The introduction concludes with a long pause, followed by an episode that grows in density and dynamic, supported by an ostinato of sixteenth notes that eventually expands through the string, percussion and brass sections.At the culmination of this process, the members of the orchestra whisper fragments of Hispano-Arabic jarchasç. The aesthetic sense of the composition is therefore transferred to a dimension in which diverse cultural manifestations coexist within the Hispanic tradition. This is confirmed later: the music returns to its initial, although slightly more active, character, incorporating new materials and developing toward a second climax, in which the word ‘abadan’ (‘never’) is briefly whispered. This word comes from the second of the four rubaiyyat written by the Persian poet Omar Khayyam, that Sánchez-Verdú had already used in Kitab 4 (1998) and Kitab 6 and 7 (1997) as part of a series composed between 1995 and 1998.


After Alqibla the composer was able to conceive longer and more ambitious works, such as Rosa de alquimia (1999) and Maqbara (2000). These are both based on texts by the Syrian-Lebanese poet Adonis (Ali Ahmad Said Esber), and, in the case of Maqbara, also by the abovementioned Ommar Khayyam. Qabriyyat is a composition for string orchestra commissioned by the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festival, and it was premiered on 6th July 2000, by the Oriol Ensemble (conducted by Peter Rundel) during the Universal Exhibition in Hannover. This work, which aspires to create a sonority ‘characterized by the primitive, somehow elemental musical material’, is based on a set of pitches defined by the superimposition of fifths (G)-D-A-(E)..., that emerge, highlighted by broad rests, from a distant rumour, filling their inner space with microtonal colorations and strong accentual changes.


At the same time the composition refers to the complicated geometrical forms of Islamic funerary epigraphy (qabriyyat means ‘epitaph’) through the quotation of a historical elegy: at the beginning of the second section of Qabriyyat, there is reference to the start of the Déploration sur la mort de Johannes Ockeghem, by the Flemish polyphonist Josquin Desprez. Its desolate character is enhanced by a descending melodic motive that evokes the rhetoric of Renaissance and Baroque laments, and by the ominous reiteration of a single beat at the end. The Déploration by Josquin also appears in other pieces by Sánchez-Verdú, such as the string quartet Plaine de dueil (2000) and the work entitled Dèploration sur la mort de Johannes Ockeghem (2000/2001).


The composer’s interest in the visual arts is also essential knowledge for comprehension of this piece. Sánchez-Verdú reveals his affinity with specific structures, figures and forms –like those in the Islamic epigraphy already mentioned, or in the broken, sinuous geometrical entities by Pablo Palazuelo (‘Fragmento en negro’, Arquitecturas de la ausencia, 2002/03)- and constructs, assisted by his own sensory perception, where the composer makes general associations between pitches, colours, textures and spatial configurations, creating the essence of sound, as suggested by the medieval philosopher R. Grosseteste as departing from ‘a light incorporated into the most subtle air’. Both dimensions join in an important composition cycle, entitled Kitab al-alwan (‘Book of colours’), which consists of four pieces written between 2000 and 2005 (Istikhbar, Abyad-kamoon, Taqsim y Ahmar- aswad). Two of them are explicitly related to the pictorial experiments of Paul Klee (Abyad-kamon) and, again, Pablo Palazuelo (Ahmar-aswad). In Istikhbar, which is conceived as an introduction to the cycle, the choice of F and C as tonal centres involves synesthetic associations (C represents the colour black). Taqsim, commissioned by the Schleswig- Holstein Festival, was premiered in the German town of Itzehoe on 9th August 2002, by the Philharmonic Orchestra of the NDR Hannover, conducted by Josep Pons. This composition functions as an interlude, and, in fact, it is named after one of the instrumental sections of the nuba, which is characterized by its improvisatory style and the performer’s virtuosity at the beginning and end of each sentence. This inspiration influenced a work full of rhythmic and dynamic activity, which starts with a gradual use of the modal D triad. The initial ascending gesture of the woodwinds gradually becomes perceptible and coalesces with its own descendent reflection until it disappears in the glissandi of the strings. The entrance of the vibraphone and the marimba contribute effectively to the orchestral sonority and lead to a fortissimo climax. Subsequently, the character of the introduction returns, and the piece finishes with a long shadow of the initial pitch, D.


In Ciacona (2003) the composer transforms musical material extracted from a homonymous work in f minor by the Bavarian organist Johannes Pachelbel, whose 350th birthday was celebrated in 2003. The Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra in fact commissioned this piece to commemorate Pachelbel’s anniversary. The premiere took place on 27th April 2003, under the direction of Pedro Halffter Caro. Sánchez-Verdú preserves two elements from Pachelbel’s work: the recurrent bass line typical of the baroque form (in this case the tetrachord F-Eb-Db-C), and part of the contrapuntal texture. Nevertheless, there is only one passage in which the composer makes a ‘conventional’ use of the original work in terms of orchestration and dynamics. Throughout the exposition, the original melodic and rhythmic material undergoes constant metric changes, exhaustive rhythmic fragmentation and tone colour alteration. The iteration of complete structural blocks (a procedure in which dynamics and instrumental roles change every time a passage is performed) responds well to the coexistence of repetition and continuous transformation essential to the ciaconna form.


This journey ends with Paisajes del placer y de la culpa (‘Landscapes of pleasure and guilt’), which was commissioned by young.euro.classic and the International Festival Jünger Künstler, Bayreuth, and dedicated to director and composer Pedro Halffter Caro, who conducted the Orchester-Akademie of the Festival during the première at the Berlin Konzerthaus on 23rd August 2003. The piece comprises three movements named after each of the three stages passed by the protagonist’s will in Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Venice, 1499), a treatise that also inspired W. Zimmermann for his work Geduld und Gelegenheit (1987/88). This book is essential for understanding Neo-Platonic thought of the late 15th century, and interpreting the complex allegorical programs collected in heraldic books and, centuries later, in the artistic design of gardens, as highlighted by E. Kretzulesco- Quaranta.


From the vitreous transparency (just an imitation of the form that disappears into the water) to the fineness of the purest metal, the pilgrim Polyphilus nearly reaches the unknowable, encoded in the divine perfection of geometry, exceeding the nobility and softness of chant... The rich iconography of the Italian treatise inspired Sánchez-Verdú to reach “very personal forms of expressivity through the orchestra”, which is indeed treated in an astounding and very particular way. In ‘Jardín de vidrio’ (‘garden of glass’) the static atmosphere is enhanced by the modified repetition of minimal gestures and breaths, and defined by the prominence of piano, harp and marimba. ‘Jardín de seda’ (‘garden of silk’) features the slow hypostasis of a tissue of scales and glissandi, and has a greater dynamic force than the previous piece. In ‘Jardín de oro’ (‘garden of gold’) the tutti sections concentrate around the pitch C while several motives from the previous ‘gardens’ are integrated in a process of constant, yet moderate, acceleration.


Since 2003 Sánchez-Verdú has been developing the concepts drafted in these five compositions, looking for the consistency that Italo Calvino described as the goal of literary creation in his posthumous Six Memos for the Next Millennium. The five Machaut- Arkitekturen (2003/05) deconstruct and infinitely re-create the music by the Ars Nova poet striving for the “maximal concentration of poetry and thought” conceived by the Italian writer. The cycle Arquitecturas, still in progress, and the recently initiated Elogios (the above mentioned Elogio del Aire and Elogio del Horizonte (2006-07), for clarinet and orchestra, both already premiered) reveals new precision in writing. The operas GRAMMA (Jardines de la escritura / Gärten der Schrift), premiered in May 2006 in Munich, and El viaje a Simorgh (‘The journey to Simorgh’), presented in Teatro Real in Madrid (2007), invoke a new multiplicity of meanings and aim to take the exploration of the internal territories and the structural visibility of sound as far as possible. From there, it will be the turn of the listeners to assume the fertile ephemerality of his proposal, if they are able to hear the voice and colour of those “invisible atoms of air”.


Germán Gan Quesada

Translation: Amy Power & María Martínez Ayerza