Friendship - Agnes Martin

Last week I shared a Polish Christmas carol, a traditional one, arranged by Witold Lutosławski. The second Christmas song of this year is also traditional, but this time I'm not going so far, I stay at home: we're listening to El cant dels ocells (The song of the birds). I chose this piece of music especially for you, the readers of the English version of the post; the Catalan readers know it by heart but I thought that maybe you are not so familiar with it.

More than thirty species of birds (depending on the text version) are mentioned in El cant dels ocells, all of them singing to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The song is documented since the 17th century and it seems that it was printed and distributed as goigs, a poem that in that time used to praise the Virgin Mary. The literal translation of goigs is joys, and refers to the Virgin's Seven Joys; the second Joy is the birth of Jesus. Eventually, the goigs were dedicated to any saint or religious festivity, and you can still find them in many churches in Catalunya.

El cant dels ocells became a gorgeous symbol of peace and freedom thanks to Pau Casals, who played it with his cello in every concert during his exile after the Spanish Civil War. In 1971, when he was about to turn 95, the Secretary-General of the United Nations awarded him the U.N. Peace Medal. That day he played El cant dels ocells again:

"I have not played the cello in public for many years, but I feel that the time has come to play again. I am going to play a melody from Catalan folklore: El cant dels ocells (The Song of the Birds). Birds sing when they are in the sky, they sing: "Peace, Peace, Peace", and it is a melody that Bach, Beethoven and all the greats would have admired and loved. What is more, it is born in the soul of my people, Catalonia."

There are many arrangements of this song. Today I would like to share with you a brand new one by the composer Bernat Vivancos, it's really beautiful. The whole fifteen stanzas of the song are rarely sung; Three or four are the usual options. In this case, we're listening to only two of them: the first one and the one that mentions the linnet and the thrush. The performers are soprano Nuria Rial and the Eight cellists of the Sinfonieorchester Basel. I hope you enjoy it!

El cant dels ocells

En veure despuntar
el major lluminar
en la nit més ditxosa,
els ocellets cantant,
a festejar-lo van
amb sa veu melindrosa.

Cantava el passarell:
Oh, que formós i que bell
és l'infant de Maria!
I diu alegre el tord:
Vençuda n'és la mort,
ja naix la vida mia.

In seeing emerge
The greatest light
During the most celebrated of nights,
The little birds sing.
They go to celebrate Him
With their delicate voices.

The linnet sang,
"Oh, how lovely and beautiful
Is the child of Mary!"
The thrush answers:
"Death is conquered,
My life now begins!"


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LIFE Victoria Tardor 2021

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