"En la mar hay una torre" ("There's a Tower at the Sea") by Martin Kutnowski; version for clarinet and string quartet. Ensemble Epomeo (Caroline Chin, violin; David Yang, viola; Kenneth Woods, cello) and guests, Wesley Ferreira, clarinet; and Nadia Francavilla, violin. Recorded live at St. Thomas University, Fredericton (Canada) on November 9, 2010.
Notes by the composer
En la mar hay una torre ("There is a Tower at the Sea") is inspired in a Sephardic Jewish song of the same name from medieval Spain, originally documented during the first half of the twentieth century by pioneer musicologists Alberto Hemsi and Isaac Levy in locales of the Sephardic Diaspora such as Rhodes, Salonica, Alexandria, and Istambul.
The lyrics of one of its many versions are as follows, in Ladino spelling:
En la mar ay una torre,
en la torre una ventana,
en la ventana una hija
qu'a los marineros llama.
Si la mar era de leche
yo m'haria un pexcador
pexcaria las mis dolores
con palavricas d'amor.
Dame tu mano palomba
para suvir a tu nido
maldicha que durmes sola
vengo a durmir contigo.
When I read the lyrics, I try to imagine the context of the story. Who is this mysterious woman: friend, lover, a stranger...perhaps a siren? In some anthologies, an alternate title is La Serena, which in archaic Spanish perhaps meant "The Siren" or "The Serene One," or perhaps both.
Reconstructing the story, I think of a sailor gazing from the bridge of his ship at a castle in twilight. I picture the ship gently rocking back and forth, enveloped by the warm breeze of a Mediterranean evening; the sailor singing of loneliness accompanied by the sound of distant waves crashing against cliffs. The appearance of the woman at the window of the castle's tower turns his lament into a serenade reminiscent of the lull of the sea and the steps of a sensual dance. A declaration of love ensues and.....what happens next? Does the siren extend her hand to the sailor? Do the lovers unite (or perhaps reunite?)? Does he fall under her spell, locked in that tower for eternity or does sail past the bay toward high seas, never to return?
This piece was commissioned by the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival for the Festival's 2009 Season.
Copyright © 2012 Gérard Billaudot Editeur (SACEM). All Rights Reserved.
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