Rayuela Preludes (2010-2011)
Premiered by Han Chen at The Juilliard School, February 2012.
Other performers include John Orfe (from Alarm Will Sound),
Edward Neeman, Benjamin Smith and Yael Manor.
Rayuela Preludes are featured in Yael Manor's wonderful debut CD, Elixir.
Julio Cortázar’s novel Rayuela (Hopscotch) from 1963 represents one of the most impressive achievements of Latin American literature. Written in an episodic, snapshot manner, the novel has 155 chapters, the last 99 being designated as "expendable." These "expendable" chapters fill in some gaps in the main story, while others add information about the characters or record the aesthetic and literary speculations of a writer named Morelli who makes a brief appearance in the narrative. Some of these 'expendable chapters' at first glance seem random, but upon closer inspection suggest some underlying order and logic.
At the beginning of the book the author suggests the book can be read in two possible ways. First, the book can be read either in direct sequence from chapter 1 and stop at chapter 56, which, Cortázar writes, the reader can do “with a clean conscience,” or alternatively by hopscotching through the entire set of 155 chapters according to the "Table of Instructions" designated by the author. The author is also leaves the option of having the reader choose his/her own path.
When I first read Rayuela, I knew I wanted to translate its sprawling, urban-scape into a set of piano pieces. This first book of preludes represents the beginning of a series that will reinterpret, and comment upon Cortázar’s novel. The preludes are not intended to be program music. The fragments from the novel that are included in the score became the inspiration for that particular prelude. Sometimes that inspiration came by way of a mood, a narrative technique, an image or any of the possible reactions one can have while reading the novel. Each prelude is titled after the chapter from the novel that inspired it.
Chapter 1 “¿Encontraría a la Maga?” (“Would I find La Maga?”)
The opening musical gesture seems to ask a question akin to that which opens the novel. The constant motion perhaps is reminiscent of the narrator’s constant search for his lover in Paris. The rolled chords over the undulating accompaniment suggest the first glimpses of La Maga from across the bridge. These chords build up to a suspended resolution. Ultimately, this relationship is unattainable and La Maga remains elusive and mysterious.
Cortázar plays an intricate game in this chapter. He has transcribed the opening chapter of Lo Prohibido (The Forbidden) by the Spanish novelist Benito Pérez Galdós. The narrative alternates between a direct transcript of the novel by Pérez Galdós and Horacio Oliveira’s thoughts as he reads it. In his thoughts, Horacio is dismissive, distracted and generally unimpressed by the book, which he ends up tossing away.
It is impossible to read both lines of text at the same time, and the challenge of this prelude consists of presenting two musical strains in a truly simultaneous way. The opening of Erik Satie’s First Sarabande is presented in the middle two staves in the score, significantly slowed down. The outer staves reflect the thoughts that one might have as one listens to the Satie. There is a sense of impatience. New melodies and motives emerge from the texture, the music gathers momentum, and all the while the Satie continues undisturbed, sometimes in the foreground, sometimes as a mere shadow.
Chapter 109 Interludios
This interlude consists of a mosaic of musical “snapshots”, different in mood, nature and tempi. These fragments are connected by short and deliberately inconclusive transitions, as if they were coming into being on the spot like the bridges of Morelli’s imaginary cities.
This interlude consists of a complete reshuffling of Interludio a. There is not a single note added or taken away, but passages have been moved up or down the octave, and some dynamics and articulations have been changed. Some of the snapshots have remained unaltered, but the bridges connecting them to the city, and indeed the new city itself, feels and sounds completely different from the one conjured up in the first interlude.
Chapter 7 “Toco tu boca” (“I touch your mouth”)
This prelude was inspired by Cortázar’s beautiful depiction of a kiss in this chapter.
It is not necessary to perform these preludes in the order that they appear on this score. While I believe that Capítulo 1 should be the first one performed, the performer may choose to perform these pieces in any order. It is also not necessary to play all of the preludes as a set. They can be performed separately or as smaller sets. When it comes to Capítulo 106, the pianist may choose to play only one of the interludes or both, which may be played back to back or separated by other preludes.