index‎ > ‎Complete catalog‎ > ‎

Sis sonets

Original for violin and piano
(There are multiple versions and adaptions of the "Sis Sonets" for different instruments: viola, flute, saxophone, trumpet, etc... by different composers)
Premiered: At the Palau de la Música Catalana December 28, 1922 by Eduard Toldrà and the french pianist F. Motte-Lacroix (Frederic Mompou's piano professor in Paris).  [program]
Award: "III Concurs Musical Eusebi Patxot i Llagustera"
Publisher: Union Musical Española (UME, Madrid, 1963)


1 - Sonetí de la Rosada
2 - Ave Maria
3 - Les birbadores
4 - Oració al maig
5 - Dels quatre vents
6 - La font

© translations and corrections of the poems in English by Eric Koontz

(© by Eric Koontz) extracted from his extensive thesis "Eduard Toldrà: an exploration of language, text, and music..." [see Bibliography]

Although the music of Eduard Toldrà’s Sis Sonets was inspired by the composer’s interest in the poetry of his own culture and fueled by his youthful reading, there is no clear connection between the mathematics of the partiture and that of the poetry. That is, neither the rhyme structure, the four-verse outline of the sonnet, nor the syllabic schemata of the Catalan poetry (as explained in the preceding section) seem to be linked with the phrase and harmonic structure of the musical composition. Further evidence of the music’s purely poetic-programmatic nature is evinced by Toldrà’s admission of having finished writing Dels Quatre Vents only a night before the entire composition was due to be submitted in the competition sponsored by the Patxot Foundation, prize consequently obtained in 1921. It would seem that although Toldrà’s first and primary love was chamber music, his understanding of musical art was inconceivable without a connection to poetic text. The major bulk of his composition output is made up of song compositions, with a total of 78 works for voice (or voices) and two compositions meant for the theatre, compared with scant five chamber works and four compositions for orchestra. Most of these instrumental works are concerned with, or inspired by, literary text. Toldrà was involved with the broadest and most intellectually active discussion groups of Barcelona during the early decades of the twentieth century, and counted among his friends the poets who were leaders of the Noucentista literary spirit, several of whom are represented in the texts of the Sis Sonets.

The movement of Noucentisme called its adherents to an ideal of earlier times and to also embrace a Mediterranean spirit instead of the Teutonic ideal which was preponderant at the close of the nineteenth century in the musical circles of Europe, while at the same time—varying from the goals of musical nationalism and of Modernism— remaining open to influences from other cultures. Toldrà demonstrates loose tonality in the Sis Sonets, with such typical features as Pentatonicism, frequent blurring of the tonic and dominant harmonies—essentially resulting in a pentatonic sonority, as found in Sonetí de la Rosada and Als Quatre Vents—extended harmonies (seventh, ninth, and an occasional thirteenth chord), and some tendency towards pandiatonicism. There are no examples of polytonality, although there are moments of pentatonic blurring between the violin and the piano in La Font, the piece Toldrà chose to end the collection at the time of printing in 1953. His heavy reliance upon pentatonic harmonic and melodic structure reveals at once the influence he received from his contact with the music of Ravel and Debussy during the few months the Quartet Renaixament toured and studied in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and Brussels, and his interest in folk music. Indeed, Toldrà spent summer months in the tiny village of Cantallops, at the mountainous border with France (or rather, Catalunya North), the birthplace of his wife Maria, where he collected Catalan folk melodies remembered by the village’s older people. The tunes become for him the “baggage of centuries that defines a musical culture [that] is left transparent in the melodies of Eduard Toldrà and becomes an essential factor in his music. He never skimps with the melody; the music of Toldrà always sings.” However, these tunes are not directly used or imitated in the composition of the Sis Sonets.

The ties between Spanish and French musicians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were already quite tight, with Albéniz having lived in Paris, and being very much in vogue there (as well as in the other musical centers of Europe and the Americas), Ravel having been a classmate and friend of Ricard Vinyes at the Paris Conservatory, Vinyes premiering practically all the piano music of both Ravel and Debussy, and Manuel de Falla living in Paris during several years of the first decade of the twentieth century. Toldrà would always consider J.S. Bach to be his favorite musician and composer (“The music I play best, the music that most excites me, is Bach, and always Bach!”), yet he followed the harmonic and melodic tendencies in the new music of his time.

At times, pentatonicism is hinted at, while at other moments it is obvious. In general, pentatonic harmonies are often used in this group of compositions to replace the more direction tensions of 7th and 9th chords. Overall, clear diatonic progressions are rare in these salon pieces. The Ave Maria features a piano introduction—an element not found in any other of the pieces—that clearly presents an E major tonality, but artfully moves to a different sound world when the violin sings its pentatonic melodic figure: the piano now uses a progression of seventh chords, successfully masking the color of E major in favor of the violin’s E pentatonic. Because pentatonicism and the occasional whole-tone chord form so great a basis for this music, let the following symbols be understood during the ensuing discussion of the Sis Sonets:
  • “p” will represent pentatonic and implied pentatonic grouping of notes, such as the ascending figure C-D-E—G-A, an implied pentatonic grouping, such as C-E—G-A (in the written harmony A-C-E-G);
  • “Ip,” “IVp,” or “Vp” represent the grouping of tones that function as tonic, subdominant, or dominant harmonies respectively, but include other tones that result not only in pentatonic melodic figures, but also pentatonic harmonies;
  • “w” will represent whole-tone groups, or whole-tone implication, such as G-A-B-C# (re-grouped as A-B-C#-G, as found in Les Birbadores);
  • Such graphics as “Iw” or “Vw” will represent an extended harmony that suggests whole-tone groupings of tones serving in a harmonic function of tonic or dominant, that is to say, implying greater or lesser degrees of harmonic tension;
  • Some whole-tone harmonies are modified, such as the unusual IIIw in measure 5 of La Font, indicating in this case that the chord structure serves in the capacity of the mediant, but contains one or more semi-tones.
There exist instances of harmony in the Sis Sonets that may be considered as clearly quartal, but Toldrà has used quartal groupings of tones to express pentatonic character. For example, a chord structure such as E-A-D-G-C (as rising intervals of fourths) might support a pentatonic melodic line, but in the context, the harmonic grouping serves the auditory function of C-D-E—G-A, such as the quartal harmony between piano and violin in measure 3 of Dels Quatre Vents. The grouping here of C#-F#-B-E-(passing A) might be interpreted as quartal, pentatonic, but in this case is analyzed as a diatonic viiø , because the melody in the violin follows the B major scale pattern (which is the home key in this composition), while the harmonic underpinning follows a vii-iii-V-I diatonic progression. Dels Quatre Vents is, however, the most obviously tonal of the six pieces.

As for this composer’s use of tonality as a “home base” for his composition, it is interesting to notice that, unlike the music of his French influences Debussy and Ravel, or the earlier pentatonic Romantic composers such as von Weber, Dvorak, Puccini, or Liszt, Toldrà’s sense of harmonic movement often includes a prominent use of the lowered (major) subtonic (VII) and the major mediant (III), in addition to featuring both the minor vii and iii harmonies as related in many phrases of the Sis Sonets. This type of sonority is perhaps best exemplified by the Renaissance Spanish Folía, featuring the ground progression I-V-I-VII-III-VII-I-V-I. Toldrà’s composition employs this sort of harmonic movement, although it is often in conjunction with extended harmonies and pentatonic or whole-tone groupings of harmony. He is also a great friend of third-related modulations, as well as tritone-related key areas and modulations by whole tone (using the augmented chord as a vehicle for movement), linking him to the sound of the New German School and the general decline of tonality, although his music follows a more Neoclassicist pattern in relying upon tonality to define the major structural points commencements, apices, and cadences—of his phrases.

Although the sway of the early twentieth-century French musicians can be heard in Toldrà’s strong tendency to use root position harmonies (resulting in parallel 4ths, 5ths, and octaves, a rather modern re-interpretation of medieval organum style in the music of Debussy and Toldrà), a moment of experimentation with “double organum” between the violin and piano in Oració al Maig, and the contemporaneous French-imitating device of fauxbourdon (yet again recalling earlier musics), chaining first-inversion chords in the piano (and sometimes second-inversion chaining as well), it is pentatonicism that takes on a greater global importance in the music of Toldrà. Many of these harmonies are regroupings of the vi chord (vi7 = Ip, with the absent 2nd scale degree) or the I (tonic) chord with an added 6th degree (again amounting to a grouping of 1,3,5,6 as Ip with a missing 2nd degree of the scale), and so Toldrà may be considered one of the composers who most liberally uses the scale degree 6 as a “pastoral signifier.” It is no surprise that a perusal of Toldrà’s concert programs reveals a preponderance of music by Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert, as well as that of Bach. His fondness for the sound of the 6th degree links Toldrà to composer/performers of the late classic and early romantic traditions, who were the early protagonists of the “pastoral-primitive” sound, and whose music, curiously enough, coincides chronologically with the incipient moments of the Catalan Renaixença movement, though Toldrà, unlike the “proto-pentatonic” composers, moves the scale degree 6 from a purely melodic role to the role of harmonic protagonist.

This composer involves secondary harmonies that resolve correctly in the traditional sense, but are softened by employment of pentatonic grouping of tones rather than the more direct tension of the seventh chord, such as the modified secondary tension-and-resolution represented by Vp/IV—IV, rather than V7/IV—IV. Here it is worth noting that in pentatonic harmony, relationships that would normally have been harshly dissonant in a diatonic context—intervals at the second, seventh, ninth, etc.— become sweeter and less tense, functioning as consonances. It is in this sense, too, that the listener will usually notice the easy lyricism of Toldrà’s music, hardly noticing that practically each and every measure of his compositions contains dissonant activity in the traditional context of Common Practice.

Toldrà is fond of using a cadential progression such as V–Ip, or Vp–Ip, depending upon the firmness with which he wants to close a cadence. As well, pentatonicism is often implied, but is firmly planted with all five notes at cadences. It is the contention of this author that Eduard Toldrà had not planned carefully the harmonic outline of his style, due to the varying uses of harmony in each of the Sis Sonets. Rather, it would seem that he chose to experiment with slightly different harmonic worlds in each piece, as if the young composer were searching for his compositional voice. Toldrà best reaches his goal in his song-writing, posterior to the Sis Sonets; these pieces for violin and piano are in fact not only accompanied by poetic texts, but also follow a ternary song form in each selection. The Sis Sonets are, in truth, a set of songs for the violin with piano, and as musicians and listeners have often noted, Toldrà’s chief, overall, and most outstanding musical quality is lyricism. In this, rather than in the interesting harmonies, does the composer achieve the Noucentista esthetic: the Mediterranean value for a singing line above the virtuosic gesture.

1-Sonetí de la Rosada
Poem by: Trinitat Catasús

Queda l’hora extasiada
de veure el món tan brillant,
i es fa tota palpitant
en el si de la rosada.

Cada gota un diamant
on retroba sa mirada
la joia meravellada
del que li és al voltant.

Mars, muntanyes, firmament,
ço que mou i frisa el vent,
ço que res no mou ni altera.

Tot quant amb l’hora somriu
s’encanta, s’irisa i viu
dintre una gota lleugera.

© hereus Trinitat Catasús
1-Sonnet to the Dew
(English translation)

Now remains the hour of extasis
in seeing the world so brilliant,
everything trembles with emotion
in the bosom of the dew.

Every drop a diamond
wherein her gaze is once more found,
the marvelled joy
of those who are near her.

Seas, mountains, earth,
That which moves and hastens the wind,
That which nothing moves or alters.

Everything, smiling in this hour,
is enchanted, reflects the hues of the rainbow,
and lives in a sole, light drop.
1-Soneto del Rocío
(traducción al Castellano)

Queda la hora extasiada
de ver el mundo tan brillante,
y se hace toda palpitante
en el seno del rocío.

Cada gota un diamante
donde reencuentra su mirada
el gozo maravillada
lo que le es alrededor.

Mares, montañas, firmamento,
esto que mueve y tiene apuro el viento,
esto que nada mueve ni altera.

Todo cuanto con la hora sonríe
encanta, cambiante y vivo
dentro de una gota ligera.


The first of this set of pieces, Sonetí de la Rosada (“Sonnet to the Morning Dew”), is based upon a Romantic text by Trinitat Catasús idealizing femininity, so often reflected in the great works of Catalan modernist architecture with its voluptuous feminine forms (Palau de la Música Catalana, La Pedrera, etc.), and equating feminine qualities with the purity and innocence (morning dew) found in the natural world. The music, centered firmly in E major in the piano, features an E pentatonic melody in the violin. The piano line will begin to reflect more pentatonicism in the harmonic movement, but remains most often within the orbit of diatonic harmony. There is a strong tendency towards the use of root position harmonies, exemplified by the progression from measure 7 through ms. 13, arrival of the first perfect authentic cadence: V7 - ♭VIIw – IVp – iii – (ii7) – iii – IVp - I4/3 - IV+6 – I – IV7 – V7 – I.

The mediant (III, III+, or iii) is often used for modulation, or in conjunction with a modulation, as in ms. 20 (E: I – V+ / g#: III+); ms. 41 (E: I6/4 - V7 / C: V7/iii); ms. 54 (d: III, sustained to emphasize the instability of the key area); ms. 58 (f: III, sustained for the same purpose of instability); or ms. 60 (f: iiip / g#: ip). From this point, the restatement of the opening material of this ternary composition wanders less from the home key of E major. Here the piano remains basically faithful to the diatonic key with the very notable exception of an abrupt foray into E♭ major and a wandering back to E major, in which the harmony is almost exclusively pentatonic. By the time the listener has heard the first half of this piece, the composer has established a relationship between the subtonic (VII) and the mediant (III), making the resolution V/VII – III patent by ms. 63. This makes for greater tension in the ensuing B minor section (mss. 64-71), in which neither VII nor III appear.

We find many examples of harmonic movement by seconds (planing, or fauxbourdon-like device), as in ms. 9, E: IVp – iii – ii7 – iii- IVp; or ms. 21, g#: i – ii – i – ii – I – ii – I - ii ), creating the sensation of rocking, or a lullaby. Although the subdominant (IV) forms one of the harmonic pillars on Sonetí de la Rosada, there are no plagal cadences. Rather, the strong plagal “perfume” of this music is derived from the movement of Ip to IVp in the pentatonic sections, the 6th scale degree added to the tonic harmony ever facilitating a movement to IV. Toldrà’s admiration for Schubert is found in the path to the final cadence (mss. 119-120) in the use of the Neapolitan (E: I – vi – IV - ♭II – I), while the final cadence itself (mss. 127-129) features the 6th degree rising to the tonic, as mentioned in the preceding discussion of general aspects of Toldrà’s harmony and melody. Although the elegant harmonic motion of I – (V) – V/V – I takes place over a descending bass line (3-2-1 in the piano) coupled with a rising violin melodic line (5- [6]-1) that a Schenkerian analysis would enjoy for the reversal of bass and soprano roles, the flavor remains plagal thanks to the rising 6.


2-Ave Maria
Poem by: Joan Alcover

Miràvem el crepuscle d’encesa vermellor:
més un secret desfici tos ulls enterbolia,
cercant en el silenci que terra i mar omplia
un so per exhalar-s’hi la fonda vibració.

I, rodolant, llavores del bosc a l’horitzó,
baixà de l’ermitatge el toc de Ave-Maria.
Sa veu trobà natura, i el cor sa melodia,
expandiment de l’hora prenyada d’emoció.

Jamai d’un vas més tendre, la plenitud de vida,
el plor de l’inefable defalliment vessà;
jamai fores tan bella, o dona beneïda!

Jamai en el món nostre ni el món d’allà,
d’allà, mon llavi, qui eixugava ta galta esblanqueïda,
un glop de més divina dolçura fruirà.

© hereus Joan Alcover
2-Ave Maria
(English translation)

We watched the burning red sunset:
but a secret yearning clouded your eyes,
searching through the silence that filled earth and sea

a sound to exhale the profound vibration.

And then, rolling from the forest to the horizon,

the chime of the Ave Maria came down from the hermitage.
Its voice was natural, and its heart was melody,
expansion of the moment, pregnant with emotion.

Never from a vessel more tender spilled over
the plentitude of life,[or] the cry of an ineffable swoon;
Never were you more beautiful, o blessed woman!

Never in this world of ours, nor in the later world of heaven,
will my lips that dried your blanched cheek
enjoy a taste of more divine sweetness.
2-Ave María
(traducción al Castellano)

Mirábamos el crepúsculo de encendido enrojecimiento:
más un secreto desazón tus ojos enturbiaba,
buscando en el silencio que tierra y mar llenaba
un sonido para exhalar al mismo la fonda vibración.

Y, rodando, entonces del bosque en el horizonte,
bajó del eremitorio el toque de Ave-María.
Su voz encontró naturaleza, y el corazón sano melodía,
expansión de la hora preñada de emoción.

Jamás de un vaso más tierno, la plenitud de vida,
el llanto del inefable desfallecimiento derramó;
jamás fueras tan hermosa, o mujer bendita!

Jamás en el mundo nuestro ni el mundo de allí,
de allí, mi labio, que secaba tu mejilla blanquecina,
un trago de más divina dulzura disfrutará.


The theme of the second piece in the first volume of the Sis Sonets, Ave Maria, uses religious devotion—the sort symbolized by the afternoon chimes at the hour of the Ave Maria prayer—to reflect sensuality. This merging of the sacred and the profane is a topic found historically in Hispanic literature, perhaps most famously in the writings of San Juan de la Cruz and Santa Teresa de Ávila. These images stem from the use of the biblical vision of the Church as bride of Christ, and reflect also the extension of the antique Roman cults’ view of sexuality and sensuality as part and parcel of religious adoration.

In each of these six short compositions, Toldrà has written music for violin and piano as if the violin were charged with the role of singing and transmitting the mood of the text. The Ave Maria immediately presents the idea of a slowly ringing church bell in the left hand of the piano; this syncopated figure serves also to set in motion the key of E major, continuing the E pentatonic cadence of the preceding Sonetí de la Rosada and presenting the tonality in a more sedate and traditional context. The piano introduction here is the only one found in among all six pieces, and serves beautifully to convey the passive tone of the opening of Joan Alcover’s poem with a lulling I-V7 pedal during the first three measures. True to Toldrà’s style, when the subdominant harmony is introduced in the fourth measure, the underlying tonic-to-dominant pedal gives the music a hint of pentatonicism (A-B-C#—E), which the violin will soon bring to full bloom with its melody. However, the piano introduction presents firmly the tonality of E major before moving to exclusively extended harmonies upon the violin’s entrance in measure 13. Toldrà introduces this change to richer harmonies particularly well with the “planing” device in mss. 9-13 (all inversions in the right hand). The melodic figure in the violin remains on a framework outlining Vp, a pentatonic arrangement springing from the dominant (B-C#-D#—F#-G#), coinciding with the piano’s dominant and supertonic background echoing in expanded rhythm the earlier harmonic inversions, now patent in the A section of this ternary form. Now the piece has confirmed its pentatonicism, and the music shifts immediately to G major—one of Toldrà’s favored third-related modulations--, a more open and ringing key, much more advantageous to the violin.

The B section of the ternary form presents a role reversal between the two instruments, with a slow melody in the violin contrasting with the piano having taken the sixteenth-note, rising-and-falling figure from the violin melody in the A section. Although this portion of the music seems calmer yet in its nature, mainly due to the regular and slow rhythm of the violin melody, and the rhythmically regular and quick motion in the piano, harmonic movement is frequent and unstable. A progression of modulations by rising thirds ensues through this section, from the original tonal center, E, in succession to G, B, and D. An extended section of B pentatonic (serving as a large Vp, or dominant-pentatonic to the home tonal area of E) introduces the descent (falling thirds, D, B, G…) by falling third until the tonal center of E is reached, and the material of the A section returns. As this middle section moves along, the harmonic complexity grows more interesting, until six measures before the return of the A material, Toldrà writes for the piano an augmented harmony (G-B-D#) to a flatted VII (recalling the popular Spanish Renaissance harmony, mentioned earlier here) to support a whole-tone violin melody. This is the tension that leads back to the home tonal area of E, which finishes out the piece with a real pentatonic (Ip) cadence in the last three measures of this music, with the tones E-F#-G#-B-C# (the only instance of all five tones of a pentatonic harmony in this piece). The final measure omits the two non-diatonic tones to reach most peacefully on an E major chord in the piano.


3-Les Birbadores
Poem by: Magí Morera i Galicia

Les he vistes passar com voleiada
de cantaires ocells quan trenca el dia,
i del tendre llampec de sa alegria
ne tinc l’ànima alegre i encisada.

Al cap i al pit, roselles; la faldada
entre herbatges i flors se’ls sobreixia,
i en cara i ulls i en tot lo seu lluïa
del jovent la ditxosa flamerada.

Passaren tot cantant!...La tarda queia...
i esfumant-se allà lluny encara les veia,
lleugeres, jovenils, encisadores...

com si am llum de capvespre cisellades
sobre marbre boirós, les birbadores
fossin el fris d’algun palau de fades.

© hereus Magí Morera i Galicia
3-The Gleaners
(English translation)

I’ve seen them go by like a cloud
of busily singing birds at daybreak,
and from that tender lightning bolt of their cheerfulness
my soul is happy and bewitched.

On their heads and at their bosoms, poppies; their aprons
between herbs and flowers, flowed over,
and in face and eye and everything theirs shone
the joyful flame of youth.

They went by singing in full voice!... Evening fell...
and disappeared in the distance even though I still saw them,
light, young, and enchanting...

as if, chiselled by sunset light
in cloudy marble, the gleaners
were the frieze of some fairy’ palace.
3-Las Birbadores
(traducción al Castellano)

Las he visto pasar como volandero
de cantantes pájaros cuando rompe el día,
y del tierno relámpago de su alegría
su tengo el alma alegre y hechizada.

Al fin y al pecho, amapolas, la faldada
entre herbatges y flores se les sobresalir,
y en cara y ojos y en todo su lucía
de la juventud la dichosa llamarada.

Pasaron cantando! ... La tarde caía ...
y esfumándose a lo lejos aún las veía,
ligeras, juveniles, encantadoras ...

como si am luz de atardecer cinceladas
sobre mármol brumoso, las birbadores
fueran el friso de algún palacio de hadas.


weeding. [agr] pulling weeds from the fields, in general, remove weeds born between cultivated plants ...

The third of the selections in the first volume of the Sis Sonets is once again a praise of femininity, but now set in the rustic outdoors. Les Birbadores, “The Gleaning Women,” are the subject for Morera i Galicia’s poem, and he depicts young women happily scurrying home after a day of work in the fields. The image is a popular one for the turn-of-the-century French and Catalan painters, one of country people in their everyday garb and going about their tasks, although the poem stirs up a wistful vision of the past—an often yearned for sense of the Catalan agrarian society before the Industrial Revolution—more than a contemporary view of rural life. The sentiment is summed up with particular nostalgia is the penultimate stanza:

“Evening fell...
And [they] disappeared in the distance even though I still saw them”

This sort of image matches well the musical inspiration of the Romantic musical ideal, and works especially well for the Catalan Modernist and Noucentista musician111, as these ideologies were based around a celebration of a culture or an idea of nationalism. Felip Pedrell had long before—with his disciples Isaac Albéniz and Enrique Granados— supported the idea of a musical expression of nationalism in Spain, though this ultimately proved to be impossible, due to the lack of cohesion within the Spanish state and its multiple political upheavals during the nineteenth century.

Toldrà, being a product of Modernist Catalunya and the Renaixença movement, would have been naturally drawn to the imagery of this sonnet, and indeed manages here to write the simplest, most straight-forward, and cheerful of all the Sis Sonets. Once again, it is a short, ternary composition, and employs less harmonic variation than the other pieces in favor of a greater brilliance for the solo violin part. It is centered throughout in D major, with occasional quick forays into other key areas (B minor, C# major), but the B section of “The Gleaners” shows more compositional creativity than the outer sections, using double-stopping in the violin, and featuring pentatonic harmonies and, once more, the Mediterranean flavor of the flatted six (♭VI)) and the major seven (VII) chords in the piano. The entire piece is sprinkled liberally with secondary harmonies, leaving the iterations pentatonicism, quartalism, and whole-tone harmonies for the harmonically richer B section. Perhaps the more interesting harmonic aspect of this piece, centered more firmly in a specific tonal area throughout, is the creative (and still classically-based) way in which the opening melody is introduced, both in the beginning and the ending measures. This opening does not immediately indicate the home key (D major); it is begun with an F# harmonic minor scale in the piano (meaning the second scale degree, E, is raised, thus providing a surprise for the arrival at D major by the fourth measure (and at the penultimate measure of the piece), leading to a halfdiminished seven (viiØ /V), giving the piece a feeling of modality and Orientalism, popular among the Late Romantic and Modernist composers.


4-Oració al Maig
Poem byJosep Carner

Fes, Maig (que potser jo no gosaria
d’anar-li en seguiment pel corriol),
que per grat de l’atzar la trobi un dia
tot arran de mon cor que vol i dol,

que hi hagi molts d’ocells damunt la via
(tots cantadissos, amagats del sol)
que ofeguin mon batec, i a ma agonia
ofreni un glop de pau al fontinyol,

que, sense veure’m ella ni escapar-se,
jo em trobi als dits sa cabellera esparsa,
a frec del meu el llavi seu rogenc,

i que ella estigui amb les parpelles closes
i, encara, dins l’encanyissat de roses.
(Tot perquè jo no sigui temorenc.)

© hereus Joan Carner
4-Supplication to the Month of May
(English translation)

Grant, May (because perhaps I wouldn’t dare
to follow her into the alley),
that by grace of luck I find her one day
ever so close to my vacillating heart,

that there be many birds above our way
(all singing, hidden from the sun)
so that they suffocate my heartbeats, and for my agony
offer a bit of fresh peace by the spring,

and that, with neither her noticing nor escaping,
I find at my fingertips her hair let down,
and my lips brushing her red ones,

and that she remain with her eyes closed
and still beneath the rose arbor.
(All to keep me from timidity.)
4-Oración al mes de Mayo
(traducción al Castellano)

Haz, Mayo (que quizá yo no me atrevería
de irle en seguimiento por el sendero),
que por gusto del azar la encuentre un día
todo a raíz de mi corazón que quiere y duele,

que haya muchos pájaros sobre la vía
(todos cantarines, escondidos del sol)
que ahoguen mi latido, y en mi agonía
ofrezcan un trago de paz en fontinyol,

que, sin verme ella ni escapar,
yo me encuentre en los dedos su melena suelta,
muy cerca de mi el labio su rojizo,

y que ella esté con los párpados cerrados
y, aún, en el encañado de rosas.
(Todo porque yo no sea temeroso.)


The Oracio al Maig (Supplication to the Month of May) is a text invented by Toldrà’s friend, the poet Josep Carner. There is no doubt that the sonnets chosen by the composer are demonstrative of a hyper-romanticism in the European sense, while also reflecting the hope-filled goals of the Catalan Renaixença. The sonnet may be interpreted as the Catalan reticence to take definite action (the “vol i dol” of the first stanza, an expression of vacillation) towards a much-desired goal. There has been, and still is, much vacillation on the part of the populace in Catalunya about its true identity, which is caught between a wish to be independent politically and an equally intense difficulty to relinquish the vision of itself as forming an individual and autonomous part of the greater political and economic culture of the Spanish state. Hence, the verses’ supplication to nature is that it provide an automatic, idealized, and fantastical solution to timidity.

This fourth piece of the Sis Sonets is the most fluid and lyrical of the six, and Toldrà’s own playing of the piece reflects his musicianship at its most beautiful and singing expression.112 In fact, Toldrà’s performance of the piece, with his glistening, warm sound, expressive shifts, and portato, reflects his great admiration for the violinist Fritz Kreisler.

Apart from its musical content, this partiture stands out for its confidence; since the most basic component of Toldrà’s compositional style is lyricism—patently clear throughout his musical career—it is to be expected that both his playing and his writing might be at the zenith of his capabilities. The handwritten partiture shows only one minor correction,113 and this particular composition is peppered with nuance and indications in Catalan, reflecting a zeal and assurance that the language and literature of Catalunya were firmly enough established in order to make a printing of the music universally acceptable for purchase and performance.114

The Oració is also made more musically interesting for audience and performers by its slightly different form. It is not the straightforward ternary piece that the other Sonets are, but rather follows a less dependable scheme. The A section is quite short, although tonally very unstable, beginning in a calm F major and cadences in A major already by measure 20, where the B section begins. The characters of the two sections do not as deeply contrast as one might expect; in fact, the main element of difference— beside tonal area—is rhythm, found to be more jovial and suggestive of dance for the piano in the B section, though the lyrical quality of the violin melody is never for a moment lost. Although this second section seems to draw to a conclusion (an authentic cadence in A major, ms. 53), the music is interrupted by a recitative section, threading itself in and out of the B section material. It is restored to a true dialogue between piano and violin by measure 73 (in D minor) using the B section’s melodic material, though the piano weaves between the A section’s melismatic lines and the B section’s more carefree and rhythmically interesting block chords.

The mishmash of thematic material is descriptive of the poetic text’s trepidation and doubtfulness. In short, the poem’s lovely paradox—its rhythmical lyricism matched against the text’s hesitancy and nervousness—is wonderfully matched by Toldrà’s aural painting of that conflict. In the poetic text, there is one sole verb (the first word, “fes,” or “grant”) for the entire construction of fourteen lines of verse, during which the speaker in the poem, trembling, describes all manner of petitions to the month of May, until finally coming to the point by the last line. Toldrà’s musical treatment follows that literary idea, intertwining the principal idea of an embellished descending F-major scale (opening violin melody) with fits and starts, finally coming to a satisfactory and conclusive F major during the last five measures. The trepidation is musically characterized by a profound avoidance of tonal stability, with the exception of the beginning of the B section (in A major, with a cadence). As one might expect of Toldrà, his harmony is showered with secondary dominants in addition to extended chords. Even the tonic is symbolically avoided by often adding the seventh (I7 , ms.19) or presenting it in pentatonic form (Ip, ms. 112), as F-A-C-D. In addition to the frequent use of secondary dominants, roughly a third of the harmonies here are seventh chords, with the appearance of a few ninth chords, and pentatonic harmonies are used often and at strategic points.

There is a fairly preponderous appearance of lowered scale-degree harmonies (♭II, ♭III, ♭VII, and VI), and the piece contains a rather plagal atmosphere (relating to the poem’s textual references to “supplication” and “grant”), where the use of pentatonicism is especially clear between the tonic and subdominant (Ip and IVp). Toldrà invents in this music a unique sound not used in any other of the Sonets, whereby he juxtaposes the outline of the Ip harmony in the violin with the IVp harmonic outline in the piano (mss. 30-31, 34-35, 78-79, 82-83). The actually arpeggiation in the piano at these places is written as a ii , but is the aural effect is of a pentatonic formation (using the scale degrees 4-[5]-6-1-2), while the violin plays a pentatonic melody based upon the tonic (using scale degrees 1-2-3-[5]-6). The formation of both these patterns is very similar, yet the pull of the violin melody is strongly toward tonic while the piano line urges toward subdominant, demonstrating that once extended harmonies are used (especially those employing the sixth scale degree), only a fine line separates harmonic extension, quartal harmony, and pentatonicism. Toldrà uses a constantly wandering melody throughout in both violin and piano, with a shyness to commit to a firm key area of F major. The final section, instead of reaching a firm conclusion in the home key, floats away—like the text’s sense of vacillation—on an F pentatonic harmony.


5-Dels Quatre Vents
Poem by: Mossèn Anton Navarro

Dia fervent d’agost era aquell dia...,
sota la volta de l’atzur serena,
com una copa d’or d’hidromel plena
la vall de Lys de llum se sobreixia.

Flama dels camps, la palla refulgia
com l’escuma del mar damunt l’arena
i l’eral ple de fruits de tota mena
tota sa glòria al vent serè expandia.

Ella’m mostrava les triomfals monteres
de la flor del forment, com nova Ceres
sorgida allí per art de meravella,

i allà d’enllà cantaven les cigales,
passaven dos coloms de blanques ales
i sonaven remors d’ègloga vella.

© hereus mossèn Anton Navarro
5-From the Four Winds
(English translation)

Fervent day in August, that day...
beneath the return of serene azure,
like a full cup of golden hydromel
the valley of Lys overflowed with light.

Flame from the fields, the hay shone
like sea foam on sand,
and the threshing floor, full of harvest of all sorts,
opened all its glory to the wind.

She showed me the triumphal capes
made up of the best of grains, like new Ceres
come forth by marvelous magic,

while further afield the cicadas sang,
and two white-winged doves passed by,
rustling with the sound of antique pastoral song.
5-De los Cuatro Vientos
(traducción al Castellano)

Día ferviente de agosto era aquel día ...,
bajo la bóveda del azul serena,
como una copa de oro de hidromiel plena
el valle de Lys de luz se sobresalir.

Llama de los campos, la paja refulgía
como la espuma del mar sobre la arena
y el eral lleno de frutos de todo tipo
toda su gloria al viento sereno expandía.

Ella'm mostraba las triunfales montes
de la flor del trigo, como nueva Ceres
surgida allí por arte de maravilla,

y allí de allá cantaban las cigarras,
pasaban dos palomas de blancas alas
y sonaban rumores de égloga vieja.


Dels Quatre Vents combines images of antiquity (hydromel, Ceres, pastoral song) with a particular Catalan longing for its own past, represented by a vision of the Valley of Lys, in the long-lost regions of North Catalunya. The Catalan state was split between France and Spain.115 The yearning for those bygone days of the unity of northern and southern lands of the Catalan culture still forms very much a part of Catalan consciousness, and more recently, within the last two decades of the twentieth century, is manifested in the northern French-speaking regions, with a renewal of interest in Catalan-language schools and greater communication with the Catalunya of the Spanish state.

Toldrà, in this shortest (and the last written) of the six pieces creates a stately, slow-moving music, requiring the violinist to use the richest sound possible on the instrument in employing the G string throughout the movement. In the longer opening section, the composer juxtaposes an older, traditional style of harmony (almost purely diatonic) with a newer, more modern harmony (a few seventh and pentatonic chords) in the second (basically extended cadence) section of the piece, maintaining this music firmly grounded in the tonality of the home key, B major. Although this fifth of the Sonets is exceptionally short—only two printed score pages—the piece holds the listener in space by juxtaposing the slow, regular harmonic rhythm of the majority of the music (regular harmonic change at each half-measure), with a quicker extended cadence section—an extension of nine measures—made up of harmonic changes at each quarter beat, all arriving to a halt for a heavily emphasized dominant seventh (ms. 21-23) and the finally cadence in B major.


6-La Font
Poem byJoan Maria Guasch

Recó tranquil, recó guarnit de molsa,
recó dels arbres vells, mig desmaiats,
la font que hi veig té una naixença dolça,
no té el dolor dels naixements forçats.

Brolla gentil i alegrament devalla;
la filla de la neu mai defalleix;
meitat cançó i altra meitat rialla
és una vida en flor que resplandeix.

Jo quan baixo dels cims a l’hora santa,
cerco el recó tranquil, la font que canta
el misteri sagrat del fill del glaç

i veig d’un tros lluny que ja m’espera
com una dona fresca i riallera
portant el càntir ple sota del braç.

© hereus Joan Maria Guasch
6-The fountain
(English translation)

Tranquil niche, moss-dressed retreat,
recess of old trees half-swooning,
the spring I see is sweetly born
and knows no pain of forced birth.

It bubbles gently and cheerfully rolls downward;
the daughter of snow is never discouraged.
Half song and other half laughter,
this is a blossoming life that bursts brilliantly.

I, when I descend the peaks at the holy hour,
search for that tranquil corner, the font that sings
the sacred mystery of the son of ice

and I see from far off that it awaits me
like a woman, fresh and tittering,,
carrying her full water jug under an arm.
6-La Fuente
(traducción al Castellano)

Recó tranquilo, rincón adornado de musgo,
rincón de los árboles viejos, medio desmayados,
la fuente que veo tiene una nacimiento dulce,
no tiene el dolor de los nacimientos forzados.

Brota gentil y alegremente desciende;
la hija de la nieve nunca desfallece;
mitad canción y otra mitad risa
es una vida en flor que resplandece.

Yo cuando bajo de las cumbres a la hora santa,
busco el rincón tranquilo, la fuente que canta
el misterio sagrado del hijo del hielo

y veo desde lejos que ya me espera
como una mujer fresca y risueña
llevando el cántaro lleno debajo del brazo.


Also finished shortly before the Sis Sonets were due to be submitted for the “Third Musical Competition Eusebi Patxot i Llagustera,” “La Font” combines all the formerly-mentioned images: nationalism, political idealism, religious feeling, and sensuality. The image of an innocent and natural birth (“knows no pain of forced birth,” first stanza of the sonnet text) seems an allusion to the Catalan culture, being formed over several centuries through slow migration from the northerly Frankish kingdoms and mixing with the Latin inhabitants to the south. There is constant juxtaposition of male and female images (“daughter of the snow,” “sacred son of ice,” “a woman, fresh and giggling”) along with a religious reference (“the sacred hour”). Religious symbols in Catalan poetry are often a marriage of sacred and pagan imagery; religious vocabulary is grafted onto images of the earth and agrarian life to demonstrate the “sacred” type of nationalistic intensity of the Catalan poets and artists. The antiquity of Catalan tradition—although we will see that the rhythmic treatment presents a slightly different point of view—is represented by the spring itself. Its identity is the source of life: the water provides a moss-dressed retreat with ancient, leaning trees, while the overall tone of the sonnet is decidedly optimistic.

Toldrà’s score reflects that youthful optimism, with a pleasant rising and falling melodic invention meant to reflect the image of water, much in the style of Smetana’s water depiction in “The Moldau.” Included is a musical reference to antique Hispanic harmonic style of the Renaissance, with much use of both the minor and major III, and major VII chords. There is less use of plagal harmony in this piece and more wandering through varying key areas, and all the while the basic home key is not G major, but rather is more aptly described as G pentatonic. This basic quality of defining the harmonic goal as Ip (rather than I) provides opportunity for rich and inventive treatment of harmony throughout the composition, and La Font proves to be an effective counterpart to its closest partner in the set, Als Quatre Vents. As staid and traditional in harmonic style as the fifth piece is, here the sixth is innovatively splashed with color and imagination.

La Font opens with a G-pentatonic pedal in the piano (G-[A]-B-D-E), while the violin, entering in the third measure, also outlines Gp with the melody. (Here in the violin, all five tones of Gp, G-A-B-C-D, are employed.) After the opening four measures of Ip (the tonic pentatonic), Toldrà already moves to one of the most interesting harmonic colors of the piece, a construction that may be defined as V9/♭VII, resolving to Ip. The same harmony might also be thought of as a IV9 (moving to tonic, Ip), as it is one of the few instances of plagal resolution in the piece, but is not easily perceived as plagal due to the presence of the seventh and the ninth in the chord. In any case, these unusual harmonies, perhaps related to Iberian music of the Renaissance on a more unconscious level—especially unusual given the piece is in major mode—seem to be linked with one of Toldrà’s preferences that ties him to a particular Iberian “harmonic flavor:”: the use of ♭VII, III and VI (all in major triad form) throughout the Sis Sonets.116

Rhythmic interest is present in La Font with some hemiola in the violin (mss. 17, 84, written with accents to ensure that the measure’s two-part division moves to threepart; mss. 39-45 and 103-113). But a larger scheme of hemiola inundates the music: while the piano plays exclusively in triple meter, the violin maintains the duple swing of the written six-eight meter. Arabesque (mss. 23-30 and 90-98) is also present in the piece. The presence of these two rhythmical elements, so strongly featured in La Font and noticeably absent by comparison in the other five Sonets, seems to reflect at least a bit of the influence of the musical message of Felip Pedrell who, although identifying himself with his Catalan roots and upbringing, desired to create a school of Spanish Nationalism in music.117

Still, Toldrà’s harmony occupies a more prominent place in his compositions and here, similar to many other Catalan Modernist musicians, he is more indebted to the French school than to Pedrell.118 La Font is immersed in extended, secondary, and pentatonic harmonies, so much so, in fact, that the second section of the piece, beginning in measure 31—itself an enormously unstable section of thirty-nine measures wherein tonicization is carried from G through F#, B major, and finally back to G pentatonic— almost acts as a mini-development (with its use of fragmentation and change of key area) by employing a constant string of V /IV and ♭VII harmonies in succession. When a moment of seeming stability arrives (in B major), the listener can hardly perceive a sense of a home key due to the hemiola introduced in the violin line and the richness of the extended and secondary harmonies in the piano. Yet this entire second section, so obviously unstable when analyzed, gains an aural sense of solidity, being sandwiched between two sections built on a foundation of pentatonicism.

In the reprise of the A section (the piano hemiola), the home “key” has returned to Gp, but moves to E-flat major for the florid arabesque music119 and remains there for the reprise of the B section material, coming back to the home G pentatonic through the same succession of V4/2 /IV and ♭VII harmonies, and the last Sonet draws to a charming conclusion on a hemiola figure. In a global consideration, this piece, as well as the other five Sonets, offers a simple scheme. Once Toldrà discovered the harmonic color and melodic figures he preferred for each selection, he demonstrated fidelity to his musical decisions.


(Text aparegut al LP "Balada Toldrà" de Josep Mª Alpiste i Angel Soler)

Eduard Toldrà (1895-1962) ha sido uno de los músicos más integros y sinceros de nuestro siglo. Fue músico por temperamento y vocación, entregándose totalmente al servicio de la música. A los 16 años fundó (con Recasens, Sanchez y Planàs) el "Quartet Renaixement", labor que no le impidió proseguir sus estudios, y actuaciones violinísticas, ya como concertista de cámara, ya como concertino de conjuntos sinfónicos. Se reveló y consagró más tarde como director de orquesta, sin dejar, por ello, de ejercer la pedagogla musical, siendo maestro de multitud de violinistas y profesor en la dirección orquestal.

Toldrà tenía la rara aptitud de penetrar en el sentimiento musical de todos los tiempos; una extraña y rapida asimilación para llegar al fondo de las obras más complejas.

Su labor al frente de la "Orquesta Municipal de Barcelona," de la que era maestro titular, fue meritoria, tanto por su labor directiva como por la variedad de sus programas. No dudó, al lado del clacisismo más puro, ofrecer obras de los compositores contemporáneos o de "vanguardia". A él se le debe la inclusion en programa, como ejemplo, de "Trois Tâlas" de Oliver Messiaen. Sus version de obras de compositores españoles, así como las de Brahms, Ravel, Debussy y Strauss, están en la memoria de todos, al igual que los cuatro conciertos a cargo de la mencionada Orquesta Municipal de Barcelona, dedicados exclusivamente al mundo de la sinfonia (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Franck, Prokofieff, Stravinsky, etc.).

Hombre de grandes cualidades y aptitudes, tanto humanas como musicales, supo ganarse la simpatía, admiración y respeto no sólo de los profesionales sino también del público que siguió su carrera tanto de violinista como de director.

La rara, extraordinaria y rápida compenetración con cualquier partitura, por difícil que ésta fuera, no la tenía con sus propias composiciones ya que éstas sufrían un largo periodo de estudio, de paciente preparación y de correcciones. Con o legó una serie de obras perfectas que, a pesar de lo que podría suponerse, distan mucho de la elaboración fría y calculada; por el contrario, son obras con un sello de espontaneidad, como si de improvisaciones se tratara.

Alcanza el premio "Fundació Rabell" por sus "Vistes al mar" (1920) y el "Premio Albéniz" con su ciclo de canciones "La rosa als llavis" (1936), siendo dignas de mencionar entre toda su producción "El giravolt de Maig",  opera con libreto de Josep Carner y sus "Sis sonets", para violin y piano (Pemio del "III Concurs Musical Eusebi Patxot i Llagustera").

Si escuchamos con atención cualquiera de las obras de Eduard Toldrà, tenemos la sensación que el músico queria liberar su alma en alas de una canción, en alas de un lirismo sereno y sincero, para convertir en música los poemas, su Mar Mediterraneo, y el paisaje de su amada tierra catalana.

Sus "Sis sonets" son un buen ejemplo de ello: al lado de unas melodias alegres, luminosas y espontáneas como "Soneti de la rosada", "Les birbadores", "Oració al Maig y "La font", encontramos la serenidad de "Dels quatre vents" y la oración del "Ave Maria", plegaria no aprendida, sino que emana con la sinceridad del que ora o habla con el corazón en la mano.

Toldrà es el compositor de recta y sólida construcción pero con aparente espontaneidad y con un sabor muy nuestro.