Libera Me by Constança Capedeville

Gil Miranda 1

Libera Me 2

"Libera me" is the incipit of the Responsory of the chanted Roman catholic ritual during the Christian burial ceremonies at the moment of Absolution.3 The same responsory is used in the performance of the Office of the Dead, although in certain cases it can be substituted by a shorter responsory with the same incipt but less solemn music.4 Both responsories contain a violent appeal for the salvation of the soul of the deceased. In the case of the first responsory, it assumes an almost tragic intensity, Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna, in die illa tremenda: quando c li movendi sunt et terra; dum veneris judicare saeculum per ignem.5

One might be surprised that in spite of the title of the composition and the fact that Constança Capdeville made abundant recourse in it to the citations of Gregorian chant, namely the Mass and the Office of the Dead, that she has avoided any use whatever of the text or of the music of the responsory whose theme inspired her. In her keen compositional instinct, she must have understood as the Zen Budhist would say: "that only by not dealing with Libera me, can I deal with Libera me." Or in less paradoxical terms: in refusing the road of paraphrase or gloss, Constança Capdeville took the lithurgical Libera me as a simple compositional stimulus, and, consequently established the conditions for a most ambitious and demanding compositional project - that of recreating the image of liberation without any apparent model.

A Model of Liberation

On entering the composition class of Croner de Vasconcellos at the Conservatório Nacional, Constança Capdeville was a mere youth, almost a child, yet with a mixture of fragility and energy, possessing enormous eyes which appeared almost to jump out of their sockets in enthusiasm and penetration. Born in Barcelona under the specter of the Spanish civil war whose massacres made an indelible impression on her, she appeared to have absorbed very early on the elements of her personal drama. Confident and open, she embraced the discoveries of others before her with enthusiasm. She could stand up for them with the intrepidity of a Dom Quixote, were it not for the fact that, most times, she would ultimately surpass them herself. There existed in her, side by side, the knight from La Mancha and the companion Sancho, an intense aspiration and an exciting and subtle realism. Nor did she avoid influences. She welcomed and tried out solutions proposed by others, only to find often another problem at the root of it all. This dialectic disposition made her believe, with a naturalness akin to oriental wisdom in the oppositions which in many ways confound the spirit of the West. If on one side, she professed a quixotic ardor, on the other, she hated the decadent Spanish idealism which underlies it. Possessing a romantic intensity, she lived with passion, but gave herself at the same time to the patient discovery of the symbols and constructions necessary for the esthetic expression of that passion.. She was strongly attracted by artistic constructionism, but detested what she called the work of "simple" composition, devoid of any real human content.

This tempermant, however, which is exceedingly favorable to artistic creation, is frequently the source of suffering. Capdeville referred many times to the pain of human existence. According to her, the fact of living a life which we have not chosen, and whose content and destiny greatly escapes us, was a work of great injustice. However, if life would appear at times a jail against which she was fighting, her realism allowed her to accept it as an unequivocal path, possibly of liberation. Therefore it can only be admired that the Libera me would be full of human and personal conflict. It is the mirror of a drama whose plot is an effort at liberation through the very instruments of seclusion - a liberation without visible liberation.

The Composition, its Score and Recording

Libera me makes extensive use of "aleatoric" principles and the process of collage. The term aleatoric which might indicate an absence of choice on the part of the composer, in reality, corresponds to a necessary deliberation of its own. Beyond this, it puts the accent on the element of alea, or risk, which, if it can ever be declared in absolute terms, is not, as a rule, an object of Capdeville's creative intention. The American composer David Cope has substituted for it the word "indeterminacy"6 which, in addition to being more exact, has the advantage of establishing a link with a traditional element of western written music. The idea of entrusting important parameters of the composition to the performer comes in fact from much earlier times, and has been renewed in different aspects of music through the ages. Prominent examples are, in the Baroque era, the (more or less) figured bass, and the omission of dynamic indications, as well as the practice of writing instrumental parts or entire compositions without specific indications of the instruments for which they were intended - the Art of Fugue of J.S. Bach being an illustrious example.

David Cope proposes a classification of various types of indeterminacy, enlarging the distinction between indeterminacy which occurs at the moment of composition and at the moment of performance. In the former, the composer himself leaves to chance the "choices" in which the creative process consists; in the second, he or she leaves more or less blank certain areas of the composition whose fulfillment will fall to the performer with the observance of criteria and injunctions dictated by the composer.7 It is not incumbent on this study to enter into the discussion of such modalities, sufficing it to say that Libera me covers the larger part, if not all of the modes of indeterminacy directed to the moment of performance. As for the indeterminacy at the moment of composition, it is almost certainly absent; to be sure, the Libera me exhibits a structure characterized by coherence and logical development as to preclude the occurrence of indeterminacy in the creative process.

The process of collage, which became famous at the beginning of the century in the plastic arts of Picasso and Braque among others, consists of utilizing in the work elements which were prior and independent of it, and whose juxtaposition confers identity and character. Collage constitutes a powerful and unmistakable creative process to the extent that the juxtaposed elements, which come laden with their own meanings, acquire others by virtue of the way in which they are arranged among themselves. In the musical realm, collage has an illustrious antecedent in the parody mass of the Renaissance, in which the composer availed himself of the juxtaposition of sections of a pre-existing motet. In modern times, Luciano Berio gave new meaning to the process of collage in music, principally in his Sinfonia (1968).8 In the Libera me, as will be seen later, Constança Capdevill avails herself considerably of the technique of collage.

As would be expected, the score reflects the characteristics described in the composition of Libera me. Thus, while in certain areas it contains very precise indications of sounds, durations, and manner of execution, in others, it gives considerable latitude in the durations and pitches of sounds, as well as in the manner and order of certain sonorous events (whether they are whispered, broken words, etc.) On the other hand, following the much earlier practice, the composer did not feel obliged to indicate in the score the sources for her collages. The copy of the score which was finally made available for us was a photocopy of the manuscript, containing exclusive annotations arising probably from the rehearsals for the performance of the piece.

In these terms, it can be seen that the only existing recording at the time would be of the greatest interest since it was done during the lifetime of the composer and, supposedly with her help. The explanatory notes which accompany it, by her student, A. Sousa Dias, assume great importance in coming from the composer's inner circle. Both these notes, and incidentally, the notes in the program of the premiere performance contain very useful indications for the majority of works which provided extracts for the collages. The score, and the notes for the CD recording have no indications concerning the sound recordings utilized in the collages. Finally, at certain points, there exist discrepancies between the score and recorded performance. Given the distinctive authority of the latter, it appears appropriate to give the recording precedence over the working score, considering the score to be amended at the corresponding points. This incidentally, should be taken into account when ultimately establishing the score for publication.


Libera me utilizes the following instrumental means: tape, percussion, voice (with or without amplification), one trombone. The tape contains for the most part, sounds similar or identical to those produced live by the performers. Under the rubric of percussion, are included a great number of instruments which groupable in three clearly differentiated categories:

instruments of definite pitch: piano (two players), drinking glasses 1 and 2, harmonic tube, plastic tubes, ocarina, 3 timbales, one large.
instruments of approximate pitch: low gong, door bell, bells ("clochettes") crotale (chinese)
instruments of indefinite pitch: "cholacos" (chinese cymbals), cymbals, claves, two low drums, small ball drum, rectangles of aluminum foil, whip, distaff, tambourine.


Some of these instruments are foreign to the means of conventional percussion: in this case, obviously, the aluminum foil rectangles but also the harmonic tubes and the ball drum - both children toys. The harmonic tube consists of a malleable plastic tube which is made to whirl horizontally, and which produces sounds of variable pitch, according to the speed of the movement turning it; the ball drum resembles a small tambourine without rattles, with a string and two steel springs with balls on the tips which alternately strike the skin of the tambourine when shaken.

Figure 1: Harmonic tube and ball drum.

The "voice" component embraces chorus, vocal groups of varied composition and soloists.

Musical Structure

The score of Libera me is articulated in eight sections; the first of introductory character, was not indicated as such by the composer; the rest she indicated as sequences, numbered from 1 to 7. The term has not been exclusively coined by the composer although she uses it in a different sense from the sequenzas of Luciano Berio which each represent a complete musical composition. The sequences of Libera me, approximate more appropriately the cinematic sequences which, although separate in terms of technical elaboration, constitute integrative scenes of a progressive and continuous action. They are thus distinguished from the concept of a musical movement, since the latter forms a whole which is more or less closed upon itself. Consequently, the discussion which follows will focus on the developments of the musical action, referring to the sequences to which they belong, only to the extent to which this is convenient for the discussion. For this purpose the composition will be divided into two blocks, each including four sections. The first, which functions to a certain extent as an exposition, is strongly unified by a process of superposition, following which, from Sequància 1, each section begins in counterpoint with a line left over from the preceding section.

The discussion will be accompanied by two diagrams emphasizing the structure of the respective blocks. The timing indications included in them are derived from the PortugalSom CD, and refer, not to the duration of the section, but rather to the time of its beginning. In the diagrams, the percussion of approximate tuning is included with that of the indefinite tuning.

The first three sections of the block are of predominantly static character. They involve the almost exclusive use of definite-pitch percussion and they exclude the human voice. The manner in which they use the tape is characteristic of the entire piece: with few exceptions it duplicates the instruments or the voice, at times preceding them.

The first section of the block (Introduction) is constituted exclusively by a tremolo produced by felt sticks maneuvered by two performers in the sub-grave register of the piano (in the recording, these are drones neighboring the sub-grave A natural.)

Through the introduction, the composer succeeds despite the extreme simplicity and homogeneity, to put us in contact with the elements of the drama contained in the work. This drama, following an idea which was dear to her, is developed in superimposed and simultaneous levels. On the uppermost level, a symbol of humanity's own existence is included - an existence originating in an act external to the subject and endowed with qualities and a destiny which the subject only partially controls. The composer's drama figures on the second level, translated as such by the dialectic opposition of tendencies of integration/disintegration; such tendencies occur, at the same time, in the very genesis of the creative act and in the essential elements of the musical conscience, and to be sure, the rhythm and sound. While implicated in the creative act, they produce a tension between the diverging faculties of invention and memory, or if you prefer, of discovery and imitation. While applied to the rhythm and to the sound, they give rise - at the maximum integration - to defined rhythmic profiles. These are organizable in turn in clearly perceivable metric unities and sounds of determinate pitch and timbre which are groupable in an equally perceivable melodic line; or - in cases of extreme disintegration - they produce rhythms and sounds characterized by a chaotic definition.

Figure I: Block 1

On a third level - that of empirical musical process - a chain of actions/reactions emerges following certain lines of opposition. Concerning this latter level, Constança Capdeville was probably influenced by the teachings of trombonist Vinko Globokar, who headed an improvisation group already quite active in Europe and the United States. According to him, the musical process gravitated in turn to well-defined reactive tendencies whose cast included: imitation, integration, opposition, and disintegration (differentiation).9 That the composer had been influenced by the thought of Globokar is not only confirmed by those who surrounded her but also by some of her instructions to the performer. Thus later in Sequência 1, she will indicate that "the successive entries should not disturb the existing ambience but rather integrate itself in it."

As will be seen, Libera me puts in play, predominantly, the opposition between the tendencies of integration/disintegration, in both meanings mentioned above. In spite of this, and although the introduction participates in the three levels referred to previously, it is the first level in which it receives more intense symbolic representation. Just the fact that the composition begins with the tape part denotes the transcendency of the musical material: the composition manifests a reality beyond its immediate scene of production. Beyond this, the composer determined that the tremolo in the piano drones is configured "like a wave" which each time begins from nothing and will end in nothing ("da niente <> al niente"). Finally, the "last wave" [is ordered by a] "signal from the maestro" - divinity in face of the creation. The symbolism of this musical action is so clear and intense that it requires no explanation.

The second level is present in the fact that the entire introduction consists of the attempt by the two performers to emulate the tremolo on the tape. On this same level, we still find ourselves in an atmosphere of quite limited integration whether in terms of rhythm or of sound. As for the former, its existence is very tenuous, residing exclusively in the duration of each "wave" of the tremolo, and in the cadence of the crescendos and respective diminuendos. As for the latter, a considerable margin of ambguity is found; in fact, either because of the very low register of the piano, or because the performers must raise the dampers in order to be able to obtain sound with the sticks, the sound produced in this way is accompanied by multiple concomitant sounds which encircle it like a halo of indeterminacy.

In the third and final level, the Introduction provides the first example of the relationship of opposition. By nature, the tremolo waves are of a static character, and tend to close upon themselves. Therefore, the composer demands in the last of these, at the end, "to lean a small metal object on the vibrating strings." The effect is not only of surprise, but of change of direction. Instead of indicating the end of the wave, this small and unpredictable jolt brings with it a reinterpretation of what precedes it; it rings like a short fiat emerging from its chaos. In itself a small gesture, it has the power of catapulting the ear to true beginning of Libera me in Sequências 1 and 2.

Compared with the Introduction, Sequências 1 and 2 bring about an ascent from the telluric depths, to the rarefaction of the stratosphere. Following the indication of the composer, "The intervening elements [...] should create during tempo ad libitum, and only through the high and very high sounds, an extremely tranquil and transparent ambience, almost sidereal." The instrumentation contributes effectively to the desired effect: the ethereal vibration of the cups joins the pure arpeggio of the harmonic

(see inset) tube and the sound of the plastic tubes and the ocarinas. Sequência 1 is constructed from sounds and timbres which float - very pure and practically devoid of definite rhythm. The only elements which serve to anchor the Sequência are near the end, an ascending glissando of the ocarinas followed by two attacks in the low register of the piano. This fundamental sonorous ambience is maintained throughout Sequência 2; the latter, however, adds an ostenato characterized by considerable tonal and rhythmic integration. Tonally, and with the exception of the last note, it is constituted by a scalic fragment in whole tones which complements the reigning tranquility.

The ostinato appears four times. (See Figure 2 below.) The part played on the keyboard is always identical. The percussion entries (piano drone, crotale, drinking cup 2) vary with each appearance of the ostinato. The positions of these entries are indicated by the letters A to D, A corresponding to the first entry and D to the last. Rhythmically, it is structured in two stages. The first, constituted by the notes played on the piano keyboard, has a movement near to that of the human pulse; each presentation, incidentally, of the ostinato is followed by an equal duration of silence. The second stage is formed by a line in the percussion, responsible on one side, for the crotale and drinking glass #2, on the other, for the low-register B natural of the piano played with a felt stick. As a result of Figure 2, the lines of percussion vary in position relative to the ostinato, and relative to eachother. This independence of the percussion in relation to the remaining sonorous context will be explored throughout the rest of the composition.

Figure 2: Ostinato

Before proceeding, it will be noted that the first three sections of block 1 constitute a considerably integrated whole. Along with the technique of superposition (mentioned above), to the homogeneity of the instrumentation in which the piano performs the function of relief contribute to such an effect.

Sequência 3 contrasts decidedly with the preceding sections. The voice which appears for the first time, emerges as a vehicle of disintegration. Avoiding song or even spoken discourse, it transmits to us the sound of "whispering, prayers, litany, whistles, screams" and "complaints of despair expressing at the same time physical and psychic pain." The distribution of parts is made between the unsynchronized "divisi" choir, and soloists and the small synchronized groups. As can be seen in Diagram I, fourth column, this construction in superimposed layers extends to the instrumentation of the Sequência. The piano still takes the role of relief, but is assimilated to the percussion in indefinite tuning. Thus, its principal line, doubled by the tape part, is in the prepared piano, consisting of the manipulation of pebbles on the strings.

In all of Sequência 3, sounds/noises of indefinite pitch preponderate. From the rhythmic point of view, the composer limits herself to the indication of entries of the components and the duration of various parts of the Sequência. If on the the one hand, as is stated expressly in the score, the effect is one of "confusion," on the other, the Sequência attains, for the first time, the effect of a large massed sonority raised to the dynamic limits of fff. At the climactic moment, the trombone joins in the fortissimo, and the composer appeals to a citation from Laboritus II of Luciano Berio - when the voice ("attempting to superimpose itself on the massed sonority") exclaims "SILÉNCIO, SILÉNCIO!"

Taken together with the preceding sections, Sequência 1 forms a coherent whole, in which the elements of integration and disintegration, of sideral peace and of individual torment, which form the essence of Libera me, are fully exposed. In fact, at the same time that it expresses one of the extremes of these dichotomies, the Sequência 3 contains formal elements which it takes from preceding sections. Thus, for example, the same idea of the ascending glissando which appears in Sequência 1 emerges anew in Sequência 3, leading similarly to a crescendo in intensity; and, like the waves of the Introduction, the entire Sequência develops in an arc, beginning dal niente and ending nel niente - as if the composer had wanted to make us see here, through a telescope, the content of the waves announced in the Introduction.

As already stated, the first four sections form a type of exposition of Libera me. But the subsequent development departs from the developments of western "common practice" to the extent that it does not lead to a return or recapitulation of the exposition.

Diagram 2 below contains the abbreviated scheme of the second half of the composition. The discussion of this, for reasons of space and for reasons of form, will focus on the larger lines of its development in preference to more detailed aspects.

The second half of Libera me develops the conflict whose materials were introduced in the first part of the composition. Each one of Sequências 4, 5 and 6 in their turn take up and intensify this conflict; Sequência 7 contains the finale and coda. Taken in its entirety, the piece distances itself in this way from the traditional triangle or arc to configure itself like an open form, projecting itself vigorously onward.

The opposition between the forces of integration and disintegration which constitute the very nucleus of Libera me is manifested, here ideally through the contrast between the percussion and the voice. In a general way, the composition at least superficially, progresses in the direction of greater integration. Thus, for example, it goes from the predominance of percussion to that of the voice; and, in the latter, traverses from unintelligible murmurs to inarticulate vocalization, and from these to melodic song imbued with a text. However, instead of a progression in a straight and optimistic line, it appears in a painful spiral progression, in relation to which the urgency of liberation persists unto the end. This happens, on the one hand, because from Sequência 4 onward, a long series of collages and quotations is initiated, which continues and intensifies to the end of the composition. The use of the process of collage appeals to the function of memory which contains, in itself a disintegrative possibility. So, at the same time that the composer, in the domain of melodyand of rhythm, establishes a line of progressive integration, in a simultaneous and parallel level, she creates another line of growing disintegration, to the extent to which it goes from invention to memory, from discovery to imitation. The superposition of these two lines in contrary direction contributes definitively to the impression of great density which is inseparable from Libera me. On the other hand, this density also derives, and to no small degree, from the semantic and musical content of the fragments utilized in the collages to which we devote the rest of our attention.

Figure 2: Block 2

The collages of Libera me come from three principal sources: Gregorian Chant, Amen cadences taken from various polyphonic compositions and Tibetan chants. With the exception of two cases indicated below, the performance of the fragments subjected to collage is given to the choir and to the solosts, on or off the scene. The first group of collages (Sequência 4) includes extracts from the Introit for the 4th Sunday of Advent10 ; and three Amens collected respectively from the Vespro della Beata Virgem, no. 2 - Psalm 109, "Dixit Dominus," of Claudio Monteverdi; from the Requiem no. 7 - "Lacrimosa," of Wolfgang Mozart; and of the Gloria of the Missa Pange Lingua, of Josquin des Prés.

It will be noted that the first collage of Libera me, a work inspired from the rituals of death, is taken from the chants of the last Sunday before Christmas. This textual importation, if even though not liturgical, echoes a long doctrinal and mystical elaboration, according to which birth and death have an intimate connection, death being able to turn into birth to eternal life.11 In the modern literature, this connection has been expressed with extraordinary penetration and beauty in the sermon of Thomas Beckett, in the play of T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral.

In relation to the collages of the compositions of Gregorian Chant, Constança Capdeville took the liberty of transposing them to pitches which were more convenient in tonal and coloristic terms. This process is more than justified given the relative nature of the Gregorian tonal system. Much deeper is the alteration which consists of transforming them into a two-voice texture utilizing a process of canonic imitation. It can be noted that in doing so, Capdeville greatly distances herself from western polyphonic tradition which, took Gregorian Chant, as a point of departure for a paraphrase or motivic development. In this aspect, Capdeville is much closer to the the uses of medieval parallel organum. In fact, she limits herself to endowing the Gregorian line with a shadow or refraction which alters its perspective without altering its physionomy. In the case of the Introit for the Fourth Sunday of Advent the canon is at the minor second below (Figure 3 below). This interval lends itself perfectly to the expression of the process of transformation from one to another level of existence such as we would imagine to occur between birth and death. More than the ascending minor second, which our werstern ears tend to associate with the resolution to a tonic, the descending minor second has an ambivalence and ambiguity which is particularly apt in revealing the notion of birth/death as a reversible binomial; according to this view, each birth would be a death, and each death a birth.

Figure 3: Canon "[Rorate] caeli desuper."

Compared with what precedes it, the collage of three Amens contains a vigorous assertion which is already linked to the very meaning of the word amen, and to the cadential relation which is seen between the tonics of the three excerpts - the relation Mi-Re-Mi. Nevertheless, in spite of this, the conclusive character of the Amens is singularly attenuated by its successive repetition, which underlines the nature of the simple citation.

In relation to the Amen from the Pange Lingua mass, the composer introduced alterations among which the substitution of a major third for a fifth looms large in the last chord which, in the original, contains only the intervals of the octave and perfect fifths.

Sequência 5 is void of any citation, except at the end, where there emerges a repetition of the Amen of the Pange Lingua mass.

Sequência 6 is formed by a continuous weave of collages which begin with the incipits of the Offertory ("Dominus Jesu Christe"), of the Sanctus, and of the "Agnus Dei" of the Mass for the Dead.12 This is followed by a recording collage of the organum of the Codex Musical de las Huelgas with the sequence "Victimae Paschali laudes" of the Mass of Easter Sunday.13 From the sequence only the first five verses are heard, from which the fifth is given in counterpoint to the chant "Jube Domine silentium" which serves as an introduction to the first lesson of the matins of Christmas, "Primo tempore, alleviata est terra," Isaias chapter 9.14 The recording of the sequence, as well as the lesson from the matins of Christmas comes from an Anthology of Gregorian Chant.15 The lesson from Isaiah in turn is interrupted by the return of the incipit of the Offertory and of the Sanctus of the Mass for the Dead which is followed by the collage of the introit of the Christmas Mass "Puer natus est nobis: ...16, given almost in its entirety. In counterpoint here with the respective doxology, there appear the Antiphons "In paradisum" and "Chorus angelorum" of the Christian Office of Burial first in one voice, then in two voices in superimposed collages.17

The following collage produces one of the most extraordinary effects of Libera me. It is composed of a recording of ritual Tibetan chant, accompanied by vocalizations in the basses of the choir in "combination solo/tutti ad libitum". The recording used on the CD of Libera me is of an invocational chant to the divinity Khyabjug, as it appears in the Anthology of Music of the Orient, published by BÑrenreiter under the auspices of UNESCO.18 This chant which, in the culture of Tibet, most likely represents an ultimate expression of mystical and esthetic integration, produces here - dissociated from its cultural context - the exact opposite impression. In its glissandi and techniques of vocalization and sound production which are completely foreign to the oriental vocabulary, this collage succeeds in invoking, possibly, the most striking effect of disintegration of the entire composition.

The reaction to this complete disintegration emerges in the repetition of the three "Amens" which terminate Sequência 4, and which here begin the final Sequência 7 . This fulfills the function of coda, and is newly constituted by collages - an uninterrupted succession of Amens which includes, beyond the three already mentioned, the following:

  1. Fragment of motets in 6 voices "Versa est in luctum," measures 58-9 of the Oficio de Defuntos, of Thomas Luis de Victoria. Note that the Oficio... of Victoria does not contain any Amen whatsoever. Nevertheless, the motet in question ends with a plagal cadence IV-I - a cadence typical of the Amen; Capdeville substituted "amen" for the ultimate word of the motet - "mei," in addition to which she transposed the musical text a fourth above, making it end in G minor instead of D minor. It will be observed that the cadence of the amen finally constitutes a simple formula which the used with greater or lesser elaboration. The Gloria of the Missa "Tu es Petrus of Giovanni Palestrina, contains an almost identical Amen , note for note to the text established by Capdeville, except that it is in G major instead of minor.

  2. Amen - only two notes (two E s) of the Ave Maria sung for Desdemona before dying in the opera Othello of Giuseppe Verdi.

  3. The Amen used in practically all of the hymns and in four of the five sequences (with the exception of the Dies irae) of the Gregorian repertoryaccompanied here with an upper vox orginalis at the fourth . 


Figure 4: Gregorian Amen.

  1. The Amen of the offeratory of the Fauré Requiem followed simultaneously in stretto by the Amen in eight voices, which  ends the hymn "Ave maris stella," in the Vespro della Beata Vergine, of Monteverdi.

  2. The final section of the Amen of the Gloria of the Messe Notre Dame of Guillaume de Machaut.

  3. Finally, the Amen which ends the Chanson Épique of the cycle Don Quichotte a Dulcinée, for voice and piano of Ravel.

If on the one hand, Sequência 7 is completely permeated with conclusive intention, on the other hand, an uninterrupted succession of "amens" tends to inundate it in an almost kaleidoscopic dispersion. Consequently, Libera me conserves it dialectic contradiction up to the end - now at the level of opposition between rhythmic/melodic integration and disintegration on the level of inventive process. In this respect, the insertion of the Amen of de Machaut, immediately following those of Fauré/Monteverdi, produces a distinctly disturbing effect. And, however, at the last moment, the composer succeeds in capturing the extreme gesture of liberation. From a musical point of view, she retakes and transforms elements previously used in the composition, but which are now adapted to a new meaning; these are notably:

a) the intervention of an unexpected jolt like that produced at the end of the Introduction by placing a metallic object on the strings of the piano
b) an ascending glissando followed by percussive attacks as in Sequências 1 and 3.

In the first case, we come across an extraordinary amplification of the very simple gesture referred to in the Introduction. Now, the composer demands that numerous little pieces of tape be glued on the membrane of the timpani, and the gesture corresponding to the Introduction consists of "violently ripping off as many as possible of the strips glued to the membrane of the instrument." In this amplified form it suggests a sublime act of auto-destructive revolt (reminiscent of the gesture of Tristan in ripping off his bandages) which complements the moral personality of the composer. Concerning the ascending glissando which had previously appeared in the ocarinas (Sequência 1) and the drones of the piano (Sequência 3), it is here given to the timbale, which gives it a more diffuse and aerated quality. And instead of leading to an attack of percussion, it opens out in a piano arpeggio - the last chord of Ravel's Chanson Épique. For the first time the piano, confined up to this point to the role of a percussive instrument, is seen to partially open up, if even at the final moment, the possibility of the melodic horizon. And in this fleeting transformation of its role, there resides perhaps the only promise, brief but considerable, that Libera me offers us of our own liberation.


Only after writing these lines was it possible to consult the interview given by Contança Capdeville, Vasco Wellenkamp, and Emilia Nadal transcribed in the program 19 for the occasion of the premiere of the ballet version of Libera me. On speaking of the idea of the work, Constança Capdeville confirms what our reading of the work has revealed. "For me," she says, "this work has, above all, an intention of unification. I attempted to arrange a large number of contradictions, so that they could all resolve in a unification" [....] "I departed from extremely differentiated musical elements - namely, Gregorian chant and ritual music of Tibet - elements which apparently represent opposite worlds, but which finally lead to the same road."

Far be it for us to contend that this declaration on the part of the composer endorses, in itself, the analytical discourse which was the object of this study.. Neither should the limitations of this type of discourse be forgotten. However convincing they may be, and however much they help us to understand the work, they should be accorded their proper place. They are not causes but effects of the musical discourse; they are a testimony of the power of the work on our mind, more than valid intuitions of the representation of the work in the mind of the composer. Because, for this , almost certainly only a performance of the entire work, from its smallest to its most imposing sound, can really explain, if at all, the reason and the process of its coming to be.

Goose Pond, July 27, 1993

translation John MacKay



1 It is with pleasure that I extend my gratitude here to Ms. Janine de Moura and to Dr. Manuel Pedro Ferreira. The former, a friend of the composer, facilitated indispensable elements of the work, namely, a copy of the score and of the programmes of the premiere of the work, and indicated recordings of the sequence "Victimae paschali laudes" and of the Tibetan chant used in the composition. The latter shared with me critical observations suggested by the reading of the manuscript, and identified the chant "Jube Domine Silentium," as well as the text from Isaiah which it follows.

2 Bibliographical Note: Libere Me - 1977. Dance version. Original music and collages. Composed in collaboration with Vasco Wellenkamp, choreographer and Emilia Nadal, scenery and figurines. Premiere performance at the Grande Audit¢rio Gulbenkian, Lisbon, on the 11th of February of 1977. Performers; Colecviva collective, sound technician Ces†rio da Silva. Principal dancers, Ger Thoms and Graáa Barroso. Gulbenkian dancing troupe. Libera Me - 1979. Concert version. Original manuscript score. Premiere performance at the Grande Auditório Gulbenkian, Lisbon on the 15th of February of 1980. Performers: João Paulo Santos, piano; Emédio Coutinho, sarrusophone; José Rosa and Soledad Santos, percussion; Gulbenkian Choir under the direction of Jorge Matta. Recording: Portugalsom compact disc - CD 870025/PS, produced by the Secretary of Culture (General Direction of Cultural Action) , 1991. Performers are the Gulbenkian Choir and the Opus Ensemble, under the direction of Jorge Matta. Explanatory notes under the authorship of Antonio de Sousa Dias. Bibliography: Ballet Gulbenkian, programme 2., 1976-77. Grande Auditório Gulbenkian; Season program of concerts 1979-80. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Music Service. Seabra, Augusta M., 1991, Nery, 1992.

3 Liber Usualis, (L.U.) Benedictines de Solesmes. 1880 p., apend., indices. Tournai: New York DesclÇe Co., 1959, 1767 sgs.

4 L.U. 1898-9.

5 "Deliver me O God, from eternal death, in that awful day: when heaven and earth are moved: when you come to judge the guilty with fire."

6 David Cope New Music Composition New York: Schirmer 1977, 116.

7 Cope, 1977, 117-118.

8 David Osmond-Smith. Playing on Words: A Guide to Luciano Berio's Sinfonia vii, 95, ill., music. London: Royal Music Association, 1985.

9 Vinko Globokar "Reagir" ...., in Musique en Jeu no. 1. November 1977, 70-2.

10 "Rorate caeli desuper" L.U. 353.

11 Fifth Antiphony of the Office of the Dead, "Ego sum ressurectio et vita", L.U. 1804.

12 L.U. 1813-14-15.

13 L.U. 780; Angläs, Higini. El Codex Musical de las Huelgas (Musica a veus dels Segles XIII-XIV). Introducci¢, Facs°mil i Transcripci¢ per .....Biblioteca de Catalunya, Publicacions del Departament de Musica, VI. Institut d'Estudis Catalans, Barcelona, 1931, II, 55, III, 92.

14 Breviarium Romanum, ex decreto S. Pii V Pontificis Maximi jussu editum ... H. Dessain. Mechliniae, 1885, 210.

15 Gregorianische GesÑnge Anthologie des Gregorianischen Chorals. Capella Antique. Choral Schola. Leitung: Konrad Ruhland. Album de 4 discos L.P. BASF/MPS, 7821985-2 1974, face 4, face 1.

16 L.U. 408.

17 L.U. 1768-9.

18 BÑrenreiter/Musicaphon. UNESCO Collection. A Musical Anthology of the Orient. Music of Tibetan Buddhism. 1970, vol. 11 side A, band 1.

19 Augusto M. Seabra "A Prop¢sito de Libera me [de] Constanáa Capdeville," in Programa de Temporada de Concertos de 1991, pp. 51-53. Lisboa, Igreja de S o Domingos, 26-7-1991. Orquestra Sinf¢nica do Te†tro de S o Carlos, Coro Gulbenkian, under the direction of M†ty†s Antal; Jorge Matta, maestro assistente; J.P. Santos, piano; Emilia Nadal, physical format; Orlando Worm, lighting.

ex tempore
as published in Vol. VIII/2, Summer 1997