EN LA MAR HAI UNA TORRE, (In the sea there is a lighthouse), 2014, for 3 female voices, viola, cello, harp and percussion
Commissioned by Eamonn Quinn for Louth Contemporary Music Society, Ireland, and trio Mediaeval
Publisher: Israel Music Institute, 2014, IMI 8098 | Duration: 13'12 min.
Notes by Paul Griffiths
It is a dream that has been shared by one of Berio’s pupils, Betty Olivero, in several pieces based on ancient melodies, including En la mar hai una torre (In the Sea there is a Tower). In Olivero’s piece Trio Mediaeval interweave, echoing one another as they follow lines closely allied in contour and modality, like three mingling reflections in a rippled pool – a pool provided, perhaps, by the harp, which is often echoing them further.
Not only do these fluid musical images mirror one another – with variations, as when one follows another up a fourth but takes a different descent – they also, through such similarities and differences, bring diverse traditions into a confluence. ‘Most of the melodic material’, Olivero has said, ‘is based on traditional melodies from prayers or folk Ladino, Yemenite and Arabic songs.’ Sephardi Jews (of the Ladino-speaking cultural stream to which Olivero belongs), Yemenite Jews and Palestinian Muslims are all here singing the same songs.
The title comes from the first line of a Sephardi folk song, recalling, as the composer has also said, how deeply influenced these songs were by the Song of Songs. ‘Give me your hand, my dove’, the second stanza of this one begins, ‘I want to climb up to your nest.’ The words the singers sing, however, are taken once again from the Song of Songs, this time in the original Hebrew and in Ladino.
‘Yishakeni mineshikot pihu’, the piece begins, in a realization of the text’s opening the singer entering the performance space as she sings, and at the same time shakes sleigh bells, closely followed by her two companions, joining her in similar manner. A little way into the piece the instrumental group enters: harp with viola and cello, and percussion, the harp adding to the heterophony of voices while the viola and cello sustain the harmony, until they too commit themselves to the flow of melody, further reflections.
A long cadence falls onto the work’s waiting keynote, D, but there is then a coda, ‘A garden locked is my sister’, towards the end of which the three singers, now together and with crotales, depart whence they came, visitors from history.