The Piano Compositional Style
of Lucrecia Roces Kasilag
Editors' notes: The following excerpts from Dr. Caroline Besana Salido's dissertation begins with a brief historical background of Philippine music to provide the context for her study of Dr. Lucrecia Roces Kasilag and her piano compositional style. Salido analyzes three selected piano works for their sound, texture, harmony, melody, rhythm and form. She opines that Western and Eastern influences within these piano works reflect Kasilag's classic and romantic orientation, with some use of twentieth-century techniques. The selected piano works include April Morning (Fantasie Tone-Poem) (1941), Theme and Variations (based on a Filipino folk tune "Walay Angay") (1950), and Elegy on Mt. Pinatubo (1991). It is Salido's intent, by choosing to write about Dr. Lucrecia Roces Kasilag, "to extend knowledge of Kasilag's piano works and their compositional style, and to promote interest in their performance."
The complete study may be accessed at www.ohiolink.edu/etd/view.cgi?
acc_num=osu1038863092. It includes a biography of Kasilag describing her work and accomplishments, a list of her compositions and contributions as a composer in today's musical world, and detailed analyses of three selected piano works. For pianists who wish to enrich their repertoire of twentieth-century works, contact information to Lucrecia Roces Kasilag's works is at the end of the the study's Appendix (page 122).
On the premise that "music contributes much to a nation's cultural identity," Salido includes a brief discussion of Philippine traditional music to clue in the reader to "the influences and inspirations of contemporary Filipino composers."
A Brief Historical Background of Philippine Music
|As the native ritual music was mixed with the music of the new faith, many forms
of secular indigenous music assimilated elements of European secular genres introduced from Spain.
"The Spanish colonial regime reshaped the face of native Philippine culture in general and of Philippine music in particular. The singing of the exploits of epic heroes and the rhythms of native drums and gongs began to fade before the chants of the Christian church and the harmonies of the organ, harp and guitar.
"In order to clear the way for the Christian faith, the missionaries sought first to eradicate the sights and sounds of the old rituals among those they converted. As a whole, the performance of native music was discouraged. Much of this virtually disappeared, and only a few manuscripts survived in altered form. As the native ritual music was mixed with the music of the new faith, many forms of secular indigenous music assimilated elements of European secular genres introduced from Spain. Musically, its diatonic melodies and chordal accompaniments showed the influence of Western melody and harmonic progression.
"An example of the oldest and most popular song among the Christianized Filipinos is the kumintang, an epic set to music designed to inspire warriors. The kumintang is cast in quatrains containing twelve syllables to a line and is in slow triple time. This song form later yielded its place to the kundiman, a lyric song about romantic love. The love of the country and sorrow over the loss of a loved one are common themes as well. The kundiman usually begins in a minor key and shifts to the major key in the second half. It is in moderate triple time. From 1896 to 1898 the most famous kundiman, which fired the patriotic sentiments of revolucionarios in the struggle for liberation from colonial rule, was 'Jocelynang Baliuag.' Kundiman composers included Francisco Buencamino, Bonifacio Abdon, Nicanor Abelardo, Antonio Molina and Francisco Santiago.
"In 1898, the colonial sovereignty over the Philippines was ceded by Spain to the United States. The American tradition, and through it the European tradition, was introduced during the American colonial period from 1901 to 1946. This influence may be seen through its classical music, which includes both western classical music and the art music composed by Filipinos in the western classical or modern idiom."
Editors' notes, cont'd.: Salido sums up the past ninety years of Philippine musical forms, attributing their evolution to certain "reasons or contexts for musical creativity"-newly established professional music schools, such as the University of the Philippines Conservatory of Music and Philippine Women's University School of Music, introduction of formal music education in public schools, and the birth of musical organizations. Salido points out that:
"the crystallization of a nationalist ideology in music prompted composers to use Filipino folk songs as thematic material, indigenous structural elements as the main melodic motif, and Philippine literature and history as a source of stories or characters. In the study of indigenous music in the Philippines, the introduction of these new perspectives and techniques, undertaken both by foreign and Filipino scholars, triggered much of this musical creativity."
* * *
|"Nicanor Abelardo, upon his return from his studies in the United States, was the first
to break away from traditional music idioms and apply a new harmonic language in
his compositions written in and after 1931.
"At the beginning of the twentieth century, Filipino composers took pride in having cultivated the ability to write operas, symphonies and concertos, symbols of European high art in the field of music. During the first sixty years, the treatment of the standard classical forms of music was programmatic. No apparent interest or attempt was made to explore the abstract aspects and structural properties of western music.
"Few Filipino local musicians who trained in the west, as well as foreign teachers and artists who came to settle or work in the Philippines, made contact with the "new" twentieth-century music. This "new" music slowly began to provoke interest in the music community. The music of important western composers, such as Stravinsky, de Falla, Prokofiev, Ravel, Debussy, Shostakovitch and Khachaturian, gradually found their place in recital and concert programs, even still with some degree of reservation and resistance on the part of teachers and audiences.
"Nicanor Abelardo, upon his return from his studies in the United States, was the first to break away from traditional music idioms and apply a new harmonic language in his compositions written in and after 1931. Abelardo's modern style of writing shows the strong influence of the Expressionist School of Arnold Schoenberg, characterized by ambiguous tonalities, long-drawn and disjunct melodic lines and polyrhythmic structures. However, his early death in 1934 prevented what could have been an earlier spread of modernism in Philippine art music.
"Following the death of Abelardo, a number of compositions were written with some elements of early twentieth-century idioms, like highly precipitous rhythms and dissonance, ambiguous and dissonant tonalities and impressionist tonal structures. Composers following Abelardo included Ramon Tapales, Antonio Molina, and Antonino Buenaventura.
|Her concept of east-west fusion became the main basis for her numerous works, where she combined timbres
of native and western instruments, and scales of different musical systems, therefore making her music distinctive
"Particularly in the 1950s, a number of composers studied abroad and espoused the cause of modern music. This included Lucrecia Roces Kasilag. Kasilag studied theory and composition at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Having been exposed to the European classical music tradition in her studies, Kasilag drew interest to the exotic elements of Philippine traditional music and combined the two. She collected and made studies of native instruments, as well as other Asian music during her travels. Her concept of east-west fusion became the main basis for her numerous works, where she combined timbres of native and western instruments, and scales of different musical systems, therefore making her music distinctive...."
The Piano Compositional Style of Lucrecia Roces Kasilag
"Lucrecia 'King' Roces Kasilag was born in San Fernando, La Union, Philippines on August 31, 1918. Often alluded to as the "First Lady of Philippine Music," Kasilag holds numerous national and international leadership roles as composer, educator, administrator, and researcher. Kasilag has composed more than 250 works covering most genres including orchestra, chamber, organ, piano, vocal, sacred, operetta, dance, theatre, electronic and incidental music. However, most of her works are largely unpublished and difficult to retrieve for use in the academic, as well as in the performance community. Therefore, her contributions are not well known in the Western world to the degree they deserve." (excerpt from Abstract)
"Kasilag's compositional style embodied Classic and Romantic style during the 1940s. However, from the 1950s to the present, her style was more experimental and incorporated twentieth-century techniques in standard forms. . . ."
* * *
"April Morning (Fantasie Tone-Poem) was composed and completed by May 6, 1941. This composition is based on a poem by a Filipina poet, Angela Manalang-Gloria (1907 - 1994).
I ran to the garden this morning
To scatter my thoughts of you
And empty my heart of yearning
And fill my arms with the blue.
I reached for the sky, but it glistened
In whitening unconcern,
And when I stood still and listened,
Morning hid under a fern.
A water hyacinth lifted
Its blue eyes in ridicule
As the shining sun-pollen drifted
Away over grass and pool,
And the spider lilies grew chary
And my heart grew heavy in me:
How could I gather a starry
Beauty that would not be,
Or fill my arms with the bluer
Skies of an April day?
Your are my April-and you were
A thousand miles away!
"The definition of a tone poem, more familiarly known as symphonic poem, is an orchestral form in which a poem or program provides a narrative or illustrative basis. Although this composition is not an orchestral work, there still is a poem providing a narrative to the music.
|"Interestingly the poem, April Morning, does not precede the music like the piano works mentioned above. Instead, the poem is above the music.
"Other composers that provide a poem(s) within a piano work include Maurice Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit (three poems by poet Aloysius Bertrand), Johannes Brahms' Sonata in F Minor, Op. 5, Andante expressivo movement (three lines from the poet Sternau), and Intermezzo, Op. 117, No. 1 (Scots folk poem).
"Interestingly the poem, April Morning, does not precede the music like the piano works mentioned above. Instead, the poem is above the music. [See Example 3.1]
"As unique as this feature is, there is only one other piano work that contains words printed within the piece. This piece is Johannes Brahms' Sonata in C Major, Op. 1, Andante movement.
* * *
"The final two measures in Theme 2 end on a dominant (C7) followed by a Lisztian passage which should resolve to F Minor, the temporary key. However, it does not. Instead, there is a pedal point on B-flat. One can hear "C Minor" within this section along with rhythms changing from triplet to eighth notes and quarter notes. [See Example 3.7]
"This is because 'the spider lilies grew chary and my heart grew heavy in me.' This "C Minor" is developmental and ambiguous. In measure 64, there approaches a clear cadence with an E-flat seventh chord and a formata.
"By measure 65, the recapitulation begins. However, the recapitulation is not in its true sense. It begins with passages found in the end of the first Theme 1 and then followed by passages in the second Theme 1.
This piece ends very softly (ppp), because 'you are my April-and you were a thousand miles away!' The ending is just like the beginning only backwards. [See Example 3.8]
|This composition aptly shows Kasilag's highly imaginative skill in converting a simple melody into various forms challenging the listener's ear with fresh material by which to perceive an old one.
"During the 1940s, King primarily composed songs. Although April Morning is a solo piano composition, it is in the style of song writing. The words of the poem could be sung to this music. April Morning (Fantasie Tone-Poem) is a programmatic piano work evoking Romantic and Impressionistic traits. . . .
* * *
"Theme and Variations (based on a Filipino Folk Tune 'Walay Angay') was composed and completed by April 17, 1950. The Filipino folk tune, 'Walay Angay', is a Filipino love song (kundiman). Its translation is 'There is no comparison to the pain of lost love.'This work, representative of Kasilag's use of Filipino folk songs, is structured as a standard Theme with eleven Variations and Finale. This composition aptly shows Kasilag's highly imaginative skill in converting a simple melody into various forms challenging the listener's ear with fresh material by which to perceive an old one.
* * *
"Theme and Variations (based on a Filipino Folk Tune 'Walay Angay') is a neo-Classic composition and was composed during Kasilag's years at Eastman. While studying there, she incorporated new compositional techniques, like multi-meter and quartal and quintal harmonies, into her compositions. Kasilag composed with these particular harmonies in order to create an open sound, heard in most of the variations. Other techniques that she also incorporated were rhythmic patterns including triplets, dotted rhythms of particular figures and placing accents on weak parts of the measure.
"As much as Kasilag experimented with new techniques, she continued to use standard forms, especially Theme and Variations. These compositional techniques will be consistently evident in her later compositions."
* * *
"Elegy on Mt. Pinatubo was composed and completed by September 16, 1991, at the request of Jiovanni Emmanuel Cruz. Kasilag graphically essays a poignant lamentation over the catastrophic tragedy wrought by the volcano, Mt. Pinatubo.
* * *
"Elegy on Mt. Pinatubo" is in ternary form inserted between an Introduction and Coda. The Introduction consists of Adagio. The A section is Andante Lugubrioso. The B section consists of Andantino, a brief interlude, Penseroso, and Allegretto. The second A section consists of Andante Lugubrioso. Concluding this composition is the Coda, which contains the same elements as in the Adagio Introduction. Because Kasilag depicts a "cycle of life-and-death" within this composition, note that the sections are mirroring one another (a palindrome).
"This composition is programmatic and evokes a clear depiction of the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991. Kasilag demonstrates it well by use of trills, major and minor seventh tremolos, scalar passages in parallel octaves and ninths, glissandi, extreme upper and lower registers, and quartal harmonies (lacking the third for an open sound). Mt. Pinatubo was the largest eruption in the history of the modern volcanoes in the Philippines and was quite catastrophic. This volcano has been relatively quiet since then, but remains active. Kasilag composed this piece within three months."
* * *
"This paper has examined the life and work of twentieth-century composer Lucrecia "King" Roces Kasilag. Biographical research on Kasilag has revealed her to be a well-known, successful pianist and composer of the twentieth century. She has to her credit over 250 works of many genres. She has earned the respect of her Philippine countrymen and colleagues as well as educators abroad.
|Kasilag's use of Filipino folk songs as thematic material and indigenous structural elements as the main melodic motif, had introduced a new perspective and technique in the study
of indigenous music in the Philippines.
"Kasilag's compositional traits for the piano are apparent between 1940 to the present. Although she has composed many compositions between these years, her music does not necessarily show any astonishing differences of significant compositional changes between the decades like most composers. Atypically, her piano composition output has remained consistent of such traits throughout. Although this is the case, she still has successfully fused her unique compositional style with the use of the European standard classical forms, like theme and variations, sonata, etc. Kasilag's use of Filipino folk songs as thematic material and indigenous structural elements as the main melodic motif, had introduced a new perspective and technique in the study of indigenous music in the Philippines. These Filipino folk songs triggered much of her musical creativity. Even with some degree of reservation and resistance on her "new" music from her teachers and audiences at first, Kasilag's music, specifically her successful fusion of East and West elements, gradually found a place in recital and concert programs.
"With many influences from different composers, Kasilag's compositions still were stamped with her own uniqueness. These traits consist of a fond use for multi-meters, especially alternating 2/4 and ¾ time signatures; second, third, fourth, fifth and seventh intervals; quartal and quintal harmonies (lacking the third) to create an open sound; simple melodies usually of Philippine music or any other Eastern music origin; and triplets, usually as left-hand accompaniment. All of these traits create the fabric in Kasilag's piano compositions.
* * *
"Lucrecia Roces Kasilag can be best described by Leonor Orosa Goquingco (National Artist in Creative Dance-Philippines) as:
To wit, that an artist for the world can also become 'someone beautiful to God'. For beneath the trappings of success and the laurels of recognition, Dr. Lucrecia Roces Kasilag remains a person down-to-earth, while also looking heavenwards-one who has learned to keep in tune with the Original and Inimitable Creator of Beauty, Truth, and Virtue.
"It would be impossible to think of the advances in Philippine arts and culture without her."
1 Manlapaz , Edna Zapanta, ed. The Complete Poems of Angela Manalang Gloria, Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1993.
2 MacDonald, Hugh, "Symphonic Poem," in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Vol. 24, ed. Stanley Sadie (London: Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 2001), 802.
© Caroline Besana Salido
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