Three Poems after César Vallejo »
Soprano or Mezzo-Soprano and piano
(Dawn, Our Planet, The Elements)
(possibly baritone and piano)
duration : 13 minutes
Composed in 2022
Commissioned by the Presence Compositrices Center
Creation on November 21, 2022 in Toulon, by Julie Nemer, Mezzo-Soprano,
and Marie-France Giret, piano.
of three poems in Spanish from Trilce, by César Vallejo :
Written in Peru just a century ago, in prison for political reasons, these
texts by César Vallejo deal with existential subjects with surprisingly
current questions. They have the advantage of belonging to the public
I was very motivated in my approach as a composer by these three poems
of Trilce, n° 43, 59 and 77, in particular because of their underlying
dramaturgy, and their ability to support a musical construction.
They present themselves in a manipulated language that twists the grammar,
creates illogical punctuations and uses non-existent words (neologisms).
Their precise meaning in these circumstances becomes ambiguous, vague.
Rather enigmatic, they offer a vast field of possible interpretations,
which makes any translation delicate and open to criticism. Although it
is a challenge, I nevertheless took the liberty of proposing my own adaptation
In my opinion, to prosody a text well, the composer must know perfectly
all the subtleties of the written and spoken language that is used. This
is why I do not wish to put to music a text that is not in French. But
the French language, because of its silent e’s and its liaisons,
poses real problems. Many songwriters build their lyrics with these pitfalls
in mind. By taking care of the translation myself, I was able to be vigilant
and choose the most favorable words for as correct an understanding as
For example, Poem 1, AUBE, begins with “Quien sabe” with a
slightly special treatment of the interrogative form wanted by the author.
In French, “Qui sait?” (“who knows?”) runs the
risk of being perceived as “Qui c’est?” (“who
is it?”). Hence my choice of “Qui peut savoir?” (“Who
In Poem 2, OUR PLANET: the second stanza says: “Pacifico inmovil,
vidrio, preñado de todos los posibles”. Instead of the most
literal translation, which would be: "Immobile Pacific, glass, big
with all possibilities", I preferred: “Océan Pacifique
immobile, surface de verre, capable de tous les possibles” ("Immobile
Pacific Ocean, surface of glass, capable of all possibilities"),
because of the word "verre” which creates ambiguity with the
color green, “vert”.
Poem 3, THE ELEMENTS, ends with “Canta, lluvia, en la costa aun
sin mar!”, that’s to say “Chante, pluie, sur la côte
encore sans mer” (“Sing, rain, on the coast still without
sea! "). But this literal translation will give rise to a wrong understanding,
“without mother” (sans mère) instead of “without
sea” (sans mer). Hence my choice: “Sing, rain, on the coast
still without ocean!". This mysterious sentence closes the collection
of poems “Trilce”, undoubtedly evoking the fear of drought,
perhaps the worst of scourges.
My comments on each of the poems :
This text is not rational. Vallejo blurs the tracks and prevents access
to any obvious understanding. The poet addresses dawn, with a lowercase
“a” (aube in French), and personifies it. But what is dawn
if not the brief moment when the first light of day appears on the horizon,
in an atmosphere of strangeness, initiating a new day? Can such a notion
be personified? Undoubtedly yes, since it was in the ancient Greek tradition
(the goddess Eos) which Vallejo was not unaware of. The poet asks her
to have compassion and to be clement towards this being, whether human
or animal (himself?), who has no other choice but to live the just starting
new day. There is a lesson in philanthropy at the heart of this poem.
But, also very strong, a feeling of claustrophobia, anxiety and unease:
the creature is ready to flee at the slightest sign, and counts its possibilities
I notice circular movements in the poetic conception: it is not only the
animal that "turns and turns on itself". There are also the
words or expressions that come and go while punctuating the poem with
Our planet :
We find themes already present in the previous text: life and death, love,
or even the suffering to which we are condemned, if only by the inescapable
and incessant rotation of the terrestrial sphere and by the resulting
erosion. The imprisonment in "the little familiar enclosure"
is also mentioned, before the Earth, due to the centrifugal force caused
by its gyratory movement, pushes us out of its orbit, causing our end.
Here even more, the words participate by their repetition in the dizziness
that characterizes this poem whose theme focuses on the inexorable flight
The elements :
This rather mysterious text, which is not easy to decipher, deals with
the four elements. Water is at the center of the poem, but it is talked
about air ["the abundance of pearls (hailstones) collected at the
very mouth of each storm"], about fire (the water "would spring
from all the fires”), or about earth, necessary to bury the dead.
The scene takes place in an atmosphere of violence. It is not excluded
indeed to succumb to this hailstorm, which causes great chaos.
But ending on a positive note, Vallejo insists on the fact that the human
song, as well as that of the rain, create harmony.
These three musical pieces are intended to be a direct and faithful emanation
from Vallejo's poems which motivated their composition. Everything has
been done to make the words as perceptible as possible within a temporal
progress capable of revealing the emotional charge inherent in these three
Each piece is characterized by a sound decor of its own:
Piece n° 1 : a piano fragment evokes the step of the human
or animal being who, suspicious, fearful, “comes to you” in
this still dark early morning, charged with mystery.
Piece no. 2 : to represent the terrestrial sphere which "turns
and turns without stopping for a second", two sound signals, one
low, the other high, are heard throughout the piece at regular intervals,
out of phase, each according to its own periodicity. The vocal part is
often syllabic, especially during well-pulsed passages which are articulated
in irregular alternation in a binary or ternary way depending on the prosody;
but we also find, in contrast, a more supple melody of an ornamental type:
indeed with the second stanza with its suddenly meditative tone, a melismatic
chant arises from a short formula borrowed from Gregorian music.
Piece 3: In "The Elements", the basic material, all in prickly
notes, evokes rain, even hail. The vocal part is sometimes recitativo,
sometimes declaimed like a cantillation.