Having spent two days with Italian music, to mark Good Friday i’m turning to Spain, and the music of Bernat Vivancos. Vivancos was born in Barcelona in 1973 and studied composition at the Paris Conservatoire and in Oslo; having returned to Spain, for the last five years he has been musical director of the Montserrat Boys Choir. In Holy Week last year, at a live concert broadcast from the Montserrat Basilica, Vivancos’ new work El davallament de la creu (The Descent from the Cross) was premièred, and it’s not only an interesting addition to the vast repertoire of Good Friday music, but one of the most visceral examples that i know of.
Vivancos creates the work from two kinds of material, utterly different. One of the organs (two are used) is like a force of nature, solely occupied with vast, violent fortissimo plunges from extremely high to deep rumbling clusters; these deep clusters are frequently repeated, like immense blows to the chest. Not so much against this but alongside it, the choir, mysteriously unaffected, move in the opposite direction, making a gradual ascent from an initial low register. Their movement takes place in between the organ onslaughts, each time coalescing from a dense nebulous haze onto a seventh chord, from which a treble solo emerges; unfortunately, i don’t know what words are being sung in these lengthy soliloquys, but their message—rather like the work as a whole—seems to be a mixture of optimism and lament. The relationship between these two elements is interesting; at first, the choir is tiny, almost insignificant, against the impossible weight of the organ, and yet as they ascend, their sonic definition becomes stronger and with it an assurance that makes the organ, for all its scale, seem increasingly impotent (and, in fact, its episodes become shorter and shorter). Towards the end, the second organ, which has been subtly underpinning the choir’s music, suddenly breaks free in a rather reckless carillon of triads that sound almost ridiculously consonant in the wake of such massive dissonances. Although its final chord is blighted by a cluster, plus the first organ taking one final yawning plunge, the choir has finally been roused to a point of indefatigable confidence, and it is they, ultimately, who have the final word. It’s a somewhat bittersweet conclusion, yet Vivancos seems to be putting most emphasis on the fact that hope, heard in the steady, unceasing ascent of the choir, is just as relentless as death.
If this piece whets your appetite for Vivancos’ music, i can warmly recommend Blanc, a recent release featuring a broad selection of his choral music, all of which demonstrate his ear for fascinating sonorities.