Proms 2016: Paul Desenne – Hipnosis mariposa (UK Première)

by 5:4

Continuing the idea i mentioned before about the Proms premières becoming more delicate and simple, Venezuelan composer Paul Desenne, in a homage to late singer Simón Díaz, has drawn on one of Díaz’s children’s songs, ‘El Becerrito’, about a cow called Butterfly who has a calf (also known as ‘La vaca Mariposa’; words here), as the basis for his work Hipnosis mariposa.

Shifting surface details also pervade Paul Desenne’s Hipnosis mariposa , given its first UK performance last Sunday by the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. The original song’s 5/8 metre runs through the music like an undercurrent, from its nascent opening moments through much of what follows, with varying degrees of prominence. In some respects the piece is like a more mellow relative of Marlos Nobre’s Kabbalah, Desenne refraining from letting the Latin rhythms and melodic urges from running amok, but channelling them in a measured but undeniably playful way. Stylistically, the piece has many hallmarks of film music (especially the first few minutes), and there are some cheeky occasional Milhaud-like off-key contributions from stage left, but the way Desenne spends the majority of the work exploring the outcomes of a constantly changing, swirling melting pot of motifs and gestures is impressive and, in this context, surprisingly serious. The work’s free-spirited sense of flow has a Vltava-esque (or should that be Orinoco-esque?) quality, and only quite late in its duration does Desenne increase the rhythmic impetus, in the process ramping up the tempo, yet even here the music remains, in the best sense, vague and meandering, finally quietening into a collection of woodwind threads wrapped in warm lyricism by the strings. All in all, an unexpected treat.


Paul Desenne - Hipnosis mariposa
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Programme Note

Hipnosis Mariposa, commissioned by Gustavo Dudamel for the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, premiered in 2014 to celebrate the memory of the late Simón Díaz, one of Venezuela’s most renowned popular composers, is an orchestral reverie woven with strands of one of his most famous songs, “El Becerrito” (the little calf), also known as “La vaca Mariposa” (“A cow named Butterfly”). Diaz, a beloved, bucolic songwriter, brought pastoral memories back to the rural migrants of the sixties through his vast catalogue of recordings and charming songs. This particular one, in 5/8 time, a genre which is specifically Venezuelan, conveys a lot more than a simple melody; it’s the entire rhythmic playfulness of traditional Venezuelan music, the magical spell in the poetry of the savannas of the Orinoco basin that drives the orchestral flow. Each successive verse of the song, every shift and turn of its catchy melody is used to weave the soundscapes, inspiring the geometry of gestures and phrasing. The popular music form, which generally imposes a relatively simple harmonic discourse, explodes here into larger sections, transformed by instrumental variations and progressive mutations. The images in the song (the verses of which are literally known by every child in the country) are illustrated in sounds, like medieval illuminations enhancing a silently rememorated text: the clouds of green chirping parakeets, the solitary whistles of a hawk, the mooing of a little calf; images and dances floating in a dreamy collage reminiscent of similar songs from the stunningly beautiful regions of the Venezuelan plains.

—Paul Desenne

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