Tu voz (“your voice”) was commissioned by the Los Angeles Master Chorale for its 2007 High School Choral Festival. It was the first time I turned to Neruda for text, and I knew my search was over when I found Soneto 52 among his Cien Sonetos de Amor; the poem celebrates the singing voice of his wife, and couldn’t have been more fitting for a choral festival.
For inspiration, I watched the film Il Postino about a year in exile that Neruda and his wife spent in Italy — and where he taught his postman the art of wooing through poetry. In the film, Neruda’s home was high on a cliff overlooking the sea, and the sounds of the waves and the beauty of the skies and seas filled my senses as I watched. These images worked their way into the piece, as the piano accompaniment is suggestive of the ever-rolling waves. Other sound images from the text also find their way into the accompaniment: the jangle of tools, and the creaking of the loose wagon wheel in the caravan. But mostly the music reflects, in soaring lines, how the voice of his beloved lifts Neruda high above the mundane realities of life, “accompanying him through the heavens.”
I later wrote several companion pieces for Tu voz at the request of LA Master Chorale colleagues, Karen Hogle Brown and Scott Graff, using two other Neruda sonnets. We were honored to present the premieres of Tu voz, Tu risa, and Tu sangre en la mia as winners of the Beverly Hills Auditions in 2009. Tu voz was also included in a Conspirare’s Grammy-nominated album, Pablo Neruda: The Poet Sings, sublimely led by Craig Hella Johnson.
Singing unto the sun and sky with your song,
your voice threshes the grain of the day,
the pines speak with their green tongues,
all the birds of winter trill.
The sea fills its cellar with footsteps,
with bells, chains, and groans –
metal and tools jangle,
the wheels of the caravan creak.
But I hear only your voice –
with the flight and precision of an arrow,
it falls with the gravity of rain,
your voice scatters the highest swords,
and returns laden with violets –
my companion through the skies.