The title of this piece is from a poem by the Chilean poet and Nobel prize winner Pablo Neruda. It is from a larger work entitled The Heights of Macchu Picchu. The excerpt quoted below is from poem number eight in the series of twelve which make up the complete cycle. Neruda’s poem was inspired by his visit in 1943 to the ruins of Macchu Picchu, the lost Inca city high up in the Peruvian Andes, a city whose existence was rediscovered only in 1911.
The cycle deals with many issues, the prevailing one being the journey to the interior of the self in search for meaning and one’s place in the world. This particular poem is an “evocation of surging nature and pre-Columbian man linked in their common dawn, and fused together by a warm instinctive love which the poet summons up from the past to transfuse the present and embrace the future” (Robert Pring-Mill, The Heights of Macchu Picchu, xvii).
Technically my piece is made up of a series of five basic ideas (stated within the first 60 bars), each of which recurs and develops independently. I see the piece as a metaphor for our (and Neruda’s) experiences of nature and life as an ever changing tapestry of related and unrelated events, and our attempt to draw meaning from them.
This work was commissioned by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra with financial assistance from the Manitoba Arts Council. The premiere performance took place at Westminster Church in Winnipeg, on March 24, 1993; Simon Streatfeild conducted the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra.
Ven, minúscula vida, entre las alas
de la tierra, mientras–cristal y frio, aire golpeado–
apartando esmeraldas combatidas,
oh, agua salvaje, bajas de la nieve.
Come, diminutive life, between the wings
of the earth, while you, cold, crystal in the hammered air,
thrusting embattled emeralds apart,
O savage waters, fall from the hems of snow.
Pablo Neruda, The Heights of Macchu Picchu,trans. Nathaniel Tarn, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1966, p.39.
The following review appears in the All Music Guide:
The title of this large-scale tone poem for chamber orchestra (nearly twenty minutes long) is from the line “entre las alas de la tierra,” from the poem “The Heights of Macchu Picchu,” by Pablo Neruda, the Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet. The composer1s intention was to describe musically Neruda1s impressions on visiting the old Incan city in 1943. He saw in Neruda1s poem a metaphor of humanity1s attempting to draw meaning from the experience of nature and life. The music is rich, dense, and mystical. It is based on five basic motives, all of which are presented within the first sixty measures. It is a complex and moving work, which requires some rehearing for the listener to experience its full impact, as its many ideas are often deeply layered over each other. Matthews was born in Newfoundland in 1950, and has studied and worked both in the United States and Canada.