Ricardo Castillo was born in Quetzaltenango on 1st October, 1891 and died
in Guatemala City on 25th May, 1966. His childhood interest in music persuaded
his mother, fulfilling one of his father's great wishes, to send him to Paris
to study the subject.
to 1922 he lived in Europe, studying violin with A. Lefort and harmony with
Paul Vidal. Gradually, he focused on composition, abandoning his violin
studies. During his stay in Paris he composed his first piano works, published
in that city and in 1918 married Georgette Contoux Quante, a French pianist who
had obtained the Prize for Excellence as a pupil of Alfred Cortot at the
Conservatoire. They moved to Guatemala in 1922 and a few years later Castillo
was appointed harmony, composition and music history professor at the National
Conservatory of Music. In 1948, using three different pseudonyms, Castillo won
the three prizes at the Science, Literature and Arts National Contest in
Guatemala and in 1951 the same prize in that contest with his Eight Piano
never showed special interest in opera, the Lied or choral music and for this
reason his personality reflects the autochthonous musical culture of Guatemala rather than the use of limited melodic contours or rhythmical formulae of
folklore music. Musical culture in the pre-Columbian civilization in this
region was merely instrumental; expression through the human voice was not as
appreciated or developed as in other civilizations.
The orchestral work of Castillo is symphonic (Sinfonieta,
Xibalba) or dramatic (ballets La Doncella Ixquic and Paal Kaba).
His piano works are mainly descriptive (Escenas Infantiles, El Agua que Corre,
Guatemala: impressiones, Poema Pastoral, San Andres Xecul. The series of
Nocturnes, Preludes and the Seven Piano Pieces contains
his only abstract musical compositions.
Castillo was largely a composer of short pieces, and the attraction of his music
derives from a certain quality and freshness of ideas, as well as his candour,
bordering on ingenuousness.
The music for the Paal Kaba ballet is Ricardo Castillo's most
complete and elaborate work. Its composition took so long that it makes one
reflect on the fact that Paal Kaba took up a long period of the composer's
creative activity, owing to the fact that we can foretell this ballet elaboration
from his works in 1940.
Paal Kaba's subject is based on a Mayan legend which
tells of the sacrifice of a young maiden in honour of the young God of Corn
so that there would be many fruitful crops.
After being painted blue, Paal Kaba is sacrified before
the villagers in Tikal's Central Temple after the priest has performed an exorcism
in order to dispel the evil spirits. The Paal Kaba's sacrifice is followed
by the ceremony where several ritual dances are performed, and it is during
the culminating moment of the War Dance that the God of Corn, unexpectedly,
falls and is destroyed. This is a terrible omen which terrifies the villagers
who then flee and abandon the city.
For the composer, Paal Kaba's subject probably represented
the premonition of the Spanish conquest which was to come. Like many other famous
scores destined for the theatre, Paal Kaba is also a symphonic narrative
which does not need choreography and can be performed in concert. Paal Kaba
was completed in 1956.
La Doncella Ixquic
La Doncella Ixquic, a symphonic poem of 1944, is one of Castillo's
outstanding works. Apparently he had two huge projects which were only partially
carried out. The first one, to write a series of cycles for different instrumental
combinations entitled Guatemala, and the second, a series of works illustrating
passages or situations described in the Popol Vuh, the cosmological book
of the Maya-Quiche people.
La Doncella Ixquic and Xibalba are the result
of this second project. These two works can have the same brief introduction
"Once upon a time..." thus creating an environment of legend, of myth. The stories
of Xibalba and the Doncella Ixquic are intimately related. Xibalba is a world
lower than the ones of the Quiches, the dark place governed by Bolontikú, the
Nine Masters of the Night, each of them governing at a different level and responsible
for death and disease in mankind. Xibalba is the night ambit for the sun. The
legends of PopolVuh refer to the encounters between the masters
and heroes of the superior world with the ones of Xibalba. Those clashes
are antagonistic, described as a descent to Hell.
In one of these legends, two of the upper world gods, Hunhunahpú
and Vucb-Ixbalanque, die at the hands of Xibalba. From their decapitated heads,
grows a magic tree. When Doncella Ixquic, intrigued, wanders near the tree,
the skulls of Hunhunahpú and Vucub-Ixbalanque deposit their saliva in her hand
and fertilize her. Persecuted for her pregnancy, she seeks shelter with Hunhunahpú
and Vucub-Ixbalanque's mother, who recognizes the signs of her maternity. From
Doncella Ixquic two twin heroes of the Popol Vuh, will be born, Hunhunahpú and
Ixbalanque, who in time, will take revenge against the god of Xibalba.
Estelas de Tikal
Castillo composed his symphonic fantasy Estelas de Tikal in 1945.
In this composition, Castillo uses different themes which come from Mam and
Quiche folklore and were written down by his brother Jesús, with added themes
of his own invention. Although this score was conceived for concert, it has
also served as the bases for diverse choreographic versions, especially one
devised by Colonel de Basil.
The music for Carlos Giron Cerna's drama, Quiche Acid, was composed
by Ricardo Castillo in 1947. This is his third piece of incidental music for
the theatre, following Giron Cerna's Doncella Ixquic and before
Miguel Angel Asturias's Culculcan. Just days before his death, the composer
destroyed these three compositions. However, a copy of Quiche Acid was
already part of the Fleischer Collection and this was the basis upon which I
reconstructed the score. Quiche Achi is a document within Castillo's
work since it appears as the first version of what later became Paal Kaba
and it is quite probable that the author, conscious of the existing similarly
of the two pieces, decided to destroy the first one.
The series of abstract images Instantaneas Plasticas, for orchestra
were written in 1963 and constitute the most free and audacious work written
by Ricardo Caetillo. Together with Abstraccion and the Seven Piano Pieces
it belongs to the composer's latest style, which is characterized by a greater
chromatism, the use of cells of two or three notes which organize the language
and a greater rhythmic freedom. Instantaneas Plasticas is divided into
seven sections which, like a musical photograph, each looks towards fixing an
imaginary choreographic scene.
Composed in 1965, Abstraccion is the last orchestral piece written
by Castillo. It was composed in a very short time and uses a series of musical
ideas which could also have been a group of notes and sketches for pieces of
different nature and formats. In different aspects, this piece appears as an
unfinished work, not only owing to the connection of its ideas but also owing
to its schematic orchestration which in my revision, I had to modify and complete.
Abstraccion, which frees itself from many precepts, is a composition
that aspires to the freedom suggested by the title.