THE CONQUISTADORThe Music




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There can be no question that the music of The Conquistador is 20th century music; after all it was composed by a 20th century man. However, although the music is distinctly contemporary, it certainly does not belong to the serialist or minimalist school. But there's really nothing like hearing about the music from the composer himself. For Myron Fink, it is difficult to describe music exactly in words. But here's what he has to say about The Conquistador:

"...to the practitioners of avant-garde music , The Conquistador would sound hopelessly conservative - something that could have been written by Puccini; and people whose musical taste ends with Puccini - who may find even Turandot harmonically unsettling, may find the music a little difficult to take - AT FIRST, because it is dissonant. BUT, it is in keys - there are key signatures which mark the work as quite conservative - there is resolution, there are points of conflict, and there are melodies which people will remember, I hope."

The musical structure of the opera does not depart radically from the way opera has been constructed throughout musical history. In The Conquistador as in most all operatic works, Myron Fink tells us, there are two elements that the composer has to bring together - the emotional line (the high points of the drama as conveyed by the arias, the duets, trios, etc.) and the intellectual (or the informational or the expository - the who, when, how and why of the events taking place as conveyed by the recitative or, in some works, by spoken dialogue). Every composer has his own way of juxtaposing and unifying these two disparate parts. Richard Wagner, for example, practically did away with discrete arias and recitatives, dissolving them into one continous musical flow; in addition, but quite importantly, he made lavish use of leit-motifs or musical themes. In The Conquistador, Myron Fink does not do away with arias and recitatives - there are distinct arias, duets and trios which he unifies with the recitatives through the subtle use of leit-motifs.

Below are some main thematic ideas: (click Play button to hear clip):

The theme of one note repeating and gradually getting faster
The theme of chords descending in patterns of thirds
The theme of the cross - consisting of two notes, then one note up, one note down


These three themes are joined together in the musical strain that opens the opera, giving the work a unifying theme, and then dissembled as variants of each theme are separately heard in later scenes, e.g. the "one note" theme in the "ghost" scene, Act II, and the "nightmare" scene, Act III.


In addition there is an element of dissymmetry in the "Jewish" motif - a descending line in direct opposition to the ascending chords. It is heard at the first mention of the word "Jews" in the opening scene and then again, a variation in the "Sabbath" scene, Act I.


Because the opera, though contemporary, is after all a harkening back to 16th century colonial Mexico, Myron Fink interestingly composed music reminiscent of Palestrina, and quite apropos, for certain scenes - such as:
the school pageant scene in Act I depicting the triumph of the cross and the Virgin over the Indians where school boys sing a pure 16th century Ave Maria, and a Hosanna for double chorus in the prelude to Act III.







Photo credits: and courtesy Martha Hart

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