Los caminos de la vida

John Sloboda

Musician and Researcher based in London, UK

Original version 17th April 2020.  DART Programme of Katarina Gurska Institute, La Granja, Segovia, Spain

Subsequent versions presented at  MCICM Maastricht 14th May 2020;

Guildhall School of Music & Drama 26th May 2020.


Contemporary audiences for classical music: and how professional musicians can better connect to them.  Assessing theory and practice in the light of the Covid-19 crisis.

John Sloboda, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London, UK


Los caminos de la vida  (© 2020)

Presented by Rafael Montero (tenor) and John Sloboda (piano)

with contribution from members of El Parnasso Hyspano Kate Smith (soprano) and Veronica Chacon (mezzo-soprano)

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The original plan was to deliver this in person as part of the DART postgraduate program of the Katerina Gurska Insttute, at La Granja, Segovia.  Because of Covid-19 we redesigned it to be delivered via conferencing software with online elements, and are updating it for subsequent presentation in light of experience and feedback.  We gratefully acknowledge the technical support of Jonathan Eato and Filipe Sousa.

Questions for audience members to consider for the post-concert discussion:

1 Does a particular item inspire your interest to go more deeply, listen to more similar works or learn more about the artistic or cultural context? [After the concert, go to www.menti.com and enter the code 72 74 65 to cast your vote]

2 Are there specific emotions, associations, memories that any piece creates for you?

3 How does the online presentation format affect your experience?

4 How did you experience the relevance of John’s 4 dimensions in this concert: Established-new, predictable-unpredictable, impersonal-personal, passive-active?

5 What can we all learn from such experiments about making the most of remote concert formats?  What are the respective roles of performers, moderators, audience, technology?


The collaboration between John Sloboda and Rafael Montero provides the opportunity to exemplify some of the topics John's lecture covers in a live online event with musical, didactic and dialogic elements, but sharing only part of the originally planned journey through hispanic music on both sides of the Atlantic, in light of and in response to the Covid-19 crisis. We call this experience: Los caminos de la vida. “Caminos” expresses the idea that all our life is a road, a road through we walk and experience, live, learn and assimilate.  And now we are all learning the new road of the Corona virus. "de la vida" because like life, we had to accommodate to the circumstances due to Covid-19, where it is impossible to be with you in person but we all adapt us to the circumstances, as we have to in life.   

We begin the path with a performance from the late Rennaisance by the vocal quartet El Parnasso Hyspano, of the first polyphonic work written in South America, Hanaq Pachap Cusicuinin.  it is sung in quichua, a language spoken by Rafael since childhood.   We then include a baroque keyboard Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, an italian composer who emigrated from Italy to Spain, assimilating Spanish folk music and incorporating its sounds, presenting a newly discovered manuscript edited by Sir Barry Ife, former Principal of the Guildhall School, London.  Scarlatti was known to have performed at the Royal Site of San Idelfonso. The journey ends in South America, whose classical composers are not well known in Europe even though of some distinction. This is exemplified through 20th Century works from Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru, drawing on a fusion of European and native influences..


Hanaq Pachap kusikuynin (anon) is the earliest known piece of vocal polyphonic writing to have been published in the South American continent.  The composer is unknown but it was published in Cusco, Peru in 1631 by the Franciscan Friar Juan Pérez Bocanegra in a large liturgical compendium entitled Ritual, formulario e institución de curas.   It is a hymn to the virgin, written in the indigenous language quechua spoken in the Inca empire and now spoken in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, North Argentina, , and displaying syncretistic elements, blending Christian devotion with the older pre-existing devotion to Pachamama (mother earth), a blending which continues in Latin American spirituality to this day. The lyrics liken the virgin to a fruit-bearing tree, and a yellow and white Iris.  The music has a stately character and Bocanegra specified it to be sung as a processional on feasts honoring the virgin. The musical style is a blend of European polyphony and the indigenous rhythms of the native cachua dance. Although the composer is unknown, it is thought by some to have been a native indian.  The hymn has 20 verses, but concert performances are often of the first two verses, as here.

Alegría del cielo                                          Joy from heaven

Te adoro mil veces                                      I adore you a thousand times

Fruta preciosa de árbol fructífero,                 Precious fruit of the bountiful tree

Esperanza que anima                                  Hope that encourages

Y da soporte a los hombres,                        And supports humankind,

Oye mi oración.                                          Hear my prayer.

Oh, columna de marfil, madre de Dios          Oh ivory column, mother of God

De iris hermoso, amarillo y blanco,              With beautiful Irises, yellow and white,

Recibe esta canción que te ofrecemos,         Receive this song that we offer you

Ven a nuestra ayuda,                                  Come to our aid,

Muéstranos el fruto de tu vientre.                Show is the fruit of your womb.


Scarlatti Sonata 31 in E major

Programme note by Professor Barry Ife, Edition editor

When the Irish composer Thomas Roseingrave first heard Scarlatti play the harpsichord in Venice in about 1709, he reported that it was as if 'ten hundred devils had been at the instrument'. Scarlatti went on to write over 550 sonatas that contain some of the most technically demanding music in the solo keyboard repertoire, and he has become a point of reference for generations of keyboard composers from Haydn to Ligeti.

This little sonata in E major is not one of his most difficult, but it has many of Scarlatti's hallmarks. It's taken from an 18th-century manuscript of 39 Scarlatti sonatas now in the Biblioteca de Catalunya in Barcelona. This is the manuscript that the great pianist composer Enrique Granados drew on for his 26 piano transcriptions published in 1904/5. Like most pianists of that generation, Granados tried to make his versions even more difficult than the originals, but in the case of this sonata his interventions were minimal. He evidently appreciated the simple charm of Scarlatti's fashionably galant writing and left his characteristic quirkiness to speak for itself. Scarlatti was never one to settle for equal phrase lengths or obvious harmonic sequences and this sonata, performed here from its original 18th-century text, is no different.

The Barcelona manuscript was not available to Ralph Kirkpatrick when he drew up his great catalogue of 555 sonatas in 1953 so this sonata doesn't have a K number - yet. It's not alone in that respect, as many more Scarlatti sonatas have come to light in recent years. A new project to undertake a comprehensive study of all the surviving 18th-century sources of Scarlatti is under development at the Guildhall School in London and although we will be retaining Kirkpatrick's basic numbering system, we look forward to adding this sonata in E major to a supplementary catalogue in due course.


Vidalita (Alberto Williams).  Alberto Williams (1862-1952) was an Argentinian composer, who studied the Paris Conservatoire, and returned to Argentina where he lived and worked for the rest of his life, notably founding the Buenos Aires Conservatoire.  In the early years of the 20th Century his work adopted Argentine folk themes and rhythms with increasing frequency, basing his piano and orchestral music upon adaptations of milongas, huellas and other rural genres. Vidalita (op 45, no. 3) was published in 1909, and was also arranged for orchestra (later championed by the Italian operatic tenor Beniamino Gigli ).  The Vidalita is a mealancholic Argentinian folk song with a characteristic triple meter motive, which can be heard throughout the piece. The lyrics translate in to English:

The sun does not shine in my soul since you left.

Dark night has covered my love with sadness

In my life there is only pain since you left

En el alma mia

No brilla el sol

Desde que te fuiste.

Densa noche umbria

Cubrió mia amor

Consumanto triste.

En la vida mia

Sólo hat dolor

Desde que te fuiste


La Huerfana Virginia (Simeon Roncal) is one of 20 cuecas for piano solo from the volume “Musica Nacional Boliviana “ (1900) by Bolivian composer Simeon Roncal (1870 - 1953).  Roncal was a native of Sucre, later moving to Potosi where he received honours and continental distinction for his pianistic re-interpretations of the cueca, first published in Argentina. The cueca is a dance of courtship believed to have originated in Peru as a version of the Spanish fandango, but with inigenous elements.  It spread to other countries, including Bolivia, where it became popular across the country, with local variations. The dance symbolises the courting ritual of a rooster and a hen. The male displays a quite enthusiastic and at times even aggressive attitude while attempting to court the female, who is elusive, defensive and demure. The dance often finishes with the man kneeling on one knee, with the woman placing her foot triumphantly on his raised knee.   This energetic piece (no. 7 in the volume) displays Roncal’s characteristically agile use of left-hand leaps, and was dedicated to his wife Virginia Cortéz.


Andres Sas (1900 -1967) was a Peruvian musicologist and composer. He was a leading authority on the history of music in Peru, and most of his works were inspired by Indian themes and often display the pentatonic melodies of the Andean region, but were written with an almost impressionist technique.  He was an important contributor to the widespread movement of the early to mid 20th century of stylising folkloric elements into art songs. We perform two pieces from his Seis canciones indias del Perú (1946).  The words are quechua poems from the regions of Cusco and Puno.

In La Cuzquenita, a lyrical love song, the poet asks the moon to shine a white light on his beloved, not to wake her, but that so he is with her in her dreams. 

Luna bella, las noches, en el firmamento, cuando te deslizas

Envia tu luz blanca

Sobre mi amada, mas no la despiertes, quizá, comigo sueñe

Amor se paga is a waspish commentary on the fickleness of love, as the writer berates his beloved for having forgotten him, and asks that a cypress tree be placed on his grave when he dies from a broken heart.

Si amor es, amore se paga.                    If it is love, then it is paid

Siendo el amore verdadero.                    Being true love.

Esto no es amor ni nada.                        This is not love or anything

Si es una bagatela.                                If it is a trifle.

La mosca pica la araña.                          The fly bites the spider.

La arańa pica la mosca.                          The spider bites the fly.

En el bolsillo be un hombre.                    In the pocket of a man

Hay lá grimas de una mujer.                   Are the tears of a woman.

Paloma porqué no quieres                       Dove, why don't you want

Formar un nido comi pecho?                    To make a nest in my breast?

Sin duda, te has olvidado.                       You have undoubtedly lost

El amor que hemos renido.                      The love we used to have.

Mañana, quando sucumba,                      Tomorrow,when I die,

Te ruego que le coloques,                        I beg you to plant,

Te ruego que le coloques,                        I beg you to plant,

Un ciprés sobre mi tumba.                       A cypress on my grave.




John Sloboda is Research Professor at the Guildhall School, where he directed its Understanding Audiences research programme from 2009-2019.  He now directs a new research programme on Social Impact of Making Music, and is in receipt of a major 3-year grant from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council to investigate socially impactful music practice in four countries. https://www.gsmd.ac.uk/about_the_school/news/view/article/guildhall_school_of_music_drama_awarded_pound984000_to_lead_3_year_international_research_project_on/ ) He is also Emeritus Professor at Keele and was a staff member of the School of Psychology at Keele from 1974-2008, where he was Director of its Unit for the Study of Musical Skill and Development, founded in 1991.

John is internationally known for his work on the psychology of music, and is author/editor of 4 books as well as over 150 scientific articles. He is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and has been President of both the Psychology and General Sections of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as President of the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music, where he has served on the editorial board of its journal Musicae Scientiae. He was the recipient of the 1998 British Psychological Society's Presidents Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychological Knowledge, and in 2004 he was elected to Fellowship of the British Academy. At present he is the first and only Fellow working in the UK conservatoire sector.  In 2017 he was appointed President of a new scholarly association to promote and support research into the Social Impact of Making Music (www.simm-platform-eu). In 2018, he was awarded an OBE for his services to psychology and music.

As a practicing musician he is a pianist, who has specialised in chamber music and accompaniment.  He is also a choral singer and conductor. He founded and conducted the Keele Bach choir from 1975-1995, and is currently assistant conductor to the Chorus of Dissent, a community choir operating in North London, where he lives.  He is the bass of the newly formed vocal quartet of El Parnasso Hyspano (see below)


Rafael Montero is a young Argentinian tenor, whose professional base is in Cologne where he works as a solo tenor and ensemble singer, singing teacher and coach. Rafael studied singing at the Conservatorio Nacional de Córdoba, Argentina and then in early and chamber music at the Conservatoire de Musique de Neuchatel, Switzerland.  He specialises in renaissance Spanish and South American Baroque music and also in romantic and contemporary chamber music from Hispanic South America. He has performed many hispanic Lieder in Europe, including the Sommerblut Festival in Cologne. In 2008, he sang at the first BachFest Cochabamba, Bolivia under the direction of Elizabeth Schwimmer under the sponsorship of the Simon Patino foundation, Geneva. In 2016, he created the first Ancient Music Festival in Jujuy, Argentina "Xuxuy Barroco", where he sang some of J S Bach's Songs of the Schemellis Book and arias from cantatas with the Orquesta Infanto Juvenil de Jujuy.

In Germany he founded the ensemble "El Parnaso Hyspano", recruiting singers and instrumentalists from Spain, Argentina, Germany and Korea, and most recently from the UK, all musicians united by the interest in learning and performing early spanish music with different concerts, specially during the año Cervantino, 2016. During this occasion he was specially invited by the director of the Instituto Cervantes de Viena to perform music in the times of Cervantes, commemorating the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’ death.  In 2019 collaborated with Maria Jesus Alonso (clavicembalo) at the Conservatory of Music of Castilla y León, Salamanca, where they performed Spanish and South American baroque works.

Rafael’s heritage is inca and Spanish, and he has spoken quichua since he was a child. He also specialises in didactic concerts where he introduces the background to the pieces he sings in an approachable way for a general audience. He has recently started working with John Sloboda and they are developing a repertoire of songs from a very little-known body of classical music by Spanish-American and Spanish-influenced composers who wrote songs in Spanish and in Native American languages such as quichua, aymara, nahuatl or chilean Mapuche.  They also are founder members of the vocal quartet of El Parnasso Hyspano, along with Kate Smith (Soprano) and Veronica Chacon (alto)

Research and advocacy

Guildhall School of Music & Drama (link

AHRC Music for Social Impact project (link)

Institute for Social Impact Research in the Performing Arts (link).

Social Impact of Making Music Platform (link)

Iraq Body Count (link)

Cultural and artistic

El Parnaso Hyspano (link)

Chorus of Dissent (link)

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