Celebrating the King: The Music of Lucrecia R. Kasilag by Earl Clarence L. Jimenez, Philippine Women’s University

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Celebrating the King:  The Music of Lucrecia R. Kasilag by Earl Clarence L. Jimenez, Philippine Women’s University

Date: 18 Aug, 2018 - 18 Aug, 2018 , n/a
Location: Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, Cultural Center of the Philippines

The Philippine Women’s University (PWU) School of Music opened the centennial celebration of the birth anniversary of National Artist for Music, Lucrecia Roces Kasilag, with a concert at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino of the Cultural Center of the Philippines on August 18, 2018.  The concert featured a wide variety of her works including important pieces such as “Prelude Etnika” for guitar, “Interaction,” and “Orientalia” both for piano and Western and Asian instruments.  Performing were faculty and performing groups of the university.  The concert kicked-off a series of events including an exhibit and the inauguration of the LRK Music Instrumentarium.  The celebration will last until August 2019 and will feature performances, workshops, and a symposium.  As one of the most well-loved and influential figures in Philippine music, Kasilag’s centenary has been commemorated by other institutions such as the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, Cultural Center of the Philippines, National Music Competitions for Young Artists, Philippine High School for the Arts, Adventist University of the Philippines, Piano Teachers Guild of the Philippines, the PWU Philippine Music Ensemble Alumni, the radio station DZFE, and the Manila Symphony Orchestra. 

Lucrecia R. Kasilag was born in August 31, 1918 in San Fernando, La Union, in the northern Philippines.  Her piano studies were at the St. Scholastica’s College and at the Philippine Women’s University, while composition was at the Eastman School of Music in New York.  A leading figure in music, Kasilag was Artistic Director and later President of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Chairman of the League of Filipino Composers and of the Asian Composers League, founder of the National Music Competitions for Young Artists, and board member of the UNESCO International Music Council and of the International Society for Music Education. She was also co-founder of the Bayanihan National Dance Company.  For 25 years, she was dean of the then College of Music and Fine Arts of the Philippine Women’s University, continuing to get involved with its activities even long after she retired.  Fondly called “Tita King,” she was a true king of music under whose leadership and mentorship, music, the audience, and musicians flourished.   Kasilag was proclaimed National Artist for Music in 1989.  She died on August 16, 2008 in Paco, Manila.

Below is an essay written for the centenary concert on August 18 titled, “Celebrating the King: ‘Sandaang Kasilag.”

The Musical Legacy of Lucrecia R. Kasilag

Lucrecia R. Kasilag was a prolific composer.   Her music encompasses a wide range of genres and styles that reveal her versatility working in a wide variety of musical idioms.  The breadth of her instrumental repertoire alone is staggering.  There are works written for solo instruments, chamber ensembles, orchestras, and Asian and Philippine indigenous instruments. 

Alongside the standard instrumental combinations found in pieces such as the “Intermezzo for Violin and Piano” (1957), “Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano” (1985), and Fanfare and Rondo for Brass Quintet” (1987) are interesting combinations such as organ and percussion (“Serpent Dance,”1955); piano, string quartet, and percussion (“Paco Park Interlude,” 1981); violin, cello, harp, piano, percussions, and transistor (“Diversions for Five Players,” 1975).  The flexibility by which Kasilag composed music for such diverse combinations of instruments is also reflected in the variety of musical forms used in her instrumental works.  The “Concertante for Piano, Strings, Brasses, and Percussions” (1979), “Sonata for Trumpet and Piano” (1999),  and her two violin concertos (1983, 1994) among other works hearken to Western classical forms.  On the other end are more modern free forms that reference her modernist style such as “Interaction E/W for Piano and East-West Percussions” (1985), “Introduction an Frolic on a Tone Row” (1966), “Improvisations” series (1970, 1974) and the “Ekologie” series (1970, 1979, 1981, 1983, 1984) .

The large works written for the orchestra such as “Philippines Scenes” (1974) and for solo instruments and orchestra such as “Divertissement for Piano and Orchestra” (1960), are some of her most celebrated.  Incidental music, many written for theatre, are more than musical backdrops to live action on stage.  Alone, they stand as musical masterpieces.  Outstanding examples are “Amada” (1970), “Sisa” (1978), “Legenda” (1985), and “Dularawan,” a song-dance drama written for the inauguration of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in 1969.

The piano pieces, particularly the “Theme and Variations Based on a Filipino Folk Tune ‘Walay Angay,’ ”(1950) show Kasilag’s technical mastery and depth as a composer for the instrument she grew up with.  While most are in the neo-classical style, others such as the “Derivation” series (1961, 1966, 1969, 1982, 1989, 1991) break new ground in Philippine piano literature having been written for prepared piano. 

Kasilag also wrote solo pieces for other instruments such as the guitar (“Prelude Etnika,” 1990; “Toccata,” 1996), organ (“Evocative,” 1965), and even one for the Japanese koto (“Kori Kori,” 1976).  Two instrumental pieces, “April Morning: A Fantaisie Tone Poem” (piano, 1941) and “A Poem” (voice, flute, guitar, and percussions, 1999) are delightful gems as the spoken poetry of Angela Manalang Gloria and Jose Garcia Villa weave with the sounds of the music instruments.

It is in works where Asian and more notably, Philippine indigenous instruments, share equal importance with Western orchestral instruments, that Kasilag’s legacy as a composer of Filipino music is at its finest.  “Toccata for Percussion and Winds” (1959), “Orientalia Suite for Piano, Chamber, and Philippine Percussion Instruments” (1981), and “Visions: Dialogue for a Western Flute and Pinoy flute avec Wind Chimes and Kubing” (1996), are just some of the numerous instrumental works where western and eastern aesthetics converge seamlessly.  Indigenous instruments stand on their own as music instruments that contribute to melodic and harmonic structures of the music rather than merely providing texture and timbre.  The result is a distinct sound and musical language that continues to define Kasilag’s identity as a Filipino composer.  Rightly so, the “Toccata for Percussion and Winds” (1959) which mixes Philippine percussion instruments such as drums and gongs with Western wind instruments received the Republic Cultural Heritage Award in Music in 1960. 

Kasilag’s re-working of traditional Philippine music for the Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company to suit stage and presentation requirements reveal her deep understanding of indigenous music borne from her years of field research.  Such re-workings may also be found in many of her instrumental and vocal music that feature indigenous melodies and rhythmic patterns.  “Fantasia on a Kulintang Tune” (1962), “The Legend of the Sarimanok” (1963), and “Misang Pilipino” (1965) are examples.

Just as varied and distinct are Kasilag’s vocal compositions: solo, chorus, and in combination with instrumental ensembles.  There are love songs (“Two Love Songs in Monologue,” 1969), masses (“Misang Pilipino,“ 1965; Misang Pilipino No. 2,” 1974; “Missa Brevis,” 1963; “Misa sa Libing,” 1965), religious songs (“Ave Maria,” 1953; “Pinupuri Ka Namin,” 1975; ), cantatas (“Awit ng mga Awit,” 1966; “Aguinaldo sa Niñ0,” 1986; “In the Beginning,” 1988), song cycles (“Love Songs,” 1956; “Sariling Awitin: A Cycle of Philippine Songs,”1961), hymns and marches (Arise, ye Fulbright Fellows,” 1951; “Alay sa PWU,” 1976; “CEG Alumni Hymn”1975),  an operatorio (“Her Son, Jose” 1977) , even a song in rap time (“Ang Basura, Bow” 1998; “Maraming Basura” 1998).  Kasilag may have written for almost any vocal genre possible.

As in many of her instrumental music, Filipino indigenous music figure prominently.  There are numerous folk song arrangements for solo, solo and chorus, solo with chamber ensemble, and chorus. “Five Philippine Folk Songs” (1957) and “Philippine Ethnic Songs Cycle” (1985) are some of her most performed pieces.

Like the European classical composers of the 18th and 19th centuries, Kasilag wrote for some of the most notable musical artists and prominent people of her time such as pianist Jovianney Emmanuel Cruz (“Elegy on Mt Pinatubo,” 1991),  violinist Carmencita Lozada (“Violin Concerto,” 1983 ), the New York Harp Ensemble (“Diversions II for Four Harps,” 1981),  educator and former senator, Helena Z. Benitez (“Serendipity,” 1994), ethnomusicologist Ricardo Trimillos (“Kori Kori,” 1976) and actress Nora Aunor (“Awit ng Pag-ibig,” 1994).  She has likewise collaborated with other writers, scholars, and librettists for vocal texts such as Rolando S. Tinio, Rene O. Villanueva, Leticia P. de Guzman, and Fides Cuyugan-Asensio,  

As a true composer of the nation and its people, Kasilag not only wrote music for concert and recital halls.  She also composed for institutional anniversaries, celebrations, inaugural events, and the like.  “Ode to Fullbrighters”  (1989), “Ode to CEU” (1975), “Pusong Ginto” (written for the Philippine Heart Association, 1978), and “GSP Ruby Jubilee Song” (1980) are but a few examples that show her numerous affiliations and the respect accorded to her as a composer whose music has given life to the lyrics of their hymns.  She has also written contest pieces for the National Music Competitions for Young Artists (NAMCYA).

 “Why Flowers Bloom in May” (2008), an opera with libretto by long-time collaborator and friend, Fides Cuyugan-Asensio, was Kasilag’s last work. 

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