Vivian Fine





Two Neruda Poems




12 minutes 45 seconds


Mezzo-soprano and piano


Pablo Neruda


December 1, 1971, Bennington College, Bennington, Vermont, Jan DeGaetani, soprano and Vivian Fine, piano


Available on demo CD

  1. La Tortuga (The Turtle)
  2. Oda al Piano (Ode to the Piano)


“The Neruda songs made a delicious pair, ‘La tortuga’ crawling along in hushed beauty and ‘Oda al piano’ closing the concert with a witty microdrama.”

–Donal Henahan, The New York Times, April 17, 1973


“The two songs formed a stark contrast. ‘The Turtle’ is a gravely contemplative work, rich in magical stillness—and curiously tragic. But the second song, ‘Ode to the Piano,’ is a wild burlesque-illustration of the poem’s inside jokes. (Neruda pictures the piano as a ‘catafalque,’ with its teeth on the wrong side of its mouth—a mouth with ‘the jaws of leviathan.’) During all this, the piano soars and glides along, sometimes quoting bits of Romantic repertory—a snippet of Chopin Etude, for instance—practically ignoring the singer. As the ode concluded, [the singer] turned, lowered the open top; turned around, took the music off and closed the music rack (with Fine still playing), and eventually closed the keyboard lid. In effect, this is a song for piano, accompanied by a singer.

–Heuwell Tircuit, San Francisco Chronicle, January 11, 1983


“Best of all, in a way, was the final offering, two Pablo Neruda poems set to music by Vivian Fine. ‘La Tortuga’ was slow, low-placed, imaginative in its sonic pictorialization and beautifully timed and structured to reveal the philosophical implications of a poem describing a tortoise finally transcending his long life and joining ‘the other boulders.’
‘Oda al piano’ was witty, stylish and dramatic in the playfulness with which both Neruda and Fine describe a surreal piano concert, ending with Friedman putting down her music, closing the piano lid finally closing the keyboard and walking off. Fine’s settings are resourceful but more than merely that, her music is both amusing and very serious, and these songs should enter the active repertory.

–Charles Shere, Oakland Tribune, October 27, 1981

audio files

La Tortuga

La tortuga que      The turtle
anduvo toiling forward
tanto tiempo so long,
y tanto vió having seen so much
con with
sus his
antiguos antediluvian
ojos, eyes
la tortuga the turtle
que comió munching
aceitunas olives
del más profundo where the ocean is
mar, deepest:
la tortuga que nadó the turtle that swam
siete siglos seven centuries
y conoció and know
siete seven
mil millennial
primaveras, springs:
la tortuga the turtle
blindada hooded
contra against
el calor hot
y el frío, and cold,
contra against
los rayos y las olas, comber and glitter:
la tortuga the yellowing
amarilla turtle,
y plateada, plated
con severos with hard
lunares moonmarks
ambarinos of amber
y pies de rapiña, and the feet of a predator:
la tortuga the turtle
se quedó sleeps
aquí now, having
durmiendo, come to a halt,
y no lo sabe. hardly aware of it.
De tan vieja Patriarch, long
se fue hardening
poniendo dura, into his time,
dejó he grew
de amar las olas weary of waves
y fue rígida and stiffened himself
como una plancha de planchar. like a flatiron.
Cerró Having dared
los ojos que so much
tanto ocean and sky, time and terrain,
mar, cielo, tiempo, y tierra he let his eyes droop
desafiaron, and then slept,
y se durmió a boulder
entre las otras among other boulders.


Oda al Piano

Estaba triste el piano
en el concierto,
olvidado en su frac sepulturero,
y luego abrió la boca,
su boca de ballena:
entró el pianista al piano
volando como un cuervo,
algo pasó como si cayera
una piedra
de plata
o una mano
a un estanque
resbaló la dulzura
como la lluvia
sobre una compana,
cayó la luz al fondo
de una casa cerrada,
una esmeralda recorrió el abismo
y sonó el mar,
la noche,
las praderas,
la gota del rocío,
el altísimo trueno,
cantó la arquitectura de la rosa,
rodó el silencio al leche de la aurora.

Así nació la música
del piano que moría,
subió la vestidura
de la náyade
del catafalco
y de su dentadura
hasta que en el olvido
cayó el piano, el pianista
y el concierto,
y todo fue sonido,
torrencial elemento,
sistema puro, claro campanario.

Entonces volvió el hombre
del árbol de la música.
Bajó volando como
cuervo perdido
o caballero loco:
cerró su boca de ballena el piano
y él anduvo hacia atrás,
hacia el silencio.

Midway in the concert,
the piano grew pensive,
ignored in its gravedigger’s frock coat;
but later it opened its mouth
-- the jaws of leviathan:
the pianist then entered his piano
and deployed like a crow;
something happened, like a silvery
of pebbles
or a hand
in a pond,
a trickle of sweetness
like rain
on the smooth of a bell,
light fell
through the padlocks and bolts of a house,
to the depths,
an emerald crossed the abysses,
the sea gave its sound
the night
and the dews
and the meadows,
the steepest ascents of the thunderbolt,
the symmetrical rose sang aloud
and quietness circled the milk of the morning.

So melody grew
in a dying piano,
the naiad’s
rose on the catafalque
from a margin of teeth,
piano, pianist,
and concerto plunged downward, oblivious,
till all was sonority,
torrential beginnings,
consummate gradation, a bell tower’s clarities.

Then the man in the tree
of his music came back to us.
He came down like
a blundering crow on its course
or a lunatic dandy:
the whale-mouth closed up
and the man walked away
to a silence.


Translated by Ben Belitt