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Leonardo Balada’s Guernica as Musical Ekphrasis

Keane Southard
Theory 485: Analyzing Multimedia
December 18, 2018


In her book Musical Ekphrasis: Composers Responding to Poetry and Painting, Siglind

Bruhn cites Leonardo Balada’s Guernica as an example of musical ekphrasis. She explains that,

“Leonardo Balada’s orchestral piece Guernica, after Picasso…portrays musically not so much

what happened in that Basque town in 1937 in a devastating German bombing raid during the

Spanish Civil War, but, as he states explicitly, how his compatriot Pablo Picasso visually

depicted the event in his famous canvas.” 1 However, to date Balada’s piece has never been

examined in depth as an ekphrasis of Picasso’s painting.

In this paper, I will analyze Balada’s composition and compare it to existing artistic and

historical examinations of Picasso’s painting in order to identify common aspects and

correlations between them and to better understand their relationship. I will also briefly compare

Balada’s piece to similar musical works and explore the issue of intentionality in musical

ekphrasis by drawing on the composer’s own remarks concerning the relationship between the

music and the painting. My goal is to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of both

Guernicas by viewing Balada’s through the lens of musical ekphrasis.


The Bombing of Guernica

On July 18, 1936, a military coup against the existing democratic republican government

sparked the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, pitting the government against the nationalist

rebellion led by General Francisco Franco. The Nationalists gained the support of Hitler in

Siglind Bruhn, Musical Ekphrasis: Composers Responding to Poetry and Painting
(Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press, 2000), 30.

Germany and Mussolini in Italy. Hitler offered the services of the German air force to Franco,

and as part of the Nationalists’ effort to take over the Basque region in northeastern Spain, the

German air force, acting on the orders of General Franco, bombed and almost completely

destroyed the town of Guernica on April 26, 1937. While Guernica, the cultural center of the

Basque people, was seen as an important military objective for the Nationalists in their conquest

of the Basque country, it was undefended at the time and filled with civilians.

The bombing is widely seen as the first example of saturation bombing of a civilian

center, and it even failed to destroy the stated military targets in the city, such as a key bridge

and the railroad depot. The Nazis saw the bombing as “an opportunity to test new planes and the

effectiveness of incendiary bombs effective in terrorizing people and destroying towns largely

built of wood.”2 The attack has been condemned as “one of the most blatant acts of unmitigated

cruelty in the history of mankind,”3 “one of the most wanton acts of the Spanish Civil War,”4 and

“the most sensational case to date of unrestricted attacks by modern bombing and fighter planes

for the purpose of terrorizing the populace.” 5 It caused international outrage after it gained

newspaper headlines throughout the world.

Ellen C. Oppler, ed., Picasso’s Guernica (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1988),
Eberhard Fisch, Guernica by Picasso, trans. James Hotchkiss (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell
University Press, 1988), 18.
Anthony Blunt, Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969), 7.

Herschel B. Chipp, Picasso’s Guernica: History, Transformations, Meanings (Berkeley,


CA: University of California Press, 1988), 43.


Picasso’s Guernica (1937)

After rumors of his support for the Nationalists was circulating, the famous Spanish artist

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) made a public statement in May 1937 shortly after the bombing of

Guernica declaring his opposition to the Nationalists and his support for the Republicans,

although he clearly held this view as early January 1937 as evidenced by his etchings from that

month called The Dream and Lie of Franco.6 January was also when Picasso accepted a

commission from the Spanish Republican Government to paint a mural for their pavilion at the

“International Exposition-Arts and Technology in Modern Life” held in the summer of that year

in Paris. After several months of little progress on the mural, perhaps even without a solid idea

of what the subject matter would be, it was hearing about the bombing of Guernica that provided

him the subject, inspiration, and stimulus for completing the project. News of the attack reached

France on April 28, 1937, two days after the event, and Picasso began his first drawing for

Guernica three days later on May 1, the same day as the largest May Day demonstration in the

history of Paris when more than one million people demonstrated against the bombing of

Guernica. Picasso finished the work around June 4 7 and it was placed in the Spanish pavilion in

mid-June. Later it was shown in galleries all around the world and became one of the most

famous works of art of the 20th century, having been analyzed and discussed extensively.

Despite the large volume of writing on the topic, interpretations of Picasso’s painting have been

wide-ranging and sometimes even contradictory. Eberhard Fisch has been described it as

Blunt, Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, 9.
Blunt, 60.

“Picasso’s masterpiece,” “the culmination of his life’s work,” and “the most important anti-war

picture in the history of art.”8

Guernica, shown in Figure 1, is an extraordinarily complex picture. 9 A humongous

painting, its dimensions span more than eleven feet in height and more than twenty-five feet in

width. Covering more than 292 square feet, its human and animal figures are literally larger-

than-life.10 Unlike the actual bombing of Guernica, the painting doesn’t show any airplanes,

machine guns, or bombs, and uses only black, white, and grey tones.

Figure 1, Guernica by Pablo Picasso, Oil on canvas, 11 ft. 5.5 in. x 25 ft 5. 75 in.

(Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain)

The painting includes nine human and animal figures. From left to right, we see a

woman with her head back and mouth open holding a motionless child, a bull with its head

turned backwards and a tail that looks like a trail of smoke, a bird with its head up and mouth

open, an open-mouthed decapitated head and its severed arms laying on the ground, one of

Fisch, Guernica by Picasso, 22.

Fisch, 24.
Fisch, 22.

which is holding a broken sword and a small flower, a horse with open mouth that has been

pierced completely through its torso by a spear and seems to be in the act of falling to the

ground, a woman whose head and arm extend out from a window holding an burning oil lamp, a

woman with her head turned up at a 45-degree angle who seems to be limping with a lame right

arm and abnormally large left knee, and an open-mouthed woman in midair with whose arms and

head extend upward and who appears to be falling or flying. At the top of the painting, just left

of center, hangs a ceiling lamp in the shape of an eye that is shooting out spikey beams of light.

All nine heads are in unnatural or contorted positions and, except for the child, they all have their

mouths open.11

Balada’s Guernica (1966)

Composer Leonardo Balada was born in Barcelona, Spain, on September 22, 1933. He

was only a toddler when the Spanish Civil War started and just six years old when General

Franco and the Nationalists took control of the country and ended the war in 1939. After

studying music at a local conservatory in Barcelona, he received a scholarship to study in New

York City in 1956, which also provided him the opportunity to escape living under Franco’s

oppressive regime. In New York, he studied at the Manhattan School of Music, the New York

College of Music, and the Juilliard School, studying composition with Siegfried Landau, Bernard

Wagennar, Vincent Persichetti, and Aaron Copland. New York is also where he met and

befriended fellow Catalonian artist Salvador Dali, whom would remain an immense artistic

influence on him. After a brief return to Spain in 1960, he decided to leave again in 1961 to live

permanently in the United States where became a naturalized citizen in 1981. He has taught as

Fisch, 33-34.

University Professor of Composition at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA since


During his first years in New York, the prevailing style of composition was twelve-tone

serialism, which Balada was not interested in as he “felt this technique approached music in a

cold and cerebral way,”12 and instead wrote music that was “somewhat neo-classical” 13 and

“modernist…motivic, with conventional harmonies and developments.” 14 However, in the mid-

1960s his music changed into a more dissonant and avant-garde “geometric style,” 15 which was

inspired by his affinity for abstract expressionist and geometric art. The composer describes this

as his “avant-garde period,”16 when his compositions were “abstract, angular, dramatic,

propelled by rhythm and heavy textures, and full of passion.” 17 Guernica was one of his first

works composed in this new style.

The stimulus to compose Guernica came from several impulses, including his own

experiences growing up in the midst of the Spanish Civil War,

I had to compose Guernica: my memories as a child crying and running with my family
into the “metro” station in Barcelona to shelter us from the fascist bombings had been
haunting me for three decades. I also had to compose it as my way of saying thanks to

Ivan I. Ivanov, “Leonardo Balada and Surrealism in Music” (DMA diss., University of

Nevada, Las Vegas, 2018), 11.

Leonardo Balada, Leonardo Balada: Guernica. Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia
National Orchestra, Salvador Mas Conde-conductor. Naxos 8.557342, 2004, compact disc, liner
notes, 2.

Howard Klein, Leonardo Balada Maria Sabina, The Louisville Orchestra, Jorge

Mester-conductor, Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic Orchestra, Juan Pablo Izquierdo-conductor,

The University of Louisville Chorus, Carnegie Mellon Concert Choir, Carnegie Mellon
Repertory Chorus, New World Records 80498-2, 1995, compact disc, liner notes, 2.
Klein, Leonardo Balada Maria Sabina, liner notes, 2.
Balada, Leonardo Balada: Guernica, liner notes, 2.
Balada, 2

Picasso and all those exiled, who from overseas waved the flag of freedom, and I had to
compose it as a protest against wars. Picasso was my hero and to him I dedicated the
symphonic work.18

In 1966, Balada was also involved in anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, and the “civil war”

within the United States between those opposed and supporting the war “rekindled Balada’s

vivid recall of the Spanish Civil War.”19 When he heard about a call for orchestral scores with

the New Orleans Philharmonic, he decided to write the piece and it was completed in a mere two

weeks. The score is dated as 15-31 December, 196620 and was subsequently read by the New

Orleans Philharmonic and premiered by the orchestra the following year with Werner

Torkanowsky conducting. The piece has been commercially recorded twice, first by the

Louisville Orchestra conducted by Jorge Mester21 and more recently by the Barcelona Symphony

and Catalonia National Orchestra conducted by Salvador Mas Conde. 22

Balada, 2. After the work was first recorded, a mutual artist friend, Nobel prize
winning writer Camilo José Cela, told Picasso of Balada’s piece and its dedication to him.
Picasso invited Balada to visit him, wherein Balada was going to give him a copy of the
recording, for which Cela assured him that Picasso would return the favor with painting. Balada
planned to visit him in southern France in 1972 but had to cancel the trip for personal reasons.
Picasso died a few months later and the two never met, which Balada says is “one of the big
disappointments in my life.” Balada, 2.
Klein, Leonardo Balada Maria Sabina, liner notes, 2.

Leonardo Balada, Guernica: A Symphonic Movement (Hastings-on-Hudson, NY:


General Music Publishing Co., Inc., 1969), 2.

Leonardo Balada. Guernica, Jorge Mester, Louisville Orchestra, track 6 on Maria
Sabina, New World Records 80498-2, 1995, compact disc.
Leonardo Balada, Guernica, Salvador Mas Conde, Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia
National Orchestra, track 1 on Leonardo Balada: Guernica, Naxos 8.557342, 2004, compact

In reviews, the piece has been described as “raw and wrenching,” 23 and “tense, dissonant,

percussive and appropriately brutal in its own way; and the piece as a whole is an impressive

achievement.”24 Reviewer Paul Shoemaker writes that Balada “has learned from Varese,

Penderecki, and Honegger and digested his lessons well—and produced a masterpiece. He says

he based it in part on his experiences of the Spanish Civil War. Yes, he was only six at the time,

but horror to a child is far more unendurable than it is to an adult, and the naïve terror is fully

captured here.”25 Howard Klein describes the piece as using “controlled aleatoric devices in the

strings, cluster sounds in the high winds, trumpets, and low brasses, and antiphonal effects for

the percussion.”26

Discussion of Musical Ekphrasis

The term “ekphrasis” literally means “to tell in full” and has existed since the Roman

Greek period where it referred to “vivid description that persuades listeners by raising an image

in their mind’s eye.”27 However, in the 20th century the word took on a different yet related

meaning, which Bruhn explains as “a representation in one medium of a text composed in

Ian Quinn, "BALADA: Guernica; Sarasate & Casals Homages; Symphony 4; Zapata
Suite," American Record Guide 68, no. 1 (2005): 77.
Hubert Culot, review of compact disc Leonardo Balada: Guernica, MusicWeb
International, Sept. 2004, http://www.musicweb-
Paul Shoemaker, review of compact disc Leonardo Balada: Guernica, MusicWeb
International, July 2004, http://www.musicweb-
Klein, Leonardo Balada Maria Sabina, liner notes, 2.
Orit Hilewicz, “Reciprocal Interpretations of Music and Painting: Representation Types
in Schuller, Tan, and Davies after Paul Klee,” Music Theory Online 24, no. 3 (2018): 3,

another medium.”28 Lydia Goehr further refines this as being a “work-to-work relation” where

one work of art “re-presents” another. 29 Although this “modern view”30 was used first in studies

of literature to describe poems and prose that were written to re-present a work of visual art

(such as John Keats’ famous Ode on a Grecian Urn), several scholars, most notably Bruhn,

Goehr, and Orit Hilewicz, have expanded this to include other art forms and in particular music.

Hilewicz explains that it is this “modern view…that opens ekphrasis to other types of texts that

are not literary; a painting, for example, can be ekphrastic of a poem, and a musical work can

bring a painting into presence.”31 Thus, Bruhn defines “musical ekphrasis” as an instrumental

musical piece that “narrates or paints a fictional reality created by an artist other than the

composer of the music,”32 which contains “(1) a real or fictitious scene or story, (2) its

representation in a visual or a verbal text, and (3) a rendering of that representation in musical


Balada’s Guernica clearly qualifies as a musical ekphrasis according to Bruhn’s

definition (hence why she mentioned it in her book.) The original story is a real one, in this case

the bombing of Guernica, which Picasso used to create a fictional and visual reality on his

canvas. Then Balada, who did not create the painting, composed a musical representation of

Picasso’s work.

Bruhn, Musical Ekphrasis, 8.

Lydia Goehr, “How to Do More with Words: Two Views of (Musical) Ekphrasis.” The
British Journal of Aesthetics 50, no. 4 (2010): 389.
Goehr, “How to Do More with Words,” 389.
Hilewicz, “Reciprocal Interpretations of Music and Painting,” 3.
Bruhn, Musical Ekphrasis, 29.
Bruhn, 8.

Within musical ekphrasis, Bruhn distinguishes between two different types of musical

transformations of elements of another art work, “depiction” and “reference.” She defines

depiction by musical means as including both mimicry such as Olivier Messiaen’s use of actual

birdsongs in many of his compositions, and “sensual impressions of hues, shapes, and

spatiality.”34 On the other hand, reference by musical means relies “on cultural and historical

conventions,”35 and includes examples such as the interval of a tritone representing the diabolus

in musica (“devil in music”), keys and modes being associated with different emotions and

feelings, outlining a visual object in musical pitch contour such as the Cross in many works of

Sofia Gubaidulina, or the representation of words or names through pitches such as Johann

Sebastian Bach encoding his name in The Art of the Fugue (B-A-C-H = B flat-A-C-B).36 Bruhn

also argues for the use of the word transmedialization as the best for describing the process of

putting an artistic representation from one medium into another. 37

It is important to point out that the distinction between musical ekphrasis and related

forms, such as some kinds of programmatic music, is not easily distinguishable nor always clear.

However, this should not get in our way of viewing a musical work as ekphrastic. Aware that

others may not fully agree with her definition of musical ekphrasis, Bruhn reminds us that

“reading a work of art as ekphrastic does not mean that we must establish its status as such

before we can allow ourselves to proceed.” 38 Proving that Balada’s Guernica is a musical

Bruhn, 10.
Bruhn, 10.

Bruhn, 16-17.
Bruhn, 50-51.

Bruhn, 53.

ekphrasis is much harder (if not impossible) and perhaps less useful than understanding it as one,

as we may gain more insights into the piece and Picasso’s work from this vantage point. This is

the goal of this essay, to read Balada’s piece as an ekphrasis and not to prove that it is one.

Balada’s Guernica as a Musical Ekphrasis of Picasso’s Guernica


During my own interview with Balada, he stated that he did not create this symphonic

work by consciously composing musical parallels to specific aspects and images of Picasso’s

painting. Instead, he calls his piece “more an impression” and not “an exact portrayal,” while

Picasso’s work served more as “a source of inspiration” rather than as a model. 39 But I’d argue

that such intentionality is not necessary for us to identify and examine unintentional correlations

between these two works.

In his study of music videos, Mathias Bonde Korsgaard points out that when sound and

image are combined the process of “synchresis,” a term coined by Michel Chion which refers to

the “spontaneous and irresistible weld produced between a particular auditory phenomenon and

visual phenomenon when they occur at the same time,” 40 happens automatically no matter if the

sounds and images are put together intentionally or randomly. Korsgaard gives an example:

“Turn on your television, put it on mute, and then turn on your stereo, and almost by magic the

two will, at least at times, appear to synchronize…Whether the correspondences happen by

chance or by design, it is hard to imagine a music video in which the image does not in some

(Leonardo Balada, personal communication, Dec. 8, 2018)

Michel Chion, Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen, ed. and trans. Claudia Gorbman (New

York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 63.


way at any point illustrate the song.”41 I believe we can extend this concept from the world of

film to the world of ekphrasis as well. By naming his symphonic work after Picasso’s painting

and dedicating to the artist, Balada has explicitly, in a sense, put his music on the image of the

painting, as a filmmaker puts sounds on a moving picture. This doesn’t result in synchresis, as

the painting frozen in time, but we are free to see more relations between the two artworks than

even the composer himself has consciously placed.

Depiction of Horror and Grief

The most obvious corresponding element between Balada’s music and Picasso’s painting

is their common mood and emotional content, both portraying the horror and grief generated by

the bombing of Guernica. In the painting, the contorted bodies, open mouths, spiked tongues,

and visible wounds suggest that many of the figures are crying in pain, grief, or fear. In his study

of the painting, Anthony Blunt argues that Picasso drew on artistic depictions of the Apocalypse

from as far back as the 11th century, but he was able to go further than his predecessors in

depicting these negative emotions. He writes that,

In these paintings the artists were not concerned to show the beauties of nature or the
nobility of man, but, on the contrary, the evil of the world and the brutality of human
beings. They therefore felt at liberty to underline the ugliness of the created universe, to
distort the human figure, and to invent monsters to convey their meaning. They were
restrained in the expression of their horror by the accepted artistic conventions of their
time, but Picasso, who had broken down these conventions, was able to go further, to use
more violent distortions, to disrupt the bodies of human beings and animals in a much
more drastic manner.42

Mathias Bonde Koresgaard, Music Video after MTV: Audiovisual Studies, New Media,

and Popular Music (New York: Routledge, 2017), chap. 1, ProQuest Ebook Central.

Blunt, Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, 56.

Just like Picasso, Balada was able to go further than his predecessors in depicting these

emotions. Previous musical depictions of horror and grief, such as the “Dies Irae” movements

from Mozart and Verdi’s Requiems or parts of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, have also been

restrained by the musical conventions of their times, such as operating within the tonal system

and using traditional harmonic materials, playing techniques, and timbres. Although Mahler was

beginning to break away from some of these conventions, he would not have dreamed of using

the tone clusters, extensive aleatoric techniques, and slow glissandi that Balada used in Guernica

fifty-five years after his death.

While different from any music of previous eras, Balada’s piece is not without precedent.

The most similar work to Guernica that I can identify is the Polish composer Krzysztof

Penderecki’s Threnody: To the Victims of Hiroshima for fifty-two string instruments.

Penderecki’s work was composed in 1960, just six years before Balada’s, and beyond the

common theme of memorializing an atrocity of war, 43 the two works have several strong musical

similarities as well. When I asked him whether he had heard the Threnody before he started

composing Guernica, Balada replied that he believes he had, mentioning that he had spent a few

weeks in Poland around that time, but denies any conscious influence from Penderecki’s work

because he was trying to compose in a new and original way while creating Guernica.44

Nevertheless, both feature the use of tone clusters in the strings, especially with wide and slow

Unlike Balada’s work, Penderecki’s was not originally inspired by such an atrocity.
Originally conceived of as an abstract work entitled 8’37”, the title was changed before the
premiere to Threnody: To the Victims of Hiroshima which “gave the piece a powerful image and
message.” J. Peter Burkholder and Claude V. Palisca, eds, Norton Anthology of Western Music,
vol. 2, Classic to Twentieth Century, 5th ed., (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006),

(Leonardo Balada, personal communication, Dec. 8, 2018)

vibratos (e.g. Balada m. 35-41 in the cello, and Penderecki m. 2-5 45), aleatoric devices that create

a “crowd of voices” that overlap chaotically (e.g. Balada m. 245-58 in the violins, violas, and

cellos, and Penderecki m. 6-9), extensive use of glissandi (e.g. Balada m. 82-91 in the violins and

violas, and Penderecki m. 10-17), and tone clusters that resolve into unisons (e.g. Balada m. 147-

160, and Penderecki m. 19-24).

While Balada generally denies depicting specific elements from Picasso’s painting in his

music, the one exception that he admits to is of providing the “screaming” sounds of Picasso’s

humans and animals.46 Fisch writes that, “In most cases, the open mouths are clearly meant to

indicate cries, groans, or similar sounds…The bull appears to be groaning. The bird and the

horse utter the loudest sounds they are capable of.”47 The fact that these characters seem to be

frozen in the act of creating sound makes this a particularly ripe opportunity for musical

ekphrasis. As Thomas S. Grey explains, musical ekphrasis is “a sounding gloss that releases the

frozen composition of a painting or drawing into the fluid, dynamic state of musical composition.

The ‘pregnant moment’ is delivered of its gestural burden, giving birth to a ‘living picture’ in

sound.”48 Balada transmedializes both the screams and cries of Picasso’s characters and the

painting’s feelings of horror, fear, and grief. These types of representation fall under Bruhn’s

Krzysztof Penderecki, Ofiarom Hiroszimy: Tren na 52 Instrumenty Smyczkowe.


(Warsaw: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne, 1961.)

(Leonardo Balada, personal communication, Dec. 8, 2018)
Fisch, Guernica by Picasso, 34.
Thomas S. Grey, “Tableaux vivants: Landscape, History Painting, and the Visual
Imagination in Mendelssohn’s Orchestral Music,” 19th-Century Music 21, no.1 (1997): 64.

category of depiction through mimicry of actions in the case of the former, and by representing

“phenomena of the interior rather than the exterior world,” in the case of the former. 49

One of the ways that Balada depicts screaming is by using string clusters, often in

harmonics and sometimes with slow and wide vibrato of up to a quarter-tone away from the

given note or with slow glissandi ad lib., as seen in Example 1. The effect produces a tense

sonority that sounds like a crowd of beings wailing mournfully together, even at a soft dynamic

level. It’s also interesting to point out that the most famous depiction of horror in all of music,

Bernard Herrmann’s music for the “shower scene” of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho (the

same year as Penderecki’s Threnody,) uses a similarly dissonant cluster-like sonority in a high

register produced by an orchestra of strings.

Example 1, String clusters in Guernica by Leonardo Balada, m. 169-18250

Bruhn, Musical Ekphrasis, 14.

Leonardo Balada, Guernica: A Symphonic Movement, 14. All subsequent musical


examples come from this source.


Cries and screams are also suggested by Balada’s use of aleatoric and indeterminate

descending string glissandi. Shown in Example 2, these are notated with a diagonal downward

arrow and an indication of which string to play the glissando on. There is also a footnote in both

English and Spanish explaining the notation: “Glissandi descending only, ad lib. on the indicated

string. They should not begin necessarely [sic] at the beginning of the bar. The players should

not be together.”51 Like the previous example, this also gives the impression of a crowd of

people wailing in sorrow.

Example 2, Aleatoric descending string glissandi, m. 82-88

Additionally, horror and grief are portrayed through the use of shorter glissandi that

suggest a smearing or melting effect in tandem with jagged melodic lines suggesting the

disfigurement and distortion of the human and animal bodies in the painting. In Example 3, this

is used in a dense polyphonic texture over a pedal tone where these jagged lines and short

glissandi burst out of sustained string pitches, evoking an image of different body parts being

Leonardo Balada, Guernica: A Symphonic Movement, 14.

constantly twisted and deformed. This kind of musical representation falls under Bruhn’s

category of reference that relies on common conventions, where the melodic outlines of the

string parts roughly trace different irregular shapes.

Example 3, Short glissandi and jagged melodic lines, m. 47-50 (strings only)

In Picasso’s painting, Fisch describes what he calls a “heap of destruction” dominating

the center of the canvas within a triangle that extends from the bottom corners up to the tip of the

oil lamp. Within this triangle is the horse, the limping woman, and the dead warrior, figures that

are suffering or already killed.52 In Balada’s piece, this “heap of destruction” is suggested by the

building up dense textures on both a small and large scale. On the small scale, there are several

instances of a unison that transforms into a tone cluster by adding one note after another to the

harmony in quick succession (e.g. m. 35-37, m. 153-55, m. 161-63, and m. 194-96). These are

usually accompanied by hairpin dynamic swells which climax at the completion of the cluster, as

in Example 4 where the cluster is built up in the woodwinds.

Fisch, Guernica by Picasso, 36-37.

Example 4, Small-scale “heap of destruction”, m. 35-37

Large scale buildups are also present and they are formed by a combination of adding

instrumentation and voices to a texture and increasing dynamics, which often end abruptly with a

return to a soft unison pitch (e.g. m. 14-34, and m. 42-61).

In his article “Materializing Film Music,” Miguel Mera argues that film scores using

materialized sound, such as Jonny Greenwood’s score for There Will Be Blood with its tone

clusters, glissandi, and aleatoric and extended instrumental techniques, 53 gives the audience a

strong, haptic connection to the film and encourages an empathetic connection with the

characters. In talking about a cue from There Will Be Blood, Mera writes,

We feel the massed weight of bows on strings and left-hand tension on the fingerboard as
the instrumentalists slide toward and away from the F# pitch centre. The sound moves
from a ‘noisy’ state towards pitched ‘purity’ and then back again…Through this process
we become aware of the physical nature of the sound source shifting between
materialized and dematerialized effects. The materialized sound, the noisy, dirty music,
makes its presence known, keeping us in a state of heightened tension. 54
Using these same techniques, Balada’s piece also makes us more aware of the source of these

sounds and increases the sense of dramatic tension, thereby enhancing the sense of horror and

grief. Mera argues that this creates “an empathetic mode” which helps us to understand the

emotions the characters in the film are feeling, 55 and I believe this similarly helps us to

empathize with the characters on Picasso’s canvas and brings us closer to them and what they are

experiencing within the world of the painting.

Ratio of Stasis and Movement

The two Guernicas also share the same ratio between stasis and movement. While it is

obvious that the painting contains no literal motion, several of its images suggest motion and

music being a temporal art can, in a sense, release that motion and latent energy through

ekphrasis. Fisch points out that the figures on the left third of the painting, namely the mother

Mera points out that Greenwood’s use of these techniques stems from the “enormous
influence” of Krzysztof Penderecki. Miguel Mera, “Materializing Film Music,” in The
Cambridge Companion to Film Music, eds. Mervyn Cooke and Fiona Ford (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2016), 162.
Mera, “Materializing Film Music,” 163.
Mera, 166.

with child, the bull, and the fallen warrior, all appear to be static, while nearly all the figures on

the right two thirds of the painting, the horse, the limping woman, the falling woman, and the

woman with the oil lamp, are all dynamic and seem to be frozen in motion. 56 Balada’s piece also

shows a 1:2 ratio of stasis to movement when comparing less active musical textures to more

active ones. According to my own analysis, 87 measures of the piece, exactly one third of the

261 total measures, have a low level of rhythmic energy or what I describe as being “static,”

while the remaining 174, exactly two thirds of the total, are “active” with a high level of

rhythmic energy.57 Table 1 shows the breakdown between static and active sections of the piece.

Table 1, Analysis of “static” and “active” textures in Leonard Balada’s Guernica

Measure 1-12 13-34 35- 42-60 61-66 67-139 140- 196- 256-
Numbers 41 195 255 61
Number of 12 22 7 19 6 73 56 60 6
in Section
Static or Static Active Static Active Static Active Static Active Static

Form and Symmetry

Picasso’s painting and Balada’s symphonic work also share corresponding formal

features. Both works give the impression of chaos and disorder, but upon closer examination

Fisch, Guernica by Picasso, 33.
While I have not used any objective criteria for determining what measures are
considered as having high or low rhythmic activity, I have broken down my analysis by measure
so that one can compare my analysis with the score itself. While many other reasonable
differences could be argued and various measures placed into the opposite category, I believe
that any plausible analysis will produce something close to a 1:2 ratio of stasis to movement in
the work.

reveal identifiable formal structures. 58 Fisch argues that the painting can be divided vertically

into “two almost equal halves,”59 the division of which is shown by the red line in Figure 2. At

the same time, both Fisch and Frank D. Russell point out the fact that the painting also follows

the form of the triptych, a medieval Christian altarpiece with a central panel flanked by two

smaller wings, and can be seen as a three-part form. 60 The three-part division is shown in Figure

2 by the blue lines.

Figure 2, Two and three-part form of Guernica by Pablo Picasso

(red line shows two-part division and blue lines show three-part division)

Russell supports his idea of a triptych by noticing the symmetrical features of the two outside

sections, which both show women with their heads turned up and mouths open, limbs at their

bottoms, and corresponding rectangular shapes, the bull’s head in the left section and the window

of the burning building in the right. 61 Fisch also adds that the jagged beams of light coming from

Fisch, 36.
Fisch, 36.
Fisch, 50, and Frank D. Russell, Picasso’s Guernica: The Labyrinth of Narrative and
Vision (Montclair, NJ: Allanheld & Schram, 1980), 91.
Russell, Picasso’s Guernica, 91-92.

the ceiling lamp resembles Christ’s crown of thorns, 62 and the woman holding the child creates a

kind of “pietà,” a depiction of Mary holding the crucified Christ’s body on her lap. 63

Balada’s piece can also be analyzed as having either a two and three-part formal

structure. As with the painting, the piece can be divided into two “almost equal halves” with a

small section (a”, m. 140-146) acting as both the end of the first part and the beginning of the

second. The first part is the larger of the two, spanning the first 146 measures, while the second

covers the final 122 measures (m. 140-261). Part one can be broken down into smaller sections

in an aba’cdea” form, as shown in Table 2.

Table 2, First part of Leonardo Balada’s Guernica as a two-part form, m. 1-146

Measures 1-13 14-34 35-41 42-53 54-81 82-139 140-146

Section a b a’ c d e (a”)
Description Unison Active, Unison Mostly Mostly Active, Unison
E, static, big E, static, active, active, march E,
small buildup small high pointillistic, feel static,
buildups buildups string staccato (in 7/8 small
clusters then in buildups
with 3/4)

The second half breaks down into a”c’d’e’b’a’’’ sectional scheme, as shown in Table 3.

Table 3, Second part of Leonardo Balada’s Guernica as a two-part form, m. 140-261

Measures 140-146 147-195 196-208 209-244 245-255 256-261

Section (a’’) c’ d’ e’ b’ a’’’

Description Unison E, Static, high Active, Active, Active, Unison E,

static, string pointillistic, March big “cool static,
small clusters with staccato feel in down” small
buildups outbursts 3/4 buildups

Fisch, Guernica by Picasso, 49.
Fisch, 50.

In comparing the two halves, we see that they are nearly mirror images of each other, and the

“big buildup” of section b becomes a big “cool down” in b’. While no sections are literally

repeated, the defining features of each section remains, hence why “prime” sections are used in

the formal analysis. The sections of the second part are the same as the first except presented in

reverse order, with the exception of sections c and e which are flipped. Additionally, there is no

third a section in the middle of the second part as there is in the first. Both halves are bookended

by a sections.

When viewed as a three-part structure, Balada’s piece can be understood as an ABA’

form with a large part B and smaller A sections surrounding it, just as in the triptych model that

Picasso’s painting follows. In terms of length, the opening A part consists of 41 measures (m. 1-

41), the B part consists of 203 measures (m. 42-244), and the final A’ part is 17 measures long

(m. 245-61). The first A part breaks down into a smaller aba’ form as shown in Table 4.

Table 4, Part A of Leonardo Balada’s Guernica as a three-part form, m. 1-41

Measures 1-13 14-34 35-41

Section a b a’
Description Unison E, static, Active, big buildup Unison E, static,
small buildups small buildups

The large central B part can be analyzed as containing a cdea”c’d’e’ form, shown in Table 5.

Table 5, Part B of Leonardo Balada’s Guernica as a three-part form, m. 42-244

Measures 42-53 54-81 82-139 140-146 147-195 196-208 209-

Section c d e a’’ c’ d’ e’

Description Mostly Mostly Active, Unison Static, Active, Active,

active, active, march E, high pointillistic, march
high pointillistic, feel (in static, string Staccato in 3/4
string staccato 7/8 small clusters
clusters then in buildups with
with 3/4) outbursts

Finally, part A’ contains just two sections, b’ and a’’’, as shown in Table 6.

Table 6, Part A’ of Leonardo Balada’s Guernica as a three-part form, m. 245-61

Measures 245-255 256-261

Section b’ a’’’

Description Active, big “settle down” Unison E, static, small buildups

There are also corresponding symmetrical aspects between the two works. In the bottom

corners of the painting lie limbs, the left arm of the fallen warrior in the left corner and the left

leg of the limping woman in the right corner. Corresponding with this is the fact that Balada’s

piece begins with a unison low E in the low strings (see Example 5) and ends with another E, this

time in a middle register in the first trumpet and preceded by a low E in the trombones (see

Example 6).

Example 5, Unison low E at beginning, m. 1-7


Example 6, Middle register E at the end, m. 253-61

Other Plausible Representational Elements

Beyond what has already been discussed, there are several additional representational

elements of the painting that are plausibly depicted in the music. One of these is the ceiling lamp

of Picasso’s painting. Fisch argues that Picasso intended his painting to be read from right to left

and that there is an intentional time-sequence and series of events that are depicted when read in

this direction.64 Fisch also points out the fact that the ceiling lamp is placed at the Golden

Section, which is approximately 62% of the way through the painting when read from right to

left.65 Interestingly, at the Golden Section of Balada’s work is a passage dominated by a

Fisch, 35.
Fisch, 38.

dissonant cluster of high string harmonics whose high and clear pitches lacking vibrato suggest

the harsh beams of light being emitted by the ceiling lamp over the figures of the painting. This

cluster begins to be built up one note at a time in m. 147, which is 56% of the way through the

piece’s 261 measures. Here each pitch is played by only a single instrument, culminating in

thirteen string instruments playing thirteen notes in m. 152 (approximately 58% of the way

through the piece.) This is shown in Example 7.

Example 7, “Ceiling Lamp,” m. 147-52 (strings only)

After all but two instruments cut out leaving octave “E”s, the cluster quickly builds up again in

m. 156-57 (approximately 60% of the way through the piece) with the full string section now so

that several instruments play each note of the cluster. Again the cluster disappears leaving just

two notes, this time creating octave “C”s. The cluster then reappears again on the downbeat of

m. 161, which is almost exactly the Golden Section marker of the piece (approximately 62% of

the way through,) and this cluster is held until m. 169 (approximately 65% of the way through)

when the pitches begin to slide away as the players are instructed to add slow glissandi ad lib.

which creates the screaming or crying effect shown in Example 1 above.


In the bottom center of the painting, the severed arm of the fallen warrior lies on the

ground with his hand clutching a broken sword as well as what appears to be a tiny flower. Fisch

calls this flower “undoubtedly a symbol of hope and life for the Spanish Republic,” 66 and it

seems to be the only small glimmer of hope in this painting amidst so much death and carnage.

Similarly, Balada’s piece is dominated by dissonant harmonies throughout with the exception of

m. 54 in which a very brief F major triad, the only traditional harmony in the entire piece,

suddenly emerges. The brevity of this consonant harmony parallels the minuteness of the flower

in the painting, suggesting the triad may be representing the flower. In addition to both being

very small in comparison to the rest of the work they are a part of and antithetical to the

prevailing mood surrounding them, both are presented in less than clear ways and are easily

missed. As seen in Figure 3, the flower looks almost transparent and appears to be just an

outline with its petals nearly the same shade of grey as the background it is set against.

Figure 3, “Flower” in Guernica by Pablo Picasso

Likewise, the triad is not clearly presented because it is rhythmically fragmented. While the

violins do sustain the root and fifth of the chord, the other strings have quick bursts of these

pitches in one or two sixteenth-notes, as seen in Example 8. Meanwhile, the third of the triad,

Fisch, 45.

the A, is only played by the brass instruments and almost always as staccato eighth-notes

jumping around between several different registers. At performance tempo, this measure lasts

only about two to three seconds, just a blip in a piece that lasts about eleven minutes. 67

Example 8, “Flower”, m. 54 (brass, percussion, and strings only)

Picasso’s painting is filled with different kinds of spikes, and these are also suggested in

the music. As seen in Figure 1, spikes include the beams of light being emitted from the ceiling

lamp, the nipples of the woman holding the oil lamp, the tongues of the horse and the woman

The timings of the two commercial recordings of the work are 11’01” (Louisville
Orchestra) and 11’23” (Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia National Orchestra).

holding the child, the ears of the bull, the broken sword, a broken stick, and the flames on the

building as well as those next to the falling woman. These spikes are reflected in the overall

dissonant nature and thorny harmonic language of the music as well as in musical textures that

are angular and spikey, such as the jagged melodic lines in Example 3, or most clearly in two

pointillistic sections, m. 54-76 and m. 196-208, where a series of disjunct staccato eighth-notes

are passed around the orchestra in a hocket-like fashion. An excerpt of the first of these sections

is shown in Example 9.

Example 9, “Spikes” in pointillistic texture, m. 64-69

(woodwinds, brass, and percussion only)


The Influence of Surrealism and Role of Intuition

The influence of Surrealism in both works is another connection. Surrealism is an artistic

movement that is defined as “the principles, ideals, or practice of producing fantastic or

incongruous imagery or effects in art, literature, film or theater by means of unnatural or

irrational juxtapositions and combinations.”68 Although he denied being a Surrealist, Ellen

Oppler argues that “the Surrealist poets and their ideas affected Picasso profoundly during the

Guernica decade,” and that he “wrote Surrealist poetry in the best stream-of-consciousness

manner—colorful words, evocative phrases, and incongruous metaphors are strung together

without interrupting punctuation.”69

While Picasso didn’t openly embrace Surrealism as an influence, Balada is explicit about

how deeply Surrealism has influenced his music. He states,

I use a kind of Surrealism. Things move, they change, the shape changes. I think it’s
some of the influence of Salvador Dali. You begin like this and it evolves to something
else like that, the sense of going to something else, how it goes someplace else, and what
is this something else. That is very important for my development of music and
harmonies and everything, and that I think is one of the things that is more characteristic
of my music, and as I say Salvador Dali had something to do with that too. 70

Additionally, a doctoral dissertation has recently been written specifically on the influence of

Surrealism on Balada’s music.71

While it may not have resulted in any direct corresponding features between the painting

and music (and there may be no way to know if it did), it is interesting to note a striking

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. (2003), s.v. “surrealism.”
Oppler, Picasso’s Guernica, 110.
(Leonardo Balada, personal communication, Dec. 8, 2018)
Ivan I. Ivanov, “Leonardo Balada and Surrealism in Music.”

correlation between the Picasso’s and Balada’s creative processes in producing their respective

Guernicas, which is the rapid speed at which they completed their works and the role intuition

appears to have played in that process. Just three days after hearing news of the bombing of

Guernica, “Picasso began working in a furious burst of creativity: six sketches in one day.” 72 All

forty-eight preliminary studies were completed in just ten days, 73 and he completed the work in

just over a month’s time.74 Balada also completed his piece very quickly, “in two weeks with the

brevity of a bullet shot”75 during a vacation from teaching at a high school in New York City.

The fact that both these large works were conceived of and written in such a short amount of

time suggests that they made many of the thousands of small artistic decisions quickly while

relying on their intuition and instinct.


When viewed as a musical ekphrasis, Leonardo Balada’s Guernica reveals more

connections to Pablo Picasso’s painting of the same name than even the composer himself was

conscious of. These include correlations between the works’ formal structures, the ratio of stasis

and movement, and musical depictions of various images in the painting, including the ceiling

lamp, the flower, spikes, and the screams and cries of the various characters. Additionally, both

artworks strongly suggest the emotions associated with the bombing of Guernica, including

horror, grief, fear, and sorrow, and even share the common influence of Surrealism and how

Oppler, Picasso’s Guernica, 57.
Blunt, Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, 13.
Blunt, 9.
Balada, Leonardo Balada: Guernica, liner notes, 2.

intuition appears to have played a role in their creative processes. By transmedializing Picasso’s

masterpiece, Balada has in fact created his own masterpiece in music.



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