Sometimes a piece of music tells a story. Other times, it is part of a story, told in a musical. But, sometimes the story is what the song inspires. In 1913 Peru, as part of a musical “El cóndor pasa” (The condor passes) an instrumental piece of the same name was written. The play told how a group of miners gain the hope of better working conditions by the deaths (murders) of their bosses. It was the last piece of music in the play and accompanied a wedding procession of all but the miners who had no time off work. At the end of the musical, cóndors, long absent, return to the area. The miners see this as a sign for better days ahead.
This piece was at one time thought to be an Andean folk song, but it really was composed by Daniel Alomía-Robles for the play, based on traditional songs with an early set of Quechua words. Quechua is a native Andean language. It was scored for an orchestra, but it’s most famous renditions use Andean flutes or Pan Pipes. This gives it an airy sound, like wind over the mountain tops. There are over 400 versions, at least 300 have lyrics, each one different. It has become so popular, it is now considered a second Peruvian national anthem. I suppose that makes it a song for folks.
One set of lyrics was written in 1965 by American artist Paul Simon. He heard the tune in Paris, performed by the band Los Incas. He asked the band for permission to include the piece in his next album. They told him the music was a folk tune, but that the arrangement was their director’s. Jorge Milchberg stated he was a registered co-author because he added two notes and therefore could collect royalties. So, the Simon and Garfunkel album did not list Robles as the composer.
In 1970 Peruvian filmmaker Armando Robles-Godoy, Alomía-Robles’ son, took Simon to court over copyright infringement. His father had copyrighted the music in the U.S.A. in 1933. The lawsuit ended amicably as Robles-Godoy recognized that it was an honest mistake brought on by a misunderstanding. Today the album lists Alomía-Robles, Milchberg and Simon as composers with Simon as lyricist.
Google Youtube El cóndor pasa sometime. I’d add a link, but there are way too many wonderful choices. Find the one you like.
I found the Quechua words at this site: http://www.allthelyrics.com/forum/showthread.php?t=92041 with a translation at entered by a user named citlalli.
Yaw kuntur llaqtay urqupi tiyaq
apallaway llaqtanchikman, wasinchikman
chay chiri urqupi, kutiytam munani,
Qusqu llaqtapim plazachallanpim
Machu Piqchupi Wayna Piqchupi
English translation based on the Spanish translation of the original:
Oh majestuoso Cóndor de los Andes,
Oh majestic condor of the Andes
llévame, a mi hogar, en los Andes,
take me home, in the Andes,
Quiero volver a mi tierra querida y vivir
I want to go back to my beloved land and live
con mis hermanos Incas, que es lo que más añoro
with my Inca brothers, this is what I yearn for most
En el Cusco, en la plaza principal,
In Cusco, at the main square
wait for me
para que a Machu Picchu y Huayna Picchu
vayamos a pasear.
so that we can go for a stroll
in Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu