Daniel Catan

Daniel Catan, composer (1949-2011)

Daniel Catan was born in Mexico City of Russian Sephardic Jewish descent. He studied philosophy and music in England before earning a Ph.D. in Music Composition and Theory at Princeton University. Aside from his music compositions, Catan published many articles on music and the arts in the most prominent literary journals of Mexico. Two of his operas enjoyed critical acclaim in the U. S. – Rappaccini’s Daughter in San Diego (1994) and Florencia en el Amazonas in Houston ((1996). In 2000, Catan received a Guggenheim Fellowship Award. His fourth opera, Il Postino, was commissioned by Los Angeles Opera and premiered in Los Angeles, Vienna and Paris in 2011 featuring Plácido Domingo. He also wrote concert music including symphonies, as well as film and television scores. Catán died peacefully in his sleep at 62 years of age on April 8, 2011, in Austin, Texas, a few days after he attended rehearsals for Il Postino at the Moores Opera Center at the University of Houston. Catan had no known illness when he died. At the time of his death, Catán was a member of the faculty at College of the Canyons and had been commissioned by the Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music at the University of Texas at Austin to write a new opera, Meet John Doe.
(from liner notes of Rappaccini’s Daughter, Wikipedia Encyclopedia, & Music Sales Classical)

Obsidian Butterfly

In Aztec mythology, Ītzpāpālōtl [iːt͡spaːˈpaːlot͡ɬ] ("Obsidian Butterfly") was a fearsome skeletal warrior goddess who ruled over the paradise world of Tamoanchan, the paradise of victims of infant mortality and the place identified as where humans were created. She is the mother of Mixcoatl and is particularly associated with the moth Rothschildia orizaba from the family Saturniidae. Some of her associations include birds and fire. Her nagual (pronounced na'wall - which means a human being who has the power to transform either spiritually or physically into an animal form through the process of shape-shifting) was a deer.

Itzpapalotl's name can either mean "obsidian butterfly" or "clawed butterfly", the latter meaning seems most likely. It's quite possible that clawed butterfly refers to the bat and in some instances Itzpapalotl is depicted with bat wings. However, she can also appear with clear butterfly or eagle attributes. Her wings are obsidian or tecpatl (flint) knife tipped. (In the Manuscript of 1558, Itzpapalotl is described as having "blossomed into the white flint, and they took the white and wrapped it in a bundle.") She could appear in the form of a beautiful, seductive woman or terrible goddess with a skeletal head and butterfly wings supplied with stone blades.

“Some poems have music in them. Obsidian Butterfly is one of them. A goddess speaks to us with images of fire; she recalls a remote past, idyllic, continuous in its sense of time, unbroken; she describes the fractured present, angular, nervous, dissonant; she then speaks of the future, and when she does, she whispers in our ear. Each time suggests music of its own. Music is, after all, the sound that time makes as it passes, sometimes it moves slowly and anxiously, at other times fluently, like a waterfall; it can be muffles and sometimes somber, and it can glitter.”

“The most interesting aspect of the poem, however, is that the extreme worlds the goddess describes are finally seen, not as disconnected and opposed to one another, but as parts of a complex and organic unity. The transition from tragedy to sensuality, for example, is a transformation and not a displacement. New life emerges from the wound itself. But  just as tragedy always contains the seeds that lead to life, so new life retains within itself the wound that leads to death.”

Daniel Catan

Obsidian Butterfly (a poem by Octavio Paz)

Beginning in the 16th century, the pagan goddesses of Meso-America were fused in the cult which worshiped the Virgin of Guadalupe.

This piece is sung in Spanish. It is in two parts, the first is for soprano and orchestra. The second part, which ends the work, features a choral and orchestral ending. Only the first part is presented here. Initially, read the text of the piece below to get an idea of the message being sung. Then, for best listening, forget the text and notice the changing nuances of the soprano voice as well as the various orchestral textures.

Click here to download the text of the Octavio Paz poem which Catan used in the composition.

Composer: Daniel Catan
"Obsidian Butterfly" (Part 1) (20:14)
Mexico City Philharmonic Orchestra
Eduardo Diazmunoz, conductor
NAXOS 8.557034

Please allow a few moments for each the song to begin playing. This time may vary depending on your internet connection.