14. Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda was the pen name and, later, legal name of the Chilean poet-diplomat and politician Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto (July 12, 1904 – September 23, 1973). He derived his pen name from the Czech poet Jan Neruda. Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.

Neruda became known as a poet when he was 10 years old. He wrote in a variety of styles, including surrealist poems, historical epics, overtly political manifestos, a prose autobiography, and passionate love poems such as the ones in his collection Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924). He often wrote in green ink, which was his personal symbol for desire and hope.

The Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez once called Neruda “the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language.” Harold Bloom included Neruda as one of the 26 writers central to the Western tradition in his book The Western Canon.

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Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda. Artist: Alejandro Cabeza

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Canto General, Pablo Neruda and Mikis Theodorakis

Canto General is an epic poem about the South American continent, its nature, its people, its historical destiny. It was published in Mexico in 1950, and – underground, because Neruda was in political exile — in Chile. Within a short time, it was translated into ten languages.

Mikis Theodorakis discovered Neruda’s Canto General while in exile in 1971, on a concert-tour in Chile at the invitation of president Salvador Allende. Theodorakis said of the epic poem that it is “a gospel of our time.” Theodorakis’s musical setting of 13 parts of the great poem by Neruda has given us one of the major choral works of the latter half of the 20th century.

Theodorakis was to premiere the first seven parts of his musical setting of Canto General in Chile in September 1973, in the stadium of Santiago. But on September 11 –- ironic date — the military junta under Pinochet overthrew and assassinated Salvador Allende. Instead of the scheduled concert, the stadium was used for imprisoning Allende’s supporters, and was the scene of the torture and murder of the populist Chilean singer Victor Jara.

Two years later, when the Greek dictatorship had fallen, Theodorakis gave the first performance of Canto General in his native Greece.

On hearing of Neruda’s death, Theodorakis added one more section to the music: a Requiem, sung in Greek, in honor of Neruda. And he promised to play at least one part of the Canto General in each of his popular concerts until Chile’s liberation from the Pinochet dictatorship.

In 1993, Theodorakis could at last conduct his score in Chile and pay homage at the tomb of Pablo Neruda. Source