El cant dels ocells

Program Notes:

The hauntingly beautiful El Cant dels Ocells is one of Catalonia’s most famous melodies. Made popular by the celebrated cellist Pau [Pablo] Casals, this Christmas song tells the tale of the linnet and the thrush who praised the Divine Infant’s birth with their song. The arranger was, for several years, choir master at the Montserrat Monastery outside Barcelona, for which choir and acoustic he wrote this arrangement.

Conductor Notes:

SSSAAA divisi a cappella with soprano solo. This slow, almost mystical arrangement features elements we expect in Bernat’s beautiful choral music – sustained, shimmering chords and long lines. Verse 1 is a soprano solo; verse 2 is in 3-parts, broad and clear with a short passage at the end where the sopranos ascend above the melody; verse 3 is the one he describes below as “gray”, in which he layers sustained, subtly-changing chords in close harmony under the melody. The piece ends with a repetition of verse 2. The altos are called on to sing very low in this piece. While not in the score, I took the liberty of adding whistling birdsong by a singer before the soprano started. As the final few bars began, she and another singer started the birdsongs again – this time answering one another and extending about five seconds beyond the end of the singing. I wanted to have listeners wonder why we were doing that, and read the English translation in the program!

Composer / Arranger Notes:

“El cant dels ocells” is one of the best-loved of all Catalan popular songs. This harmonisation differs from the more traditional versions employing a neutral modal language that never disfigures the ever-present major melody, surrounded by a constant, uniform aura of sound. The melody, presented by a soloist, gives way to a simple lineal pattern for three voices and finishes with a fuller, slightly gray atmosphere.

Below is a pronunciation recording by our friend Bernat Vivancos, whose surname Elektra singers use instead of “Cheers” whenever we are out for a drink!


This lists any discs, concerts or collections where this piece is included.




Seeing the rise
of the brightest light,
in the most elated
night; the birds,
go to celebrate,
with delicate voices.

The linnet was singing:
“Oh! How beautiful and
lovely is the Child of
Mary!” and the merry
thrush says “Death is
defeated.  My life is