Little-known outside the Philippines, and if this recital is anything to go by, undeservedly so, kundiman is a form of traditional Filipino love song that was developed into art song in the early 20th century, in particular by Filipino composers Francisco Santiago (1889-1947) and Nicanor Abelardo (1893-1934).
Sometimes recitals are revelatory; soprano Stefanie Quintin, ably and subtly accompanied on the guitar by Ivar-Nicholas Fojas, rendered several examples of kundiman as concert pieces of both expressive beauty and vocal depth. Aside from the language, they can sound familiar, reminiscent of works from Spain and Latin America of about the same period.
There seem to be several theories as to origin of the term kundiman; the most appealing is that it comes from the Tagalog phrase “kung hindi man” or “if it were not so”.https://ir.uiowa.edu/etd/1821/ The form, as Quintin helpfully explained, starts in a minor key, and finishing in a major key.
The most familiar piece, seems—again, if this selection is anything to go by—perhaps the least typical: Dahil Sa’yo has been picked up and sung around the world, including by such worthies as Nat King Cole. Possibly the most sophisticated, and certainly the most touching, was Abelardo’s 1926 Mutya ng Pasig (The Maiden—or Muse—of Pasig) about a lovelorn woman who rises from the waters of the river; the song inspired a film a quarter-century later.
Quintin’s al fresco recital at the Asia Society Lippo Amphitheatre was combined with (mostly Filipino) choral music performed by the Coro D’Llera Music Ministry.
Peter Gordon is editor of the Asian Review of Books.
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