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ClassicsOnline Home » ABRIL: Piano Concerto / Hemeroscopium / 3 Sonatas for Orchestra
Abril (b. 1933)
Foundation Spanish Music Prize
Guerrero created the Foundation which bears his name and that of his
illustrious brother, the composer Jacinto Guerrero, he wished to see its
principal efforts put to fostering Spain's musical heritage, without in any way
ignoring the need to nurture music's other facets. Competitions and awards for
interpretation, such as the Infanta Cristina guitar prize, already in its tenth
year, and those for piano, singing and so forth, have by now not only become
well established but have indeed led to the rise of a new group of
talented" interpretative artists, from Spain and abroad.
however, ever mindful of the fact that it is the creator who is the cornerstone
of music (or any other artistic activity) and convinced that in Spain there
were no prizes for composers comparable in terms of endowment and prestige to
those for literature and art, decided four years ago to create a Spanish Music
Prize to be awarded annually to a Spanish composer for his work as a whole.
Candidates thought eligible are proposed by a variety of institutions and
individuals and the Prize is awarded by a jury that is totally independent of
the Foundation. The Prize went to Joaquin Rodrigo in 1991, to Xavier I
Montsalvatge in 1992, to Anton Garcia Abril in 1993 and, most recently, to i
Crist6bal Halffter in 1994. Since the best service one can do a composer is to
see that his music is played, as from 1993 the Foundation has, in addition to
the prize-money it sponsors, dedicated an entire concert to the prize winners.
The second in this series of concerts afforded us the opportunity of hearing a
well- chosen anthology of maestro Garcia Abril's work and so enjoying
the great contribution he has made to our musical heritage.
A recording of the
first of these concerts has already been released. We now present the second in
the series, so that in this way a living testimony to Spain's
creative musical output will gradually be created.
ABRIL IN HIS MATURITY
The award of the
3rd Jacinto & Inocencio Guerrero Foundation Prize to Anton Garcia Abril, in
the very year when the composer turned sixty , has forced us all to reflect on
his place in the history of Spanish music. To reflect, that is, on some kind of
balance, though happily not a final one, since Garcia Abril is a hard- working
artist and one can only hope and trust that his already lengthy catalogue will
see the addition of works of the same superb calibre as those he has composed
The concert to
mark the Guerrero Prize, held at the National Music Auditorium on 10th December
1994 and captured live on this recording, was intelligently planned with the
aim of providing this hypothetical balance. Three orchestral works (one, a
concertante), drawn from different periods, clearly highlighted both the inner
essence of Garcia Abril's art as well as the variations in approach adopted
during the course of his long and fruitful career.
history of European music, one of the most normal ways of composing has been to
build on pieces from earlier or even contemporary periods: music overlaid on
music. Polyphony was in fact born out of melodic ideas rooted in plainsong, and
concrete techniques such as the gloss, variation, parody, paraphrase and so on
began as autonomous musical forms applied to vocal and instrumental aspects
alike. Entire movements, such as musical nationalism, the so-called epoca de
los retornos (literally, "time of return") or the neo-classicism
of this century all stemmed from some earlier beginning, traceable not only to
the popular but also the loftier realms of culture.
It is this context
that shaped the first of the works in this concert, the Three Sonatas tor
orchestra (1984), which, in the score published by Bolamar, is credited to
two composers, Soler-Garcia Abril. The pieces come from a ballet, Danza y
tronio (Dance and Swagger), first performed in Zaragoza in the same year by the Spanish National Ballet. In this ballet,
Garcia Abril recreated the Madrid of the second half of the eighteenth century,
using works by Boccherini and Father Soler interlaced with his own
compositions. Some episodes were subsequently hived off from the ballet and now
lead independent lives as the Introduction and Fandango (Boccherini) or,
as in this case, the Three Sonatas for orchestra, first heard as a work
in its own right in 1991 when played by the Madrid Symphony Orchestra conducted
by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos.
What we have here,
then, is an orchestration of three sonatas or fragments of Soler sonatas
written for clavichord, namely, numbers SR 66 (second movement in C major), SR
117 in D minor and SR 81 in G minor (needless to say, SR refers to Samuel
Rubio, who catalogued and edited the works). In other words, these are
essentially the musical ideas of the EI Escorial Jeronymite friar as selected
and orchestrated by Garcia Abril: music overlaid on music, with an intervening
gap of over two hundred years.
The matter is not
quite as simple as that, however, since Garcia Abril does not restrict himse1f
to merely orchestrating, but rather reads and takes decisions with respect to
the original from the standpoint of a twentieth-century composer. This is
identical to what Samuel Rubio did, though in his case from the point of view
of a musicologist. The scientist must endeavour to reconstruct the composer's
original thought pattern from documentary evidence. The composer, however, is not
fettered in this way and therein lies his greater freedom to manoeuvre. A
straightforward comparison between Rubio's score and that of Garcia Abril
suffices to bear this out: Rubio, for instance, remains faithful to the
original mode (Dorian transposed to G, with B flat in the key- signature)
whereas Garcia Abril, seeing the music from a modem angle, reads a G minor
(with B flat and E flat in the key-signature); Rubio maintains asymmetries in
periods which are very similar, while Garcia Abril unifies by adding a
time-signature on at least three different occasions; Rubio reads the
descending G-F-E-D four-note, at times in F sharp and E natural, and at others
in F natural and E flat, whereas Garcia Abril always opts for the latter
solution; and so it is with a number of other minutiae. Minutiae? Not to my
mind. Indeed, all this is the result of a painstaking reading, of a modem
revamping of Father Soler's message, of a fertile dialogue between two
creators, showing respect for the essential yet differing as to what might
cause the discourse to age when transposed to another sound context: let it be
stressed here that at no point does the modern orchestra, albeit limited in
timbre, seek to recreate its eighteenth- century counterpart.
Hemeroscopium, the following work on the programme, and Concerto
for piano and orchestra confront composer and audience alike with an
approach that is different, though not radically so, from that adopted above:
in both instances, the works involve reflection on earlier pieces, yet in this
particular case the earlier work happens to be the composer's own. This is
something many a composer has done over the years, whether in order to take the
decision to maintain the original intact with slight reworkings (as is the case
of Hemeroscopium, a work which, though written between 1969 and 1972,
the year of its first performance by the Radiotelevisi6n Espaftola Symphony
Orchestra under the baton of Enrique Garcia Asensio, has been published by
Bolamar only now in 1995), or whether in order to carry out a thorough,
in-depth revision (as is the case of the 1966 Concerto, first performed
by Esteban Sanchez with Garcia Asensio and the selfsame orchestra in 1967).
Both double as
symphonic works as well as concertantes, though Hemeroscopium is a
concerto for orchestra and the Concerto, for piano and orchestra. The
symphonic element is clearly perceptible in the physical composition of the
orchestra, with a far greater number of musicians being employed than for the Sonatas
and with numerous divisi passages in the strings.
Not only is Hemeroscopium
Garcia Abril's first grand orchestral work, it is also something akin to a
personal manifesto. A devotee in his youth of pronouncedly reformist groups
(1958, Grupo Nueva Musica de Madrid, along with Barce, Cristobal
Halffter and Luis de Pablo among others) and, thanks to a Juan March Foundation
Scholarship, a student in Rome able to delve into the inner workings of new
music, ranging from dodecaphonism right across to electro-acoustics, Garcia
Abril absorbed all he felt to be of use and proceeded to craft a work-cum-resume
clearly in sympathy with neo-tonal movements (“figurative” would be the word if
one were talking of a painter), thereby breaking free of all manner of
prejudice. This stance was thenceforth to earn him the label of conservative,
but at this distance one cannot even begin to imagine the sheer courage it took
to stand up to the kind of aesthetic dictatorship that had become
quasi-official throughout Europe, including Spain during the latter years of
the Franco era. Hence, a tinge of melancholy sarcasm is unavoidable on hearing
some of the recent neo-consonant works put out by some of those very composers
who in the past positively vilified music of this kind. Hemeroscopium (literally,
watch-tower or look-out surveying the day) comes of contemplation of Javea, of
words and paintings depicting that region, and of the conviction that the so-called
traditional aesthetic espoused by this century's maestros still had
something to say. In this piece, set in three parts (Andante, Moderato and
Al1egro) yet in a single movement, Garcia Abril gives a display of his total
mastery of orchestral families, of the timbre and colour of both massed and
individual components, al1 at the service of minute elements, coupled with an
enormous range of resources deployed to vary and develop these. Although a
manifesto, it is also an exercise, a large-scale study piece for orchestra,
containing images of Debussy, Bart6k, Ernesto Halffter and Petrussi (his personal
mentor): points of coincidence (common threads) certainly, a copy never. It is
a work that is absolutely personal, the composer's style chemical1y pure. Thus,
apart from some tiny details, the work has been released exactly as played on
the first night, and it has undeniably improved with time. This is why it is
universal1y agreed that keeping it in its present form was the right decision.
In contrast, the Concerto
for piano and orchestra, a work dating from 1966, underwent ample revision
and restructuring in the 1994 version premiered by Guil1ermo Gonzalez at that
year's Granada Festival. The original, now withdrawn from circulation, was
Garcia Abril's first experience in the world of the concertante, a world to
which he has since successful1y returned on several occasions. The composer, a
pianist himself with major piano solos to his credit before and after the Concerto,
decided to pour into this latter work al1 the experience of a career
spanning close on thirty years. As a musicologist, my only regret is that the
original must needs disappear, thereby depriving some future researcher of the
chance to take a detailed look at two moments in the history of a composer as
seen through a single work. If my somewhat hazy memories serve me well, the
musical ideas are the same, and so the title continues to refer to the only Concerto
for piano and orchestra written by the composer. In particular, the
revision affects the orchestration, now wiser and more imaginative, and the
role of the soloist, entrusted with new cadences and passages affording
enhanced potential for bravura. The dialogue traced by Garcia Abrilover the
underlay of his youth has resulted in a work that is new and yet infused with
that erstwhile freshness which time has gradually mellowed. This mix of
youthful dash and mature wisdom does not inevitably ensure good results but
when, as on this occasion, such results are achieved, it converts a work
into something that comes within a hair's-breadth of perfection. Here before
us, we have one of the best Spanish piano concertos of the century and, like Hemeroscopium,
it is a work that is bound to grow and improve with the years.
1933: Born in Teruel on 19th May.
1952-1955: studied at the Madrid Royal Conservatory
of Music under Julio
Gomez and Francisco Cales, and at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena under
Vito Frazzi (composition), Paul van Kempen (orchestral conducting) and Angelo
Francesco Lavagnino (cinema soundtrack music).
1958: As a tribute to the critic, Enrique Franco, founded
the Nueva Musica group in Madrid together with Ram6n Barce, Alberto
Blancafort, Manuel Carra, Fernando Ember, Crist6bal Halffter, Manuel
Moreno-Buendia and Luis de Pablo.
1964: studied at the Santa Cecilia National Academy in Rome under Goffredo Petrassi, on a scholarship from the
Juan March Foundation in Madrid.
1965: Tormo de Plata Prize on the occasion of the IV Cuenca
Religious Music Week for Cantico delle creature.
With Luis de Pablo and Crist6bal Halffter, represented Spain at the 39th International Festival held by the
International Contemporary Music society (SIMC) in Madrid.
1974: Lecturer in Musical Composition and Form
at the Madrid Royal Conservatory of Music.
1979: Ministry of Culture Prize for the Hispavox
recording of Concierto aguediano.
1981: Ministry of Culture's Andres Segovia
Composition Prize for Evocaciones.
Cross of San Jorge (St. George) awarded by the Teruel Provincial
1982: Elected member of the San Fernando Royal
Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid.
1983: Favourite San of Teruel.
Delivery of lecture to mark investiture as a member of the San Fernando
Royal Academy of Fine Arts, entitled Defensa de fa melodfa (In defence
1985: Tomas Breton medal from the Association of
Spanish Authors and Artists.
1986: Following an international symposium held to discuss
the figure of Valle-Inclan, was commissioned by the National Institute of
Dramatic Arts and Music (INAEM) to write an opera based on Divinas pulabras,
to be premiered at the Teatro Real in Madrid
after completion of its reconversion into an opera house.
1988: Participated in the International Contemporary Music
Festival, Festival of Peace, held in Leningrad.
Seat on the Ministry of Culture Board of Cultural Affairs.
1989: Participated in the Hispano-soviet
Festival held in Georgia.
1993: Aragon Regional
Authority Medal for Cultural Merit.
National Music Prize.
Guerrero Foundation Spanish Music Prize.
Publication of his biography Anton Garcia Abril. Sonidos en libertad
written by Fernando J. Cabanas and published by the Complutensis Institute
for Musical Sciences (ICCMU).
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ABRIL: Piano Concerto / Hemeroscopium / 3 Sonatas ...