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ClassicsOnline Home » GURIDI, J.: String Quartets (Complete) (Breton String Quartet)
Jesús Guridi was one of a number of composers born in the last quarter of the 19th century, who also included Joaquín Turina and Manuel de Falla, driven by a desire to create and promote Spanish music with a genuinely national identity. With their authentic folk-tinged atmosphere, Guridi’s two string quartets follow his foremost philosophical concern of creating beautiful works of art, with their moments of modal serenity and richly diverse sophistication. Guridi’s masterpiece Ten Basque Melodies can be heard on Naxos 8.557110, his zarzuela El caserío on 8.557632, the Sinfonía pirenaica on 8.557631, and his opera Amaya on Marco Polo 8.225084–85.
Jesús Guridi (1886–1961)
String Quartets Nos 1 and 2
Jesús Guridi was born into a musical family and, after beginning his music education in Madrid and Bilbao, travelled to Paris to study at the Schola Cantorum with Auguste Sérieyx, Abel Decaux and Vincent d’Indy. He continued his training with Joseph Jongen in Brussels and Otto Neitzel in Cologne, returning to Spain at the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, armed with a solid grounding in music, to become part of Bilbao’s lively cultural and artistic scene which was flourishing at the time, thanks to support from the city’s increasingly wealthy and influential industrial and mercantile classes. It was at this time that he first tried his hand at writing a string quartet but, unhappy with the results, he destroyed the work and only returned to the genre a quarter of a century later, when he was almost fifty. Guridi spent three decades in Bilbao, working as an organist, lecturer in organ and harmony, conductor of the city’s Choral Society, scholar of Basque folk music and, of course, composer. This period saw the creation of his most successful stage works, Mirentxu (1910) and Amaya (1920) (Marco Polo 8.225084–85), both part of the movement to establish a native Basque opera tradition; the zarzuelas El caserío (1926) (Naxos 8.557632) and La meiga (1928); Así cantan los chicos (1909), for chorus and orchestra; the symphonic poems Una aventura de Don Quijote (1916) and En un barco fenicio (1927); and the String Quartet in G (1933). In 1939, at the end of the Civil War, Guridi took up a lectureship in harmony at the Conservatory of Madrid, becoming its director in 1955. The work seen as his great masterpiece, Diez melodías vascas (1940) (8.557110), dates from his time in Madrid, as do the Sinfonía pirenaica (1945) (8.557631), the piano concerto entitled Fantasía en homenaje a Walt Disney (1956), the Second Quartet in A minor (1949) and a number of zarzuelas, although none of the latter achieved the success of his earlier works in the genre. In 1947 he was made a member of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando.
Above and beyond any arguments about the relevance of the historiographical concept of “generations”, we can place Guridi firmly in what has been labelled the “Generation of the Maestros”, alongside Conrado del Campo, Óscar Esplá, Julio Gómez, Joaquín Turina and Manuel de Falla, all of whom were driven by the desire to create and promote Spanish music with a genuinely national identity. At the turn of the twentieth century, chamber music experienced a surge in popularity in Spain—this can be seen as a consequence of the formation of a number of philharmonic societies and permanent ensembles, but it was also part of the broader context of a gradual leaning towards instrumental genres and away from the theatrical music which had totally dominated Spanish music during the 1800s, although zarzuela remained the most popular form of public entertainment. Nevertheless, the new philharmonic societies favoured both ensembles and music from abroad, forcing Spanish quartets to organise their own concert seasons, in which they played both the standard repertoire and new works by Spanish composers such as Ruperto Chapí, Tomás Bretón, Conrado del Campo, Joan Manén and Manuel Manrique de Lara. As a result, between 1900 and 1910 more string quartets were written in Spain than had been composed in the whole of the previous century.
The next generation, which came to the fore during the Primo de Rivera dictatorship (1923–1931) and the Second Republic (1931–1936) and championed a musical renewal that looked to Debussy, Stravinsky and Falla for inspiration, continued to write works for string quartet. After the tragic establishment of the Fascist régime in 1939, it was the National Chamber Music Association, supported by the new ministry of education, that took the lead in encouraging the creation of quartet music, and the genre has remained popular with Spanish composers ever since.
In the speech he made on becoming a member of the Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, entitled El canto popular como materia de composición musical (Folk music as the raw material for musical composition), Guridi set out the opposing arguments as to whether it was legitimate to include folk themes in new compositions, or only to use them as a source of inspiration for original writing. He made it clear that in his eyes both options were equally valid, since the artist’s only concern should be to create beautiful works of art. No one has yet investigated the folk-like themes in Guridi’s quartets to establish whether they are literal quotations from one of the anthologies he knew so well, or newly invented by him—what is beyond doubt is that he achieves moments of great beauty in these works, which are not only tinged with an authentic folk-music aroma, but also display the command of technique he acquired at the Schola Cantorum and his years of compositional experience.
The Quartet in G, composed in 1933, was dedicated to the Belgian Pro Arte Quartet, which gave its premiere at the Bilbao Philharmonic Society on 15 December 1934. A year and a half later it was performed in Madrid by the AMIS Quartet, a few weeks before the military uprising that led to the Civil War. The lack of a reference to major or minor in the title is appropriate, because although there are moments at which one or other prevails, the overall impression is one of a certain modal inconclusiveness whose old-fashioned character adds to the traditional patina with which the work as a whole is overlaid. The opening movement is in standard sonata form, with two subjects whose treatment and development clearly demonstrate Guridi’s technical ability. The second, a scherzo, features a lively country dance tune which even prevails in the slower, more melancholy central trio. In the Adagio Guridi yields to pure melodic inspiration: serene and expressive, the movement boasts episodes of great beauty. The Allegro finale, meanwhile, is vibrant and rhythmic and applies variation technique to what is, almost, rondo form.
Guridi’s Quartet No 2 in A minor (1949) was awarded first prize in the Ministry of Education’s National Music Competition. It is dedicated to Juan Antonio Ruiz Casaux, cellist of the National Chamber Music Association, which premiered the work in Madrid on 14 May 1950. Here too we find a strictly sonata-form first movement in which a wealth of contrasting thematic material is developed extensively using a wide range of procedures, its harmonic complexity enriched by means of contrapuntal and imitative techniques. The second movement has been remarked upon for the religious nature of its melodic material, which at times seems to imitate the melismas of psalmody, within an overall climate of contemplative serenity and a markedly modal nature. The scherzo again has flavours of folk dance, yet the writing remains sophisticated throughout. The final movement is notable for its powerful rhythmic impulse. Rather than conforming to any defined structure, it comprises a succession of juxtaposed sections linked by the use of the same thematic material variously transformed. After a slower and at times lyrical central episode, the music regains its initial energy for a dynamic and forceful conclusion.
Even though he wrote only these two string quartets, Guridi unquestionably made a key contribution to the genre, indeed one of the most impressive in twentieth-century Spanish music (and therefore in the entire history of Spanish quartet writing), and both works fully deserve to be part of the international repertoire.
English translation by Susannah Howe
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