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ClassicsOnline Home » MONTSALVATGE, X.: Violin and Piano Works (Complete) / Piano Trio (León, Santana, Johner)
One of Spain’s leading composers of the second half of the twentieth century, Xavier Montsalvatge wrote some 200 works and explored almost all musical genres. His music for violin and piano, which he produced throughout most of his compositional life, occupies a significant place in his output, from a delicious miniature such as the Spanish Sketch to the masterly late Tres Policromías, and the Paráfrasis Concertante, a sonata in all but name. The impressive Piano Trio is lyrical, sensual and dance-like in turn.
Xavier Montsalvatge (1912–2002)
Paráfrasis Concertante • Lullaby • Spanish Sketch • Tres Policromías • Piano Trio • Variaciones sobre un tema de ‘La Spagnoletta’ de Giles Farnaby
The Spanish composer Xavier Montsalvatge (i Bassols) was one of the most influential music figures in Catalan music during the latter half of the twentieth century. Born in Girona on 11 March 1912, he studied violin and composition at the Barcelona Conservatoire, where his principal teachers were Lluís Maria Millet, Enric Morera, Jaume Pahissa, and Eduard Toldrà. After the Civil War, he began work as a music critic when he joined the newspaper Destino in 1942, a publication he went on to direct from 1968 to 1975. He wrote additionally for the daily La Vanguardia. Montsalvatge also returned to teach at the Barcelona Conservatoire, becoming a lecturer in 1970 and a professor of composition in 1978. He was awarded Spain’s Premio Nacional de Música for composition in 1985. He died in Barcelona on 7 May 2002.
Amassing a catalogue of some 200 works, Montsalvatge’s style evolved over several different creative phases. At the start of his career, he was notably influenced by twelve-tone technique and by Wagner—which together dominated Catalan music during the period represented by his Sinfonía mediterránea of 1949. In the following era he was to secure inspiration in the music of the Antilles (as in Cinco canciones negras of 1945 and Cuarteto indiano of 1952). His steady contact with the French composers Olivier Messiaen and Georges Auric led to a further change in his style, which became characterized by free polytonality (as in Partida of 1958). The final phase of Montsalvatge’s work brought a measure of consolidation, but also revealed the influence of the European avant-garde in what proved his most prolific period.
Montsalvatge explored virtually all musical genres in his career. His work ranges in scale from operas (El gato con botas and Una voz en off) to chamber music (Cuarteto indiano), in between which are orchestral works such as the Desintegración morfológica de la Chacona de Bach, the Laberinto o Sinfonía de réquiem, and the award-winning Sinfonía mediterránea. He owed his international fame to one work in particular—the Cinco canciones negras for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, a blend of Antillean rhythms and themes, of which the best known is the Canción de cuna para dormir un negrito. He also wrote a fair amount of film music and in 1987 his score for the picture Dragon Rapide, concerning the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, was nominated as best original film score at the Goya Awards.
Composed in 1975, and given its première by violinist Xavier Turull and pianist Manuel García Morante at the Biblioteca Pere Vergés in Badalona, Paráfrasis Concertante is a compact violin sonata in all but name. First comes a Moderato sostenuto in which aloof chordal gestures on piano are answered with a moodily ambivalent theme on violin, which has the briefest of cadenzas at mid-point before resuming the uneasy dialogue. There follows a Scherzo where agile pizzicato and deft piano gestures initially alternate, making way for a more fanciful episode which features violin in harmonics, before those initial exchanges are bracingly resumed. The final Rondò begins with a defiant theme where the interplay between the two instruments is at its most intensive, but this presently makes way for an improvisatory and technically wide-ranging episode for the violin that gradually accrues expressive momentum before the piano re-enters for an unexpectedly curt conclusion.
The Lullaby (1957) is actually the transcription of the aforementioned Canción de cuna para dormir un negrito (Lullaby for a black child) and, as might be expected, is among Montsalvatge’s most winsome and unaffected shorter pieces—not least in the way in which the violin and piano are combined in a rapt dialogue whose subtle blues inflections are not at all out of place in this gentle berceuse.
Spanish Sketch (1943, though its material dates back over several years) was first performed by violinist Joan Alòs at the Palau de la Música in Barcelona on 29 April 1944. As its title implies, this is a miniature which is wholly evocative in its mood, not least because of the habanera rhythm which underpins those constantly varying exchanges between violin and piano as the piece proceeds nimbly though atmospherically towards its speculative close.
Composed in 1994 and first performed on 18 July that year by the violinist Agustín León Ara and the pianist José Tordesillas at the Decena Musical de Segovia in Alcázar de Segovia, Tres Policromías is a fine example of Montsalvatge ’s late music from what was his most prolific decade. The Andante con brio unfolds deliberately yet decisively as it exudes a swinging motion that holds good through to the soaring final gesture. The Siciliana furtiva that follows is prefaced thoughtfully by the piano, before the violin enters with an expressive melodic line that takes on greater expressive variety as the siciliano rhythm indicated in its title comes discreetly to the fore. The final piece begins with trenchant gestures between the instruments, before the Ráfaga de tango hits its stride with lively and characterful interplay that extracts a considerable range of emotions from the underlying dance rhythm—the piece subsequently being rounded off by an accelerating coda that brings a decisive final flourish.
Composed in 1945, and given its première on 11 December the following year by violinist Rafael Ferrer and pianist Rafael Gálvez at the offices of the British Council in Barcelona, Variacions sobre un tema de ‘La Spagnoletta’ de Giles Farnaby is one of Montsalvatge’s most appealing chamber works (and was adapted 46 years later for guitar and strings). The theme, as simple and unaffected as its marking implies, is followed by four variations—a brief and capricious Leggiero, a Solemne which features eloquent chordal sequences for both violin and piano on its way to a fervent close, a Tempo de Siciliano which conjures an appealingly lilting expression from its underlying rhythm and which also incorporates a sultry cadenza-like violin passage over its course; finally a Deciso that makes energetic play with the theme as it sees the overall variation sequence through to an animated and even forceful conclusion.
Written during 1986–88 and first given complete on 6 June 1989 by the Trío Mompou at the Palau Aranjuez near Madrid, the Trio for violin, cello and piano is among the most substantial of Montsalvatge’s later chamber works. The opening Balada a Dulcinea starts with the rapt dialogue of violin and cello, the piano entering as the music briefly intensifies before arriving at a warmly expressive theme for all three instruments—the initial interplay, albeit now with piano in attendance, returning to effect a beatific close. The central Diálogo con Mompou sees the expressive interplay between the trio gradually intensify before assuming a more speculative and even equivocal manner recalling that of the older composer who had died shortly before. The final Ritornello begins decisively, before calming down and then initiating a long-breathed dialogue—into which a hint of tango insinuates itself—as the music gradually though insistently gathers momentum on its way to an ending of palpable fervency.
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