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ClassicsOnline Home » MORENO-TORROBA: Guitar Music, Vol. 1
One of the foremost twentieth century composers for the classical guitar, Federico Moreno
Torroba composed prolifically. His guitar music is particularly rich in its use of colour, melody,
and lively rhythms to transport the listener into an essentially Spanish expression of a poetic and
romantic sensibility. This first volume of a series devoted to Moreno Torroba features Castillos
de España (Castles of Spain), which pays tribute to the many ancient fortifications throughout
Spain and evokes the atmosphere of romance and mystery of bygone eras, and Puertas de Madrid (Gates of Madrid) centred this time on familiar landmarks of Moreno Torroba’s native city.
By William Yeoman
This, the first volume in a projected series of the complete guitar music of Moreno Torroba, features two charming, picturesque suites, Castillos de España (Castles of Spain) and Puertas de Madrid (Gates of Madrid). Also included is a Preludio, Vieja Leyenda (Old Legend) and Jaranera (In Merry Mood). The beautiful miniatures, although hardly taxing from a technical standpoint, nevertheless require the utmost concentration to bring off successfully (their air of nostalgia, perhaps symptomatic of Spanish nationalism, can sound rather cloying). This young Croatian guitarist Ana Vidovic does, playing cleanly and with a natural, easy virtuosity that allows her considerable musicality to capture the essence of each piece…The production and sound engineering by guitarist Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver are, as always, first-rate, while noted Segovia authority Graham Wade’s extrsordinarily detailed booklet notes are almost worth the price of this disc alone.
By David Denton
Federico Moreno Torroba (1891–1982)
Castillos de España • Puertas de Madrid • Preludio • Vieja Leyenda • Jaranera
Federico Moreno Torroba was born in Madrid on 3 March 1891. He learned music from an early age with his father, José Moreno Ballesteros, a well known organist, and then studied composition with the great Catalan musicologist, Felipe Pedrell (1841-1922) and the composer, Conrado del Campo (1878-1953). In 1918, the year when Moreno Torroba's tone poem, La ajorca de oro (The Gold Bracelet) had its première at the conservatoire, he met the great guitarist, Andrés Segovia, who commented in his autobiography: "Then there was a 'first' in the field of the guitar: for the first time, a composer who was not a guitarist, wrote a piece for the guitar. It was Federico Moreno Torroba, whose musical poem had just been premiered by the National Symphony under the direction of Maestro Arbós. Moreno Torroba had been introduced to me by the orchestra's first violin, Señor Francés. It did not take us long to become friends, nor for him to accede to my suggestion: Would he compose something for the guitar? In a few weeks he came up with a slight but truly beautiful Dance in E major. In spite of his scant knowledge of the guitar's complex technique, he approached it accurately by sheer instinct and, to my joy, the work remained in the repertoire."
The composer continued to write for guitar during the rest of his life, producing some eighty works including dances, impressionistic pieces, sonatas and sonatinas and suites as well as concertos and compositions for four guitars. The close association with Segovia in due course established Moreno Torroba's international reputation as one of the foremost composers involved in the remarkable twentieth century renaissance of the classical guitar. His guitar music has remained one of the most popular elements of the modern repertoire ever since Segovia recorded the first movement (Allegretto) of Sonatina (20 May 1927).
Moreno Torroba, however, was not only a prolific guitar composer but one of the leading advocates in the late flowering of the zarzuela, the light Spanish opera form characterized by a blend of sung and spoken dialect. As conductor and impresario, he travelled widely throughout the 1930s and 1940s with several stage companies, visiting the United States and Latin America. His first zarzuela was written as early as 1912, but it was the success of La mesonera de Tordesillas (The Hostess of Tordesillas) (1925), which confirmed his enthusiasm for the genre, and a whole string of triumphs, including La marchenera (The Girl from Marchena) (1928) and Luisa Fernanda (1932) followed, continuing through till Ella (1966), the composer finally achieving an astonishing total of some eighty operas.
After the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, Moreno Torroba continued as one of the dominant figures of Spanish musical culture. Founding a new zarzuela company in 1946, he once again toured widely and in 1957 María Manuela became the most popular Spanish opera of the decade. In the post-war years, the composer wrote nine ballets, a quantity of choral and orchestral music, a piano concerto and many piano solos, a variety of songs and miscellaneous other works, as well as numerous guitar pieces, a prodigious output which continued until his death at the age of 91.
Moreno Torroba's musical vocabulary eschewed experimentation along twentieth-century avant-garde lines, preferring lyrically melodic music with tonal harmony. His philosophy of composition is often described as 'castizo', signifying a blend of folk elements drawing on the traditions of Iberian culture, combined with conventional forms and evocative or impressionistic works celebrating dance genres, specific places, or moods. His guitar music is particularly rich in its use of colour, melody, and lively rhythms to transport the listener into an essentially Spanish expression of a poetic and romantic sensibility.
The collection of descriptive pieces, Castillos de España (Castles of Spain) pays tribute to the many ancient fortifications throughout Spain and evokes the atmosphere of romance and mystery of bygone eras. The castles that Moreno Torroba has chosen exist in reality but even more so in the realms of fantasy and legend. Of the fourteen descriptive pieces, Turégano, Torija, Manzanares el Real, Montemayor, Alcañiz, Sigüenza, Alba de Tormes and Alcázar de Segovia (copyrighted 1970) were written first, to be recorded by Andrés Segovia in 1969. Montemayor, previously known as Romance de los Pinos, was recorded by Segovia in 1961, and later incorporated into the Castles of Spain. There are distinct stylistic differences in the later set, Olite, Zafra, Redaba, Javier, Simancas and Calatrava (copyrighted 1978), involving more complex textures, the use of tremolo and a preference for slightly more extended compositions.
Turégano, thirty kilometres or so from the city of Segovia, was the fortress-castle of the powerful bishops of that diocese. For this, the composer presents one of his most pleasing melodic inventions, subtitled Serranilla, a fifteenth-century poetic form, the main theme being contrasted as in a rondo against lyrical episodes with repetitions of the opening section. Manzanares el Real, a few miles north of Madrid, was erected in the fifteenth century by the courtier-poet, Iñigo López de Mendoza, Marquis de Santillana. The music, after a short chordal introduction, offers a graceful theme evocative of the trotting of a knight's horse. For Alcañiz, a massive castle on a hill above a river in the neighbourhood of Teruel, Moreno Torroba creates a mood of antique animation with a dance in 3/8. In Sigüenza, to the north-east of Madrid, lies the tomb of Don Martín Vásquez de Arce, the Doncel, killed in the battle for Granada in 1486. The composition subtitled La Infanta Duerme (The Sleeping Princess), marked andantino, is a gentle lullaby supported by elegant harmonies. Alba de Tormes, near Salamanca, is the burial place of Saint Teresa de Avila, this famous seat of dukedom being established in 1469. Its composition is a kind of interlude in which a bass line is answered by chords in the treble, a dialogue which leads delicately away from the main key and back again like an informal improvisation. Torija lies in the province of Guadalajara. Its thirteenth-century castle was destroyed by Juan Martín el Empecinado in 1811 but later restored. Thus the mood depicted is an expression of elegaic respect for past splendours nostalgically recalled. South from Córdoba lies the castle of Montemayor, overlooking the broad plains where the armies of Julius Caesar and Pompey's sons fought the battle of Munda. Moreno Torroba expresses here the sadness of ancient glory in one his most memorable tone poems.
Olite, south of Pamplona, was the residence of the kings of Navarre, the palace-castle of Carlos III, built in 1407, with huge battlements and high towers, each with its own character. Hanging gardens were suspended from the terrace arches, and inside was a 'Leonora' (or lion-pit), a kind of medieval zoo, with an extensive array of dungeons. In a work marked vivace, the composer offers an energetic dance in 2/4 moving from A major to a lento section in F major before returning to the main theme. Zafra is in the province of Lower Extremadura and the Alcazar which dominates the town was reconstructed in 1437 by Lorenzo Suárez de Figueroa. For such a vista, Moreno Torroba has composed a tremolo work, a guitaristic technique by which the player can present a seemingly unbroken melodic line. But the tremolo is contrasted here against arpeggio and scale figurations as well as a chordal slow episode, pizzicato effects and a fast semiquaver finale. Redaba is a name which presents a different kind of mystery - it does not appear to exist. Perhaps Torroba meant Sádaba, a thirteenth-century castle one hundred miles south of Zaragoza, situated on a hill and visible from a great distance, and not far from Olite and Javier. There is also the old town of Ribadavia, the eleventh-century seat of King García of Galicia. For the first time, a waltz-like dance with dotted rhythms is presented, moving from D major to G minor and evolving through various flat keys (unusual in guitar music) before the recapitulation of the main theme. Simancas is another fortification with a Moorish history, situated in Valladolid, old Castile. A big battle was fought there against Caliph Abd al-Rahman in 939. The castle which stands today was built in the late fifteenth century by the Admirals of Spain and was purchased by Ferdinand and Isabella after the Reconquest of Granada. Once more we hear the magic effects of tremolo, sustained almost throughout except for a few contrasting moments and a vivid coda. The Alcázar de Segovia, over a thousand metres above sea-level, was entirely rebuilt after the original fortress was burned down. Its music opens with rhythmic chords and cantabile snatches of melody before entering a central section in the minor key, where a bass theme intersperses with rapid semiquavers. After modulating through two other keys, with exciting patterns of repeated notes and chordal accompaniments, the work returns joyfully to the opening theme in a blaze of glory.
Javier possesses an eleventh-century fortress with high walls and crenellated towers. A palace and a tower were added to the living apartments in the sixteenth century, and Moorish fortifications are also situated nearby. St Francis Xavier, the patron saint of Navarre, was born here in 1506 and worked as a missionary in the Far East. Subtitled Evocaci ón, this work is initially founded on sonorous chords to support an ingenious melody, before giving way to a single line theme around which harmony slowly gathers. Finally, Calatrava, in the province of Ciudad Real, is a Moorish fortress captured by Alfonso VII of Castile in 1147. The Moors originally called it Calat-rabat (castle on the plains). In an animated finale Moreno Torroba offers a brilliant synthesis of some of the idioms and style previously encountered, with rhythmic chords, virtuosic scale runs, lyrical snatches of melody, and the pounding insistence of a folk-dance. The sheer number of castles described may prove confusing in terms of forming specific impressions of particular places, but these pieces are subjective poems where the imagination can roam at will among moods, melodies, and delight in nostalgia for the past. Moreno Torroba set no sequence in which the works should be played and it is not an organically arranged suite in the usual sense, but the lyrical quality of the composer's inspiration is a reminder of romantic epochs, assorted images which build up into a delightful blend of colour and atmosphere.
Puertas de Madrid (Gates of Madrid) is a further example of Moreno Torroba's interest in chains of images, centred this time on familiar landmarks of his native city. Madrid was at one time a walled city where the various gates allowed entrance. Over centuries many of these gates no longer served any purpose, as the wall itself was removed, but several commemorative arches were constructed recalling Madrid 's ancient past and other entrances were preserved or renovated. The puertas are characterized by a central archway, with smaller gateways on each side, surmounted by a triumphal arch decorated with statues and inscriptions. Puerta de Alcalá is situated in the Plaza de la Independencia close to the city centre, not far from the famous Retiro Park. The original gate was built in 1599 to welcome Margarita of Austria, wife of Philip III, to Madrid. A new gate was commissioned from the eminent Italian architect Sabatini to suit the taste of Carlos III (the previous one having been removed in 1764). The structure, made of granite from the Colmenar area of Madrid, has five arched gates and is one of the city's most esteemed monuments. Moreno Torroba's tribute takes the form of a slow, poignant theme, a ternary structure marked by a bright key change and slightly faster pace in the middle section. Puerta del Ángel, built with elegant white stone, two kilometres west of the city centre, is near the Casa de Camp lake and the Church of San Cristina. This monument is represented by a lively dance with intricate scale runs and dancing lyricism. Puerta Cerrada (Closed Gate) divided the more sumptuous houses of the rich from those of villagers and peasants. One of the original gates was demolished in 1569 and the present site of the structure is probably some distance from the prototype. The composer's treatment of this is characterized by a 3/4 dance, moving from the key of A minor to A major and D minor, perhaps creating the varying moods on either side of the divide, before returning to a modified first theme with an animated coda. Puerta de Hierro ( Iron Gate ), in the north-west, close to El Pardo Palace (at one time marking the limits of the royal deer park ), was completed in 1735 in white Colmenar stone and granite. Owing to city developments the gate, isolated within its own grassy surround, is now flanked on either side by traffic lanes. The music for this, marked Allegro vivace, is a hectic Spanish dance with obvious folk elements, reminiscent of the popular guitar styles of Andalusia. Puerta de San Vicente, situated to the west of the Royal Palace, was rebuilt in 1726 with three arches by the Marquis of Vadillo, to be replaced in the eighteenth century by Carlos III with a Sabatini design. In 1880 this too was taken down, to be reconstructed in 1995. The composer provides a graceful movement of rapid semiquavers and lively chordal passages, signifying the hectic bustle of the city as well as the gaiety of past fiestas. The present Puerta de Toledo (Toledo Gate), originally the gateway to the south and Andalusia, was constructed between 1817 and 1827 with an inscription to Fernando VII expressing gratitude to the father of the nation for liberation from the French. It is now in the centre of a public square with landscaped area. Moreno Torroba takes us into the atmosphere of a dance from old Spain, celebrating the communal festivities of bygone epochs. Puerta de Moros (Gate of the Moors) is next to the district of Morería, from which its name may have been derived. The sequence is concluded with a thoughtful composition full of evocative melodic lines and subtle harmonies.
Preludio ( published 1928), is in ternary form, the opening theme being a lively and capricious 3/8 waltz form preceding a lyrical middle section. It represents one of Moreno Torroba's finest examples of idiomatic guitar writing.
Vieja Leyenda (Old Legend) appeared in 1970 when the composer was nearly eighty. Marked andantino, in ternary form, the work begins reflectively, leading into a slightly faster central part where a second theme is introduced, evocative of Spanish folk-song.
Jaranera (In Merry Mood), copyrighted in 1970, is in a miniature rondo form, the first eight measures occuring three times throughout, set against contrasting episodes. This Allegro moderato offers a boisterous dance rhythm in 6/8 time, with a repeated semiquaver figuration which recalls the sparkling third movement of the composer's famous Sonatina (1924).
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MORENO-TORROBA: Guitar Music, Vol. 1