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ClassicsOnline Home » BRETON, T.: Piano Trio in E Major / 4 Spanish Pieces (LOM Piano Trio)
Tomás Bretón, a native of Salamanca, rose from relatively humble circumstances to become a leading figure in Spanish music, director of the Madrid Conservatory and an important conductor. Although Bretón is now remembered chiefly for his zarzuelas and operas, his chamber music has been unaccountably neglected. The brilliant Four Spanish Pieces, which enjoyed widespread popularity at the beginning of the twentieth century, convey the distinctive Spanish character present throughout the composer’s work. By contrast, the Trio for piano, violin and cello is a more serious and original work in which Spanish melodies are introduced with considerable subtlety.
By Giv Confield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics
BRETON, T.: Piano Trio in E major / 4 Spanish Pieces (LOM Piano Trio)
By David Denton
Born in Spain in 1850, Tomas Breton became one of the father figures in Spanish music, and as Professor of Composition at the Conservatoire he had among his pupils Manuel de Falla and Pablo Casals. His own musical education took him to study in Rome, and, as this present disc shows, he became very influenced by mainstream European composing, particularly Germanic filtered through Italian ears. The Piano Trio dates from 1887, and in every way is a beautifully crafted score owing something to Brahms and Schumann. While the piano does have the major thematic material, Breton composes for the trio rather than having the strings as a decorative element. Try the happy third movement (track 3) or the rather quirky rhythm of the finale. In sum this could be counted among the most attractive Piano Trios composed in the late 19th century. Breton was in later life often criticised for his lack of a Spanish element to his works, the brilliant Four Spanish Pieces being his riposte. They were to enjoy widespread popularity at the beginning of the twentieth century, though now seldom heard. Even here the Spanish element misses the populist view of Spain, the dances refined rather than boisterous. The disc is played by the LOM Piano Trio, a Spanish based ensemble that dates from 2001. They are a precisely balanced ensemble, the strings true of intonation, the rapport in terms of tempo never in question. Very good studio sound, nicely dried out to keep perfect clarity of articulation. Little known music which I ardently commend to you.
Tomás Bretón (1850-1923)
Four Spanish Pieces • Piano Trio in E major
Bretón’s musical gifts appeared when he was very young. He began his studies in Salamanca, his native city, and at the age of sixteen he moved to Madrid, where he had to earn his living by playing in cafés and theatre houses, while continuing his education at the Conservatoire. He studied with Emilio Arrieta, and won the Composition Award in 1874. Some years later, under the patronage of King Alfonso XII and the Counts of Morphy, he gained a scholarship to study in Rome.
Bretón’s stay in Rome exerted a positive influence and, as also happened to his friend, the Spanish composer Ruperto Chapí, it stimulated him to incorporate into his music the new great European forms, while taking great interest in the promotion of nationalist music.
On his return to Madrid, Bretón was appointed Orchestral Director of the Teatro Real and the Unión Artístico Musical. In 1901 he took up the post of Professor of Composition at the Conservatoire, becoming Principal two years later. His students included such great musicians as Manuel de Falla and Pablo Casals.
From his position within the Spanish musical circles, he laboured hard to re-energise the world of Spanish music and took particular pains to introduce the idea of an original, nationalistic opera, inspired by Spanish folk melodies. In that vein he wrote various lyrical works and pieces of chamber music, which were however, ironically, criticized for not being Spanish enough; some of his operas, such as The Lovers of Teruel and Garin were even considered Wagnerian.
Bretón composed numerous zarzuelas, several operas and a series of symphonic works. His zarzuela, La Verbena de la Paloma (The Feast of the Dove) is one of the classic models of the genéro chico (“small genre” which refers to the short zarzuelas lasting one hour or less) and offers a unique musical portrait of Madrid at the end of the nineteenth century.
Although his fame is mainly based on his lyrical works, Bretón’s chamber music is remarkable, with a harmonic approach quite audacious for its period. He composed three string quartets, one piano quintet, one wind sextet, and also the four pieces for trio and the Trio in E major that we present here.
The Four Spanish Pieces and the Trio for piano, violin and cello in E major (1887) are two works representative of Bretón’s compositional spectrum. The four pieces, Danse Orientale, Scherzo Andalou, Boléro and Polo Gitano, are clear examples of the distinctive Spanish character present in most of the composer’s work. These pieces were very popular at the beginning of the twentieth century but are now almost forgotten.
In the Trio in E major one can appreciate Bretón’s apparent attempt to leave aside the light atmosphere of his zarzuelas, and write instead in a manner closer to the German or Italian style. A deeper study of the language of this Trio, however, enables us to observe how the composer subtly introduces his Spanish melodies even in this work. The effect produced by this fusion of such different influences, is one of great originality.
English translation by Graham Wade
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