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ClassicsOnline Home » BLASCO DE NEBRA, M.: Keyboard Sonatas (Complete), Vol. 2 (Pedro Casals)
Pedro Casals, an expert on Manuel Blasco de Nebra, continues his fascinating survey of the Spanish composer’s keyboard sonatas. This, the second in a three-disc series, comprises the final seven sonatas preserved in manuscript in the Montserrat Archive and two late sonatas, the first edition of which is held in the Library of Congress in Washington DC. They show de Nebra’s innovative contribution to the development of the modern piano sonata. Volume 1 is available on Naxos 8.572068.
Manuel Blasco de Nebra (1750–1784)
Complete Keyboard Sonatas • 2
Manuel Blasco de Nebra was born in Seville in 1750 and died there in 1784. He came from a musical family and his father, the organist José Blasco de Nebra, was his first teacher. At this time Seville was in the throes of a major economic crisis, having lost its monopoly on trade with the Americas, and Manuel was therefore forced to leave his native city and try his luck elsewhere. In 1766 he travelled to Madrid, where he soon achieved renown for his amazing sight-reading abilities and for his remarkably expressive performances on the harpsichord, organ and piano, the last an instrument then in its infancy. His uncle, José de Nebra, a composer of zarzuelas, was a highly respected figure at court and was able to give his nephew some help in establishing his own musical career. He died two years later, however, and, lacking financial support, Manuel had no option but to return to Seville. Once there,
he carried out some of his father’s organ-playing duties at the cathedral as well as standing in from time to time for its principal organist, Juan Roldán. He gradually created a niche for himself and took over from his father as assistant organist. In addition to the intense musical life he led within the cathedral, he must also have been active
in the wider artistic community, moving in the intellectual circles of men such as Count Pedro Rodríguez de Campomanes and Pablo de Olavide. Blasco de Nebra died suddenly on 12 September 1784. He was buried in Seville’s Santa Cruz Church.
Baltasar Saldoni included an entry for Manuel Blasco de Nebra in his Diccionario de efemérides de músicos españoles, stating that the composer wrote as many as 170 works during his lifetime, although he does not specify what form these pieces took nor for what instruments they were written. Of these 170 only 26 keyboard sonatas and six pastorellas are known today. An initial six sonatas were recovered and edited by musicologist Robert Parris from the first edition of the Sonatas, Op. 1, held at the Library of Congress in Washington. Then another twelve sonatas and the six pastorellas were found at the Monastery of Montserrat (Catalonia), which have since been published by Egtved in an edition by the Danish musicologist Bengt Johnsson. Later still María Inmaculada Cárdenas Serván discovered a further six sonatas at the Encarnación Monastery of Osuna (in the province of Seville), which she published with the support of the Spanish Musicology Society. The final two sonatas come from a manuscript found and studied by Pedro Casals at the Santa Clara convent in Seville and which is now held at Madrid’s Universidad Complutense. A modern edition of these two pieces has yet to be published.
Blasco de Nebra’s keyboard sonatas can be divided into three periods, according to their degree of thematic and structural complexity. This CD features Sonatas Nos. 6 to 12 of those contained in the Montserrat document, MS 2998. Nos. 9, 11 and 12, tracks ,  and , consist of a single, rapid movement, but the other four
have two movements each, of which the first is slow and expressive, and the second bright, lively and usually dance-like in nature, thanks to the use of ternary rhythms, for example in the characteristic Andalusian folk dances such as the zapateado that are incorporated into the music. The slow movements are all bithematic, and a singular use of dissonance and constant harmonic friction creates some particularly eloquent music, while in the fast movements Blasco de Nebra often recalls the sound of the guitar, particularly the strumming effects so typical of the instrument, which he successfully reproduces on the keyboard.
The composer’s last sonatas were the six published in his lifetime, in 1780, as his Opus 1, of which the first edition is now held at the Library of Congress in Washington DC. These are the most difficult of all his sonatas, and only the first and second are to be found on this album (the remaining four make up the third volume of this three-disc collection). Again, they are cast in two movements, one slow and one fast, but they present the performer with far greater interpretative and technical challenges, with the strumming effects taken to the extreme: no longer an imitation of the guitar but quite simply part of Blasco de Nebra’s own musical idiom. In the slow movements, the extended melodies are far more expressive and ornamented than in the earlier sonatas, while the fast movements pushed the resources of contemporary instruments to their limit. When he wrote these pieces, the composer did not specify which keyboard instrument they were to be played on, so we can only assume that in his day they were performed on different instruments, the music being adapted to the tonal
characteristics of the instrument in question, rather than vice versa. Trills, mordents and all kinds of rapid ornamentation are used extensively but in such a way as to become part of the phrasal context, without altering the musical sense of the movement.
The works performed on this CD are part of a three-disc collection bringing together for the first time Manuel Blasco de Nebra’s complete surviving sonatas. They are organized chronologically across the three CDs in order to show how the composer’s work evolved within thegreat musical genre that is the sonata.
© Pedro Casals, April 2009
English translation: Susannah Howe
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