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       Basque composers in the renovation of guitar repertory

       Javier SUÁREZ-PAJARES

       The renovation of guitar repertory that started to take place in the 1920 ́s is a
crucial aspect in the history of contemporary guitar. The Homenaje a Debussy
composed for guitar by Manuel de Falla in the summer of 1920, published in Paris in
the Revue Musicale and dedicated to the memory of Claude Debussy, was a brave
action by Falla. However, in doing so, he encouraged many other non-guitar playing
composers to write music for guitar. In a historical concert celebrated in the Teatro de la
Comedia in Madrid the 17th December 1923, Andres Segovia was then consequently
able to premiere Joaquin Turina’s Sevillana op. 29, Federico Moreno Torroba’s
Sonatina and Ernesto Halffter’s Peacock-pie. A year and a half earlier, in the same
theater, Segovia had presented what he always claimed to be the first work for guitar of
a non-guitar playing composer: Moreno Torroba’s Danza, which would close his Suite
castellana. Obviously, though, this premiere was not to be the first, because in the
Teatro de la Comedia on 8th March 1921 Miguel Llobet had premiered Falla’s
Homenaje a Debussy. Moreover, in the concert in which he premiered Moreno
Torroba’s Danza, Segovia presented another important piece in this repertory:
Romanza by Jose Maria Franco (1894-1979) who also dedicated to him a piece
entitled De Andalucía, which was not well adapted to the endless possibilities of guitar.
The critic Adolfo Salazar, who was at the concert, claimed: “In his Romanza, Jose
Maria Franco responds to the attraction of the colour and the beauty of certain
instrumental effects of the guitar” (El Sol, 6-IV-1922). However, he did not hide the fact
that he found more interesting the guitar and raw side of Moreno Torroba rather than a
fuller and more hedonistic harmonic language with which Franco had inspired with
such a romantic title as Romanza. Even though Segovia was closer to Romanza
(Improptu, 1924, in the same style) than to the avant-garde postulated by Salazar, the
truth is that he did not pay much attention to the piece and he showed to be more in
favor of the casticism imposed by Moreno Torroba, whom, from that moment and
during his whole career as a composer, offered a great amount of music to the guitar
repertory. It was not the same for Jose Maria Franco, who was more interested in
chamber piano interpretations, in conducting orchestras and in working as a music critic
(he wrote for the newspaper Ya from 1935). Actually, he only published one more work
for guitar: Tema y diferencias op. 35, November 1931, dedicated to Regino Sainz de la
Maza and unpublished until 1963.

       Andres Segovia tried to introduce musicians of his own generation in the
renovation of guitar repertory, rather than the youngsters of the avant-garde from the
Generation of 27. In fact, the musicians of his generation had already reached their
creative maturity by the 1920’s. He also approached the Generation of 98, which at the
time was considered to be the Generation of Masters, leaded by Manuel de Falla.
Eduardo Lopez Chavarri and Vicente Arregui (1871-1925) also belonged to that
generation, responding to Segovia’s requirements. Lopez Chavarri, who in 1923 had
already sent a Sonata to Miguel Llobet, created pieces for Segovia, among which was a
bolero that caught the guitar player’s attention. In an undated letter written by Lopez
Chavarri from Szczecin (at the border of Poland and Germany) Segovia offers some
valuable information: “Beginning of December (1925?) I will come back to Spain and I
will start my tour in the cultural centers. I already asked to have free three days between
Alacant and Castelló, so that I can spend them with you in Valencia working hard. Why
don’t you prepare a suite with three Valencian popular songs (from Valencia or
surroundings) so that we can work on them together? Vicente Arregui has sent me
three beautiful pieces from Leon. Maybe the bolero would be suitable for ending the
repertory of the Valencian suite, for which (I tell you now) I already have an editor in
Austria. Think about it”. Apparently, Segovia tried to put together a group of
characteristic short suites from different regions of Spain: Suite castellana
(“Fandanguillo”, “Arada” and “Danza”) by Moreno Torroba, a Valencian suite by
López Chavarri with the bolero in the end and a suite of Leonaise pieces composed by
Vicente Arregui. In the beginning of the century, he was on scholarship to Rome and
Paris in the Royal Academy of Arts in San Fernando (years before Falla had stayed in
Paris in the years 1907 and 1914), Arregui was already an important figure amongst
musical circles in the 1920’s. From 1921 onwards, he was a critic for El Debate, and
had Joaquin Turina as a successor. Currently today, there are five pieces for guitar
composed by Arregui that are conserved: Canción lejana that was dedicated to “the
artist of the guitar Andres Segovia”, of which there are two versions (September 1924
and January 1925); Tres piezas líricas (“Confidencia”, “Intermedio” and
“Campesina”) all adapted in February 1925 from some originals intended for piano;
and Tonada de ronda-León from March 1925. The interest of these compositions show
how the death of Arregui interrupted what could have been an important contribution to
guitar repertory.      Even when Segovia published Moreno Torroba’s and Lopez
Chavarri’s works, in the collection he arranged for the Editorial Schott, Arregui’s music
stayed manuscript in the guitar archive, until it was recently published by the Italian
editorial Bèrben.

       Maybe it was possible that he was in search of a Basque suite when Andres
Segovia approached Father Donostia (1886-1956) who, after having extended his
studies in Paris between 1920 and 1921, made long stays in Madrid. It was in Madrid
that he first composed for guitar on May 1st, 1925: Errimina (Nostalgia), a zortziko
verse dedicated to Andres Segovia. It is a descriptive work with a beautiful program: “A
Basque in exile dreams of his homeland on the rhythm of the dances of his youth. A
moment of exalted hallucination transports him to his homeland, where he dances to old
songs. The hallucination ends and he feels terribly melancholic. He knows that he will
never return to his homeland". But the modal language, abundant in dissonances and
with occasional dampening, of this piece was in line with the modernity that Segovia
did not seem to like. Actually, in August 1927, he wrote to Father Donostia: “...the
piece you have dedicated to me, which is very beautiful and fine for piano, does not suit
the guitar. It is too short, because it needed to be overly reduced. I think that you should
write another piece, even though I renounce it with sorrow and after having tried
everything in order to adapt it to the demanding instrument”. After that, we only have
dependability on the following compositions for guitar by Father Donostia: Vora’l Ter,
dated 1934 and edited by Max Eschig in Paris in 1936, in transcription from piano,
having lost the original for guitar; Ama othoi errazu Basque song dedicated to Alirio
Díaz; and Preludio y Canción “Remembrance of my visit to Seville (May 1946)”,
edited in Barcelona, where Father Donostia was working in the recently created
Spanish Institute of Musicology (Instituto Español de Musicología, CSIC). The prelude
is called “Tiento” (Contemplation). This piano version was adapted by the composer
himself and the title describes its character: the guitar strings are suspended exploring
several scales and mechanisms, finally losing themselves in the distance... and in the
silence... the same as the work, which still has not been published. In 1947, the second
number of the English magazine Guitar Review published a transcription of the prelude
Oñazez, composed by Father Donostia in 1913, as the sixth of his Basque Preludes.
Andres Segovia was, again, behind that publication, and he even included an adaptation
of Oñazez in his repertory recording it in 1962 (Decca DL 710054).

      If we had to choose the most brilliant year in the history of contemporary guitar
repertory, one of those years would undoubtedly be 1933, in which three masterpieces
of contemporary guitar repertory were edited: Quatre Pièces Brèves by Frank Martin,
Sonata by Antonio José and Toccata by Joaquín Rodrigo. These works had the same
destiny of being forgotten for decades, sharing the same fate as Tres piezas op. 45,
composed by Andres Isasi (1890-1940) in the same year. Andres Isasi was one of the
composers that were in the midst of the brightest moments of creativity at that time. He
was an advanced and independent musician, with a clearly European vocation. He got a
solid education in Germany, and was one of the Basque composers that was most
oriented to the European avant-gardes and to abandoning popular music. Tres piezas op.
45 (“Nocturno”, “Sarabanda” and “Impromptu”) was far from mechanic virtuosity,
and are, in fact, a concrete, effective and beautiful masterpiece. Later, the group of
pieces was completed with a Tempo di Valse and a Fuga, which definitely introduced
the virtuous element in the collection. Apparently, Isasi was already a friend of Emilio
Pujol’s and his son, Ricardo Isasi, whom also played the guitar. Both details are
important to understand the guitar technique and the precision of the instrumental

      In the beginning of the 1940’s, several guitar players (among which were Andres
Segovia and Abel Carlevaro) and composers (the Italian Guido Santorsola, etc), the
Basque organ player Jose Tomas Mujica (1883-1963), who was the master of harmony
and composition in Carlevaro, dedicated a Basque Suite (“Preludio”, “Añoranza” and
Alegrías”), originally for guitar, in 1940. It was elegant and fine music, much less
sharp than the avant-garde music of previous decades, but rich in melodic discourse and
very coherent in harmony. This could have been the Basque suite Segovia was looking
for in the 1920’s, even though his attention was then focused on developing a repertory
for guitar and orchestra. Jose Tomas Mujica, author of Escenas camperas for guitar
and orchestra, had migrated to America and established himself in Uruguay much
before the Spanish Civil War; but Pedro Sanjuán (San Sebastián, 1886-1976) was one
of the many musicians exiled for political reasons, the same as Rodolfo Halffter,
Salvador Bacarisse, Julián Bautista and Roberto Gerhard, among others. Sanjuan had
had a brilliant career as a violin player, and he was even the first violinist in the
Symphonic Orchestra of Madrid. Later, he continued his studies in the Schola Cantorum
of Paris, and, back in Spain, he dedicated himself to conducting orchestras. In 1923, he
moved to Cuba, where he founded the Philharmonic Orchestra of Havana and directed
them for a decade. From that moment, he developed a brilliant international career and
became an important agent in the exchange between Antillean, North American and
Spanish music. In 1934, he won the National Music Award for his work Liturgia negra.
After the war, he lived the rest of his life exiled in the United States. Una leyenda is the
only work of Sanjuan’s composed for guitar. It was an early contribution to Andres
Segovia’s repertory, to which it was also dedicated. It was edited in Madrid on 2nd
February 1923, right before he moved to Cuba. Segovia never performed that particular
piece. Maybe Segovia thought that it was too close to the Alhambra ambience as such
famous compositions like Tarrega’s Capricho árabe (he suggested an obstinato
accompaniment in the base notes, B tone and central change from minor mode to major
mode...). Anyway, Sanjuan’s orientalism had a more modern outlook and his Afro-
Cuban music pioneered in the interest for the exotic, which made Sanjuan famous as a

      In post-war Spain, devoid of Andres Segovia, Regino Sainz de la Maza became an
important Conservatory teacher as well as a soloist dedicated to Joaquin Rodrigo’s
Concierto de Aranjuez (during the years of the Republic Sainz de la Maza was related to
the young composers belonging to the Group of Madrid, from the Generation of 1927).
At the same time, Jesús Guridi (1886-1961), who was famous before the war due to his
lyrical works, confirmed his authority with the symphonic success obtained by his Diez
melodias vascas premiered in 1941. In the 1930’s, the two post-war music masters and
Sainz de la Maza had included a transcription of three of Guridi’s Veintidós canciones
del folklore vasco, with the title Tres canciones vascas. Still however, Guridi was never
implicated in the composition of original music for the guitar. The greatest effort made
was an adaptation for guitar (quite literal and not too practical) of the song Cómo
quieres que adivine, from Seis canciones castellanas for voice and piano, with which he
won an award from the Press and Propaganda Delegation in Bilbao in 1939. Guridi’s
manuscript was found by Leopoldo Neri with the title Cancion castellana, during his
investigations in the Sainz de la Maza Archive. Now, Eugenio Tobalina has done the
work that Sainz de la Maza did not do at the time: Tobalina has adapted the work to the
potential of the guitar. In doing so, he had to modify the work from the original E major
in Guridi’s transcription to C major, in which the work suits the instrument better.

      Together with himself and the Priest from Oñate Francisco Madina (1907-1972),
who was the youngest of the composers represented in this production, and his Sacred
Suite, a new phase started in the history of guitar. Francisco Madina lived in Argentina
between the years 1929 and 1955, and in New York from then until 1971. His profuse
guitar work was owing to his relationship with the Romeros, who he met in 1966 in
New York, where Father Madina was in charge of the Kempis Residence (for regular
Basque priests) in the Bronx. Father Madina wrote Concierto vasco for four guitars
and an orchestra for the Los Romero guitar quartet (in the same line as the Concierto
andaluz dedicated by Joaquin Rodrigo in 1967). That was his most famous work,
together with Sonata vasca for harp from 1947 that Nicanor Zabaleta played so many
                                       *   *   *    *   *
      Most of the composers represented here (Mújica, Donostia, Guridi, Sanjuán and
Isasi) belong to an anonymous generation to which some other very important
musicians also belonged (Federico Mompou, Óscar Esplá, Joaquín Turina and Julio
Gómez). It was the intellectual generation of Ortega y Gasset, Americo Castro and
Picasso, and in reference to the guitar, it was the generation of Andres Segovia. That
nameless generation lived and grew together with the Generation of 1898 (Llobet, Falla,
Granados, Unamuno and Zuloaga) and the Generation of 1927 which, in terms of music,
started to produce in the 20's. Both generations are equally represented here with
Vicente Arregui, who belonged to the Generation of 1898 and with Jose Maria
Franco and Francisco Madina, from the Generation of 1927 (the same as Sainz de la
Maza). It was an impressive group of intellectuals and artists that brought a brilliant
cultural period.

      The repertory that we introduce with this notes shows precisely some very
relevant aspects of the historic moment: the effervescence of the 20’s, the protagonist
character of Andres Segovia in the renovation of repertory, and the exalted musical life
empowering the guitar. Finally culminating in its maturity during the 30’s and in the
next decade (right after the Civil War), when the dissolution of the Republican cultural
ambience and the dispersion of composers and interpreters took place, the figure of
Sainz de la Maza came to the forefront of guitar and many new guitar players with new
repertories associated to Los Romero flourished. To sum up, the works presented here
by Eugenio Tobalina are an important contribution to the guitar repertory of the central
years of the 20th century, as well as to our knowledge of the history of guitar in those
important years, when that instrument reached the status it still holds today.

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