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8.225188 - MARTINEZ-SOBRAL: 5 Characteristic Pieces / Sonata for 2 Pianos
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Manuel Martínez-Sobral (1879-1946)

Manuel Martínez-Sobral (1879-1946)

Five Characteristic Pieces and a Romance

Sonata for Two Pianos (Acuarelas chapinas B: 1922 version)

Four Autobiographical Waltzes

The pieces which make up Manuel Martínez-Sobral’s Five Characteristic Pieces and a Romance were gathered under this title by the composer himself in 1920. The six pieces were written in different periods during his lifetime. The first, in chronological order, seems to have been the Mazurka in A minor written in 1903 and the last, Romance without Words, written in 1919. There is here a certain alternation in the character and rhythm of the pieces, Mazurka, Gavota, Mazurka, Gavota, Minueto, Romanza, and a logic to the tonal linking, A flat major — D flat major or C sharp major — A minor — G major — A major — G major. The principle of organization followed by the composer.

The Mazurka in A flat is divided into three parts, the first being also based on three phrases. Of these phrases, the first and third are identical and consist of a joint succession of notes ranging from E flat to the E flat of the superior octave, a succession which is immediately commented on by an arabesque figure. The second phrase is a section of virtuoso character oscillating between the tonality of D flat major, B flat minor and F minor; it functions as a glosa and prepares the repetition of the first phrase in A flat, the main tonality. The central section modulates the subdominant D flat and is built over a light figure of semiquavers, coming from the arabesque figure of the first theme and giving place to an effusive interplay of imitations among the voices. The third section is a recapitulation of the first, this time modified by some variants and reinforcements. The first Gavota is a piece in seven sections, where a cell of three conjoined notes on the first measure generates the main ideas. This cell dominates throughout the composition in a rhythmic and intervallic way. The Gavota provided the composer with an excuse to try a free imitative style. The Mazurka in A minor, less elaborate than the two preceding dances, is a piece full of grace and freshness, composed exclusively over the rhythmic figure of a dotted quaver and a semiquaver. The Gavota in G major is, as its tempo indicates, an Allegro appassionato of brilliant character, which has a strong rhythmic impulse thanks to the constant movement of its accents and the articulation of its phrases. This is a piece composed of three- or four-note motifs and a constant use of the appoggiaturas on the strong tempos gives it its character. Gavota has three sections, the third a varied repetition of the first section, with a central section that develops the material. The Minueto in A major is another dance in three sections in neoclassical style. It is also a study of double notes, especially thirds and sixths. In the first and third sections the most relevant characteristics are the alternation of forte and pianissimo dynamics, in a piece that is a contrapuntal invention with a frequent use of imitation. The return of the first section includes variants that give it more density. Romance without Words is inscribed in memory of the composer’s mother and is full of nostalgia and serenity. This piece, avoiding the grandiose, is all in the tonality of G major, as if suspended in time.

Manuel Martínez-Sobral wrote three versions of his most important work, Acuarelas chapinas. The first one, dated 1903, is given as a sketch for piano, lacking any complementary figures or counterpoint, although it was later included in the remarkable and refined version for orchestra of 1907. The second version, full of new ideas and orchestral colours, constitutes without any doubt the most complete and developed orchestral work by any Central American composer at least until the second half of the twentieth century. This is the work of a 29-year-old composer at the climax of his creative ability, where, like Mahler and Sibelius, he sought to be modern and true to his time through the use of a harmonic language, outmoded at that time, but inventing procedures such as the simultaneous recapitulation of two themes from the first movement and a final rondo structure with waltzes that dance from within the music. The composer himself named the third version Sonata for Two Pianos (Acuarelas chapinas B) in a transcription completed in 1922 with the addition of a large number of new figures, the first and only work for two pianos composed by a Central American author for a long time to come. Throughout its four movements, Acuarelas chapinas evokes the mood of an archetypal Sunday in a turn-of-the-century city in Latin America, which becomes every Sunday of its time through the magic of its music. The work is organized as a sonata where each movement corresponds to a defined musical character, attached to a specific place in the city and revealing different scenes of Sunday life. At the same time, each scene corresponds to a specific time of the day with a specific colour of its own. La parada (The Promenade) is set at ten o’clock in the Central Park, represented in sonata form. Misa mayor (High Mass) is in the Cathedral at noon, in song-form. La hora del cocktail (Cocktail time) is in a restaurant at two o’clock in the afternoon, a Scherzo, and En la Ventana (By the window), a Rondo, is in a living-room at five o’clock, as evening draws in. Acuarelas chapinas is also a journey, from the public of a central park, towards the more individual, the windowsill in a living room of a private house. It has a strict tonal structure and is based on the interval of a major second, functioning as the unifying principle and as the generator of the majority of themes, secondary ideas, transitions, forms of accompaniment and decorative elements. The first movement, La parada, begins with a trill in the middle and high register, announcing the interval of the major second of E flat and F natural, evoking the boisterous feverish mood typical of a crowded sunny Sunday morning in the Central Park of Guatemala. Over the trill the exhilarating first theme is introduced by the first piano, to be repeated and further developed. A second theme, apparently less agitated and in E flat major appears in the lower register, returning in the recapitulation together with the first theme. The chords of the final plagal cadence suggest the bells summoning people to Mass in the Cathedral.

With the indication Andante religioso, Misa Mayor starts with a homophonic chorale in F minor. In the orchestral version this chorale clearly imitates the sound of an organ. From the second phrase onwards the chorale gradually acquires greater sonority with a proliferation of counterpoint. The ethereal second section in F major suggests the meditative character of the Sanctus, and initial chorale returns in the relative major, followed by a coda.

The third movement, La hora del cocktail, is a scherzo with two trios, depicting a social gathering of the time, with the noise, the sentimental commotion and the humour throughout the whole movement, using all types of procedures common in popular music.

The final movement, En la ventana, is a series of waltzes in a rondo structure. Each waltz is composed as an independent entity but with its own function within the form.

Manuel Martínez-Sobral had the curious idea of writing his memories as a series of waltzes. The first waltz, Deja que cante al pie de tu ventana (Let me sing by your window), is a serenade to the woman he loved. It is more elaborate in structure than the following piece, consisting of three waltzes, preceded by an introduction and followed by a coda. The second waltz is called María Teresa (1910), a ternary-form homage to the girl who would become his wife. Lejana juventud, edad de ensueño (1937) (Distant youth, age of dreams) and Otoño (1939) (Autumn) are the last two and the only instrumental pieces written by Martínez-Sobral after some thirteen years. Here the composer bids farewell to life, remembering his more active and intensely creative years. The series of four waltzes were scored by the composer in diverse forms; María Teresa was transcribed for flute, harp, celesta and strings. The remaining pieces were transcribed for symphony orchestra.

Rodrigo Asturias

English translation by Cecilia Skinner-Klée


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