About this Recording
8.557150 - TURINA, J.: Piano Music, Vol. 1 (Maso) - Fantastic Dances / Gypsy Dances / 3 Andalusian Dances
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Joaquín Turina (1882–1949): Piano Music • 1
Danzas fantásticas • Danzas gitanas • Danzas andaluzas

Joaquín Turina was one of a group of twentieth-century composers, the others being de Falla, Albéniz, Granados and Mompou, who made an outstanding contribution to Spanish piano repertoire. Unlike his four compatriots, however, committed to the development of Spanish musical nationalism, Turina created his own personal musical world. Like the painter Joaquín Sorolla, whose light-filled works took their inspiration from local scenes, Turina borrowed and reworked traditional elements in orchestral works such as Sinfonía sevillana and La procesión del Rocío, armed with the rigorous technical command acquired at the conservative Paris Schola Cantorum, under Moritz Moszkowski and Vincent d’Indy, while making use of his own notable talents as a pianist.

‘A musician from head to toe, he was so ordinary in the way he lived and thought, never straying from the strict working methods and timetable he imposed on himself, that he seemed to belie all theories that artists are supposed to be irresponsible, even slightly unbalanced’, wrote his friend María Lejárraga. Yet Turina was more than a conservative composer and supporter of Franco (he received various honours from the régime, which he openly supported from 1939 to his death); he was an artist of fertile inspiration, the creator of a large number of skilfully constructed works, the best of which are for his preferred instrument, the piano.

Almost all Turina’s piano works, of which there are over a hundred, are short, almost miniature pieces, few of them more than five minutes long. Turina himself explained this as follows: ‘Despite having studied with Vincent d’Indy at the Schola Cantorum, I knew, or rather I learned from Albéniz, that no pure form, even post- Romanticism, was attainable for Spanish composers. Falla thought the same and, not being weighed down by any foreign criteria, we have been able to take different paths’.

As a proud Andalusian, Turina openly admitted the local inspiration behind his work: ‘The enduring parameters I felt to be guiding my work actually correspond to something very informal: the Andalusian landscape … I have been able to move freely within them because of my in-depth Schola training’. His descriptive music, however, renounces specific programmes and formal discipline. He himself stated, ‘I want to sing of love and sadness, searching out that little corner of the Andalusian spirit that looks out to the wider world; I have lived part of my life dreaming, because I as a musician love melody. There, tragedy loses its heart-rending edge, dance becomes purer and wine is only perfume. I cannot sit at the piano with a transcendental melody. I sing what pleases me and I feel a response.’

All the dances included here clearly reflect the aesthetic qualities of a frequently misunderstood composer, whose works have struggled for decades to be valued for more than their most superficial picturesque elements. Closer listening reveals these to be some of the best, most representative and certainly most inspired piano works to come out of Spain in the twentieth century. Turina’s legitimate conservatism should no longer detract from our enjoyment of works whose aim was to sing to us from Andalusia of ‘love and sadness’.

The Danzas fantásticas, Op. 22, composed in 1919, are better known in their orchestral version. They were originally conceived for piano, although it has often been asserted that this is one of the rare cases in which the orchestral version predates the piano work. The error stems from the fact that the piano version’s première, at the Málaga Sociedad Filarmónica, on 15th June 1920, given by the composer, came after that of the orchestral transcription, heard on 13th February, 1920, in Madrid’s Teatro Price, with the Orquesta Filarmónica de Madrid conducted by Bartolomé Pérez Casas. Turina himself set the record straight: ‘The Danzas fantásticas were written originally for piano. It later occurred to me to orchestrate them ... having created them with a sufficiently broad range of colour to use the full instrumental palette’.

Turina’s words were part of a speech given in Havana on 31st March, 1929, entitled How a work is created, the penultimate of seven different talks he gave on various musical subjects at the Hispanic-Cuban Institute of Culture. There he discussed the intricacies of the compositional process, taking the Danzas fantásticas as an example; he explained that ‘their epigraphs come from a novel: La orgía, by José Más; this does not mean that the literary theme has anything to do with the music. The three epigraphs simply relate in some way to the musical and, in a way, the choreographic essence of the three dances. They are states of mind expressed in rhythm, in accordance with the eternal law of contrast’.

At this conference in Havana Turina went into considerable detail about the gestation of the Danzas and their literary and descriptive connotations. ‘The first dance, Exaltación, is distantly related to the Aragonese jota, and has the following epigraph: ‘It was as if the figures in that incomparable scene were moving within the calyx of a flower’. The second dance, Ensueño, is based on the rhythm of the Basque zorcico [a composition or dance in 5/8], although its middle section is clearly Andalusian, and its epigraph is as follows: ‘the sound of the guitar was like the lamenting of a soul which can no longer bear the weight of bitterness’. But we have to look at the third dance, which shares its name with the novel, Orgía, and is a kind of hymn to manzanilla, the perfumed wine of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, that city of silver that stands at the mouth of the Guadalquivir, a wonderful mixture of sea and vineyards, beach and bars, little white houses and ribbon-like streets.’ The score was dedicated to Turina’s wife, Obdulia Garzón, whom he had married on 10th December 1908 in Seville.

The Tres danzas andaluzas, Op. 8 were composed in Paris in 1912, and first performed in a recital given by Turina on 13th October that year at the Santa Cecilia Academy in Cádiz. These three miniatures are based on the traditional rhythms of the petenera, tango and zapateado, and are dedicated respectively to Manuel Herrera, Eduardo Torres and ‘Señorita Laura Albéniz’, Isaac Albéniz’s oldest daughter, who had died three years earlier. The liveliness of the initial petenera gives way to an expressive tango, whose opening bar is marked rítmico y très expressivo and which in turn contrasts with the extravert and carefree atmosphere of the zapateado which, with its unmistakable 6/8 tempo, brings the triptych to an end.

It was the pianist José Cubiles (1894-1971) who gave the first performances of all Turina’s major piano works. He gave the première of the Danzas gitanas, Op. 55, on 15th January, 1932, at the Teatro de la Comedia in Madrid. Turina commented: ‘Received by Cubiles, their dedicatee, with the greatest affection, it only remains for me to say that he gave a masterful performance, putting one in mind of a genuine Albaicín gypsy’. These colourful works take their inspiration from the gypsy world of Granada, an inspiration to many other composers of the time. The music aims to express a particular way of being and feeling rather than to evoke specific places and landscapes, despite the fact that some of the titles do refer to actual places in Granada. In the five short and closely related pieces (the subtle quotation of the first piece, Zambra, in the last, Sacromonte, is by no means coincidental) we hear an abundance of augmented ‘oriental’ intervals and a clear depiction of gypsy songs and dances. There are also allusions to the Andalusian polo and flamenco farruca in Generalife and Sacromonte respectively. This collection from Turina’s later years, composed in 1929 and 1930, met with immediate and enormous success, boosted by an orchestral version, first performed, like the Danzas fantásticas, a few months before the original piano work.

Following the triumph of the first set of Danzas gitanas, Turina was inspired in 1934 to begin work on a second collection, also made up of five short works, the Danzas gitanas, Op. 84. The gypsy inspiration remains, and the influence of Falla’s El amor brujo1 is also discernible. Here, however, Turina removes any trace of the specific, working in a more intangible and abstract idiom. The traditional elements are treated with greater depth and given greater body, more in line with the aesthetics of Albéniz. Years earlier, in Paris in 1907, Albéniz, whom Turina greatly admired, had advised him, ‘You should base your work on the traditional songs of Spain, or Andalusia, as you’re a Sevillian’. Turina also moves closer to Debussy in this set, especially with the ethereal sonorities of Fiesta de las calderas, the fleeting volatility at the beginning of Círculos rítmicos and the unrevealed mystery of Invocación, reminiscent of La Cathédrale engloutie. By contrast, in the last two dances, Danza rítmica and Seguiriya, he returns to the more direct nature of Opus 55. This second set was also dedicated to Cubiles, who gave its première on 8th March 1935 at the Teatro de la Comedia.

Only rarely performed, the Dos danzas sobre temas populares españoles, Op. 41, date from 1926 and were first performed at London’s Lyceum Club. The first is based on the seguidilla dance form and has a strong traditional flavour, its theme picking up various sevillana rhythms that are still danced in Andalusia today. In El árbol de Guernica Turina turns his attention to Basque folk-music, once again using the characteristic 5/8 tempo of the zorzico to underpin a delicate melodic atmosphere gracefully unfolding in the right hand.

In 1933 Turina took five nineteenth-century Spanish dances to create his Bailete (Suite de danzas del siglo XIX), Op. 79, the final work included here. He dedicated it to his friend Joaquín Nin Castellanos (1879–1949). As in the first set of Danzas gitanas, Turina links the first and last numbers, Entrada and Fandango, to bring a sense of cohesion to the cycle which develops from an initial D minor to a dazzling final D major.

© Justo Romero
English translation: Susannah Howe


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