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8.557228 - DONOSTIA: Basque Preludes / Nostalgia
José Antonio Donostia (1886–1956)
Padre Donostia was not only one of the greatest Basque composers of sacred, symphonic and stage music, but also a highly influential collector of and expert in his native region’s folk-music. The true significance of his work in both fields has yet to be fully recognised.
José Gonzalo de Zulaica y Arregui was born in San Sebastián in the Spanish Basque Country on 8th December 1886. At the age of ten he was sent to the Capuchin College in Lekaroz in Navarre, where he studied piano, harmony and counterpoint with Father Otano. He joined the order himself and on his ordination as a priest took the name Father José Antonio of Donostia (the Basque name for San Sebastián). Given his background then, it was entirely natural that he should have found himself drawn to two of the strongest currents in European music at the time, nationalism and the revival of liturgical plainchant under Pope Pius X. Padre Donostia dedicated much of his time to researching traditional Basque folk-music and studying Gregorian chant. After a period of study and meditation, he fulfilled a long-held desire when he undertook the composition of his Preludios vascos para piano (Basque Piano Preludes), based on traditional themes. He composed other works between 1910 and 1920, including Euskal Eresiak and the Melodías catalanas (Catalan Melodies).
His music had an immediate impact, and in January 1920 he travelled to Paris to continue his studies. There he met Ravel and had the opportunity to study all the latest artistic trends, before setting off on a series of journeys around France and Argentina, where his works were enthusiastically received. During the 1920s he wrote the stage works Los tres milagros de santa Cecilia (The Three Miracles of Saint Cecilia) and La vie profonde de saint François d’Assise (The Profound Life of St Francis of Assisi). His orchestral compositions also include the instrumental versions of a number of Basque pieces, the Preludes, Acuarelas vascas (Basque Watercolours), Infantiles (Pieces for Children), and the above-mentioned stage works.
When the Civil War broke out in Spain in 1936, he went into exile in France and there devoted himself almost entirely to sacred music. Two of the most important works of his later years are the Poema de la Pasión (Passion Poem) and the Requiem Missa pro defunctis. Having returned to Spain at the end of the war, he settled in Barcelona, where he helped establish the Spanish Institute of Musicology. The last years of his life were divided between Barcelona and Baztan (in Navarre), where he died in 1956.
Padre Donostia’s greatest achievement was to bring prestige to traditional Basque music. He succeeded in finding and conveying its deeper significance, faithfully and elegantly, as well as in achieving the perfect balance between the assimilation of tradition and the huge influence of his impressionist contemporaries, Ravel and Debussy.
At the core of his piano repertoire are the four books of Preludes (1912–16), to which must also be added the Menuet basque (Basque minuet), Andante para una sonata vasca (Andante for a Basque sonata), Herrimina (Nostalgia), Homenaje a J.C. de Arriaga (Tribute to Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga), Prière plaintive à Notre-Dame de Socorri (Heartfelt Prayer to Our Lady of Socorri), and two original pieces for guitar, Tiento y canción (Tiento and Song) and Vora’l Ter (On the Banks of the Ter).
Common to the four books of Preludes is a concern for the strict reproduction of the traditional melodies, which are always allowed to shine through. Padre Donostia’s expressive writing rises up above the melody, its express intention being to describe the text, harmonic backgrounds representing landscapes, rhythmic patterns, impressionistic recitatives, distant music from religious processions and festivities, children’s games, and so on, all of which are marked by their simplicity and nostalgic lyricism. Although the works were written within a short time of one another, the later pieces show that Padre Donostia’s musical and harmonic idiom was beginning to move away from its classical roots to become more impressionistic in nature.
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