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8.557633 - GURIDI: Piano Works
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Jesús Guridi (1886–1961)
Piano Music

Although Jesús Guridi achieved his greatest successes in the orchestral and operatic fields, he also wrote a significant quantity of piano works. While his activity in this area was intermittent, his piano compositions are nonetheless a true reflection of his personal style, being characterized by everything from grand operatic gestures to the most subtle effects, as well as being strongly influenced by folk-music.

Guridi was born in Vitoria in 1886. Having made some early appearances in the musical circles of Bilbao, he left Spain in 1904 to continue his studies in Paris, Liège and Cologne. On his return he was appointed director of the Bilbao Choral Society, for whom he wrote a number of works, most notably the collections of Basque folk-songs and one of his masterpieces, Así cantan los chicos (1915), for chorus and orchestra. The next year or so saw the first performances in Madrid of his “Basque operatic idyll” Mirentxu (1915) and the symphonic poem Una aventura de Don Quijote (1916). He worked on his epic Basque opera Amaya over the decade from 1910 to 1920, and another of his stage works, the zarzuela El caserío (1926), proved to be one of his greatest triumphs. This was followed by other works in the same genre, including La meiga and La cautiva.

Guridi achieved particular international renown with the Diez melodías vascas (1941), a fine example of a nationalist orchestral work, the Sinfonía pirenaica (1946), the Homenaje a Walt Disney (1956) for piano and orchestra, the String Quartet in A (1950), and the Seis canciones castellanas (1943), among others. As well as composing many highly regarded pieces for organ, including the Tríptico del Buen Pastor, he also wrote a number of film scores and composed incidental music for the theatre. Organ professor of the Madrid Conservatory for some years, Guridi was appointed its director in 1956, remaining in the post until his death five years later, by which time he had been distinguished with many awards and honours.

Guridi’s piano works range from brief personal sketches to large-scale fantasies for piano and orchestra. His usual way of working was to create cycles of independent pieces, generally based on Basque folkmusic, limiting himself to a number of very specific stylistic parameters, overall austerity and idiomatic or atmospheric changes according to the character, poetic, festive or dramatic, of the original melody.

There are certain similarities between the way he uses folk-song elements in the Cantos populares vascos (Basque Folk-Songs) and in his choral song collections. The melodic lines are almost vocal in nature, and Guridi restricts his use of pianistic formulas such as arpeggios, repeated chords and changes in register. The harmonic colour is determined by a typical, essentially diatonic language, which constricts the sound-world of this piece. Similar characteristics appear in the Ocho apuntes (Eight Sketches), two-part imitative procedures, and harmonizations inspired by eighteenth-century keyboard music, with expressive, impressionistic touches such as the imitation of the sound of flowing water, starting from a single note and developing in intervals and rapid figurations across various registers. The Tres piezas breves (Three Short Pieces) are given a melancholy feel by the minor key, and are composed as a single ternary form with formal and rhythmic similarities between the first and third pieces.

Guridi occasionally took his inspiration not from Basque music but from Spanish folk-songs, as in his Danzas viejas (Ancient Dances), musical commentaries on poems by Victor Espinós, or in a series of works he composed as incidental music, such as the Vals de Mirentxu.

Both Vasconia and the Lamento e Imprecación de Agar (Hagar’s Lament and Curse) provide an insight into the way in which Guridi developed as a composer, representing as they do a more advanced, sophisticated stage in his work. The timbre and dynamics are more complex, and there is greater harmonic density, while the accompaniments are more elaborate and the formal development more imaginative, allowing glimpses of the symphonic Guridi. His re-creation of the Biblical scene of Hagar in the desert shows a sense of drama and the archaic: a monodic recitative like a hazy vision is followed by a central section in which the theme is developed by means of progressive modulation, before the final recapitulation.

Santiago Gorostiza
English version: Susannah Howe


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