FEDERICO MORENO TORROBA (1891 - 1982)
Federico Moreno Torroba was born in Madrid on 3rd March, 1891. He learned music from an early age with his father, José Moreno Ballesteros, a well known organist, and then studied composition with the great Catalan musicologist, Felipe Pedrell (1841-1922) and the composer, Conrado del Campo (1878-1953). In 1918, the year when Moreno Torroba’s tone poem, La ajorca de oro (The Gold Bracelet) had its première at the conservatoire, he met the great guitarist, Andrés Segovia, who commented in his autobiography: “Then there was a ‘first’ in the field of the guitar: for the first time, a composer who was not a guitarist, wrote a piece for the guitar. It was Federico Moreno Torroba, whose musical poem had just been premiered by the National Symphony under the direction of Maestro Arbós. Moreno Torroba had been introduced to me by the orchestra’s first violin, Señor Francés. It did not take us long to become friends, nor for him to accede to my suggestion: Would he compose something for the guitar? In a few weeks he came up with a slight but truly beautiful Dance in E major. In spite of his scant knowledge of the guitar’s complex technique, he approached it accurately by sheer instinct and, to my joy, the work remained in the repertoire.”
The composer continued to write for guitar during the rest of his life, producing some eighty works including dances, impressionistic pieces, sonatas and sonatinas and suites as well as concertos and compositions for four guitars. The close association with Segovia in due course established Moreno Torroba’s international reputation as one of the foremost composers involved in the remarkable twentieth century renaissance of the classical guitar. His guitar music has remained one of the most popular elements of the modern repertoire ever since Segovia recorded the first movement (Allegretto) of Sonatina (20th May, 1927).
Moreno Torroba, however, was not only a prolific guitar composer but one of the leading advocates in the late flowering of the zarzuela, the light Spanish opera form characterized by a blend of sung and spoken dialect. As conductor and impresario, he travelled widely throughout the 1930s and 1940s with several stage companies, visiting the United States and Latin America. His first zarzuela was written as early as 1912, but it was the success of La mesonera de Tordesillas (The Hostess of Tordesillas) (1925), which confirmed his enthusiasm for the genre, and a whole string of triumphs, including La marchenera (The Girl from Marchena) (1928) and Luisa Fernanda (1932) followed, continuing through till Ella (1966), the composer finally achieving an astonishing total of some eighty operas.
After the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, Moreno Torroba continued as one of the dominant figures of Spanish musical culture. Founding a new zarzuela company in 1946, he once again toured widely and in 1957 María Manuela became the most popular Spanish opera of the decade. In the post-war years, the composer wrote nine ballets, a quantity of choral and orchestral music, a piano concerto and many piano solos, a variety of songs and miscellaneous other works, as well as numerous guitar pieces, a prodigious output which continued until his death at the age of 91. Moreno Torroba’s musical vocabulary eschewed experimentation along twentieth-century avant-garde lines, preferring lyrically melodic music with tonal harmony. His philosophy of composition is often described as ‘castizo’, signifying a blend of folk elements drawing on the traditions of Iberian culture, combined with conventional forms and evocative or impressionistic works celebrating dance genres, specific places, or moods. His guitar music is particularly rich in its use of colour, melody, and lively rhythms to transport the listener into an essentially Spanish expression of a poetic and romantic sensibility.
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