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8.557634 - JOSE: Sinfonia castellana / Suite ingenua / El mozo de mulas (Suite)
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Antonio José Martínez Palacios (1902–1936)
Sinfonía castellana • Evocaciones • Suite ingenua • El mozo de mulas Suite

A tragic prelude to the Second World War, the Spanish Civil War brought hundreds of thousands of personal tragedies, many of which touched the Spanish cultural world. The execution of the poet Federico García Lorca is well known, but among the victims of the conflict was a promising young composer called Antonio José Martínez Palacios, known in musical circles simply as Antonio José.

Martínez Palacios was born on 12th December 1902 in Burgos, then a small city far removed from the cultural concerns of Madrid or Barcelona. Despite this, the young musician made a name for himself and before he was twenty was awarded a grant to continue his studies in Madrid. In 1920, at the age of eighteen, Martínez was appointed orchestral conductor of the Teatro de la Latina, although his work there was fairly limited given that the theatre’s repertoire consisted mainly of revues and other such light entertainment.

Very little is known even today about his years in Madrid. As yet no light has been shed on his teachers or the people or music that influenced him, but we do know that he began to write more ambitious works, such as the Sonata castellana (Castilian Sonata, 1922), followed a year later by the Sinfonía castellana (Castilian Symphony), his most formally advanced orchestral work. Other piano works dating from these years include the Danza de los bufones (Dance of the Jesters, 1920), the Poema de la juventud (Poem of Youth, 1924), the title by which his Fourth Sonata is known, and the Tres danzas burgalesas (Three Dances from Burgos, 1924). He also began to direct a number of choral ensembles, a very popular form of music-making in 1920s Spain, choral singing frequently being linked to the development of workers’ movements from the 1880s onwards.

In 1925 and 1926, Antonio José travelled to Paris, and this was to have a definitive influence on his style. While his use of Castilian folk-music put him somewhat in the rearguard in comparison with some of the other Spanish composers of his generation who were experimenting with neo-classicism, as exemplified by Ernesto Halffter’s Sinfonietta (1925), his affection for French music in general and impressionism in particular led him to follow Falla’s example and stay closer to France than to the modernism of fin-de-siècle Vienna.

In 1925 Antonio José moved to Málaga to take up the post of music teacher in a school whose pupils were drawn from local high society. This was a period of intense compositional work during which he produced a fourth Danza burgalesa (1928) and the Sonata gallega (Galician Sonata, 1929). The key work of these years was, however, Evocaciones (Cuadros de danza campesina) (Evocations: Country Dance Sketches, 1926), the composition that brought him a certain degree of national renown. Originally for piano, when it was orchestrated in 1928 the work was made known by the Madrid Symphony Orchestra and its conductor Enrique Fernández Arbós, the artists most involved in new music in Spain at that time. The Suite ingenua (Innocent Suite) and Improvisación, for organ, both from 1928, are the last works from his Málaga period.

Having failed to obtain the post of harmony professor at the Málaga Conservatory, and deciding not to take up the more exotic offer of a job in Quito, Martínez returned to Burgos. In 1929 he became conductor of the Orfeón Burgalés (Burgos Choral Society), which was then in serious crisis, although it was still the most active institution in the city. He immersed himself in both performing and teaching, running a music-school and writing a songbook for children. It was at this time that he put together his anthologies of folk-music, a local treasure he wanted to make as widely known as possible. His success in achieving this can be seen in the fact that his Colección de cantos populares burgaleses (Collection of Burgos Folk-Songs) was awarded the National Music Prize of 1932. Martínez also wrote a number of works for the Orfeón Burgalés: the Himno a Castilla (Hymn to Castile, 1929), the Cuatro canciones populares burgalesas (Four Burgos Folk-Songs, 1931), the Tres cantigas de Alfonso X (Three Ballads by Alfonso X), originally for voice and piano, then for chorus (1932), and the Cinco coros castellanos (Five Castilian Choruses, 1932).

With his major operatic project El mozo de mulas (The Muleteer) still unfinished, in spring 1936 Antonio José attended the International Musicology Congress in Barcelona, one of the last such events of the Second Republic. He presented a paper on the folk-songs of Burgos, which were without doubt his principal musical inspiration. A few short months later, on 8th or 9th October, he was to meet his death.

The Sinfonía castellana gives us many clues to an understanding of the work of Antonio José: borrowings from folk-music, elegant orchestration, a taste for colour and elements taken from French impressionism. The first movement, El campo (The Countryside: Allegro), is in sonata-form, its first theme being a song from the anthology Folclore de Castilla o Cancionero popular de Burgos (Castilian Folk-Music, or Burgos Song-Book), published in 1903 by the influential composer and writer Federico Olmeda de San José. The second theme is derived from the first, and at the end, a dance tune takes over. There is some chordal repetition, and there are no well-defined thematic contrasts, yet the movement has a delicate, watercolour-like colouring. Adolfo Salazar, the most influential Spanish critic of the first thirty years of the twentieth century, though he recognised Antonio José’s worth (he considered him the outstanding Spanish composer of his generation), was justified in pointing out that this movement was not altogether successful in formal terms. In the opinion of Emilio Casares, the two middle movements, Paisaje de atardecer (Twilight Landscape: Andante con calma) and Nocturno (Lento), are the most interesting, in that they move away from literal quotations of folk-tunes and into the areas of impressionist aesthetics and harmony. Bucolic and polished, with effective writing for the harp, the Paisaje movement introduces a subjective, late-romantic lyricism with touches of Debussy, and is tonally most impressive. The fact that the Nocturne is also a slow movement is one quite original feature of this work. The harp reappears in this ecstatic passage which seems to paint us a picture of a peaceful summer’s night. A seductive violin solo passionately expands to all the strings. The fourth movement, Danza burgalesa (Burgos Dance: Allegro vivo), works symmetrically with the first, returning to the nationalist idiom and once again using materials from Olmeda’s Cancionero. The energy of a traditional festive dance is obvious; the insistent rhythm is interrupted by a song-like episode only to return and reaffirm its presence.

Antonio José’s opera El mozo de mulas, based on an episode from Don Quixote (Part One, ch. XLIII), remained unfinished at his death. Begun in his Málaga years, the vocal/piano score was complete, but the opera was only partially orchestrated, a task completed by Alejandro Yagüe in 1992. In 1934, however, the composer had presented the Preludio y Danza popular (Prelude and Folk-Dance), two extracts from the opera signalling his return to orchestral writing. They were first performed that same year in Madrid.

The Preludio (Moderato) is the introduction to the first act, and is abstract and impressionistic in nature. It opens with an oboe solo, which leads into a passage for strings marked intenso, which in turn links to an expressive flute solo above arpeggios on the harp and divisi tremolos in the strings. The addition of more instruments increases the lyricism of the piece, which ultimately returns to the oboe solo and the now muted string intenso passage. The Danza popular comes from Act Two; Alejandro Yagüe has reincorporated it into the opera, retaining Antonio José’s orchestration. It has an animated, rustic feel to it, its theme taken from the composer’s own anthology of Burgos folk-songs. The rhythm picked out by the trumpets gives it a colourful charm, and its overall character is that of a lively country celebration.

Evocaciones, a piece clearly rooted in folk-music, dates from 1928. Its principal theme is that of a song from Burgos, Juan se llama mi amante (My lover’s name is John), from the Olmeda anthology. It first appears as if from a great distance, then gradually builds up its presence, with a slow dance tune, until the climax, underpinned by the percussion. Rather than a development proper, the work features a number of episodes quite unrelated to the main theme, while the varied theme becomes increasingly nostalgic on each return. Evocaciones was first given by the Bilbao Symphony under the baton of Vladimir Golschmann.

Antonio José had intended to orchestrate his short piano piece Marcha de los soldados de plomo (March of the Lead Soldiers, 1931), but got no further than making some notes as to the orchestral forces. Alejandro Yagüe orchestrated the work in 1988. The March is childlike in atmosphere, its mechanical rhythm depicting the toys’ imaginary rigid movement. Yagüe’s orchestration emphasises the satirical traits present in the original. On 29th May 1931, the Asociación de Cultura Musical sponsored the first performance of Antonio José’s Suite ingenua in Madrid, performed by the Orquesta Clásica conducted by Arturo Saco del Valle. The following day, the composer and critic Julio Gómez wrote about the piece in his El Liberal column, calling it music of genuine “innocence” which had been warmly received by the audience.

The Suite is written for string orchestra and piano, the rôle of which is less than it would be in a concerto; the theme of the Romance (Andantino) is very simple, almost childlike — all this work’s motifs too are from Olmeda’s anthology. Initially in the background, after a short bridge passage the piano takes over the theme. There is no development. A sorrowful song on the strings is the key feature of the Balada (Lento y apasionado); it gradually rises to be picked up by the violins, without losing its character. Meanwhile, the piano adds brush-strokes of colour. The Danza (Allegro) unfolds in similar fashion to the first movement: the strings introduce a simple theme with the piano providing accompaniment before it in turn takes up the theme and restates it with the utmost simplicity.

Enrique Martínez Miura

English translation: Susannah Howe

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