About this Recording
8.572068 - BLASCO DE NEBRA, M.: Keyboard Sonatas (Complete), Vol. 1 (Pedro Casals)
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Manuel Blasco de Nebra (1750–1784)
Complete Keyboard Sonatas • 1


Manuel Blasco de Nebra was born in Seville in 1750 and died there in 1784. He came from a musical family and his father, the organist José Blasco de Nebra, was his first teacher. At this time Seville was in the throes of a major economic crisis, having lost its monopoly on trade with the Americas, and Manuel was therefore forced to leave his native city and try his luck elsewhere. In 1766 he travelled to Madrid, where he soon achieved renown for his amazing sight-reading abilities and for his remarkably expressive performances on the harpsichord, organ and piano, the last instrument then in its infancy. His uncle, José de Nebra, a composer of zarzuelas, was a highly respected figure at court and was able to give his nephew some help in establishing his own musical career. He died two years later, however, and, lacking financial support, Manuel had no option but to return to Seville. Once there, he carried out some of his father’s organ-playing duties at the cathedral as well as standing in from time to time for its principal organist, Juan Roldán. He gradually created a niche for himself and took over from his father as assistant organist. In addition to the intense musical life he led within the cathedral, he must also have been active in the wider artistic community, moving in the intellectual circles of men such as Count Pedro Rodríguez de Campomanes and Pablo de Olavide. Blasco de Nebra died suddenly on 12 September 1784. He was buried in Seville’s Santa Cruz Church.

Baltasar Saldoni included an entry for Manuel Blasco de Nebra in his Diccionario de efemérides de músicos españoles, stating that the composer wrote as many as 170 works during his lifetime, although he does not specify what form these pieces took nor for what instruments they were written. Of these 170, only 26 keyboard sonatas and six pastorellas are known today. An initial six sonatas were recovered and edited by musicologist Robert Parris from the first edition of the Sonatas, Op.1, held at the Library of Congress in Washington. Then another twelve sonatas and the six pastorellas were found at the Monastery of Montserrat (Catalonia), which have since been published by Egtved in an edition by the Danish musicologist Bengt Johnsson. Later still María Inmaculada Cárdenas Serván discovered a further six sonatas at the Encarnación Monastery of Osuna (in the province of Seville), which she published with the support of the Spanish Musicology Society. The final two sonatas come from a manuscript found and studied by Pedro Casals at the Santa Clara convent in Seville and which is now held at Madrid’s Universidad Complutense. A modern edition of these two pieces has yet to be published.

Blasco de Nebra’s keyboard sonatas can be divided into three periods, according to their degree of thematic and structural complexity. This CD features his earliest known pieces: the sonatas discovered at the Encarnación Monastery. While these are the simplest works, they all include two main themes, and among them we find both the older kind of sonata form (Exposition–Recapitulation) and the more modern (Exposition–Development– Recapitulation). The minor-key sonatas are of particular interest, with their interplay between modality and tonality.

The next two works, chronologically speaking (and on this album), are the sonatas taken from the Santa Clara manu-script. Although short in duration, both adopt technical solutions which are fairly advanced in comparison to those of the earlier works. This is the first recording of either piece and the Sonata in D minor in particular uses guitar-like strumming and plucking effects.

The other five sonatas on this CD belong to MS 2998 from the Montserrat Abbey Archive. All are cast in two movements, an opening Adagio followed by an Allegro, showing the way in which sonata form was developing. In each case the two movements provide a strong contrast with one another: the first is always slow and expressive, usually with two themes, the performer being required to use all his or her skill to make the instrument “sing”, investing the music with both tranquillity and feeling. The second movement, meanwhile, is always lively and, in most cases, monothematic, its purpose being to allow performers to display their virtuosity. Most of the Allegros are in triple time, giving them a light and dance-like character. It is these fast movements that are most identified with the composer: Blasco de Nebra was known in his day as a great improviser and keyboard virtuoso and, as we can hear in these works, he uses all the technical resources available to him, such as, for example, a brief rhythmic ostinato that gives his fast movements their bright and lively character.

The works performed on this CD are part of a three-disc collection bringing together for the first time Manuel Blasco de Nebra’s complete surviving sonatas. They are organised chronologically across the three CDs in order to show how the composer’s work evolved within the great musical genre that is the sonata.

© Pedro Casals, April 2009
English translation: Susannah Howe

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