About this Recording
8.572096 - GARBIZU, T.: Txistu and Piano Music - 6 Old Time San Sebastian Songs / Basque Suites Nos. 1 and 2 / 4 Zortzikos (Ansorena, Cendoya)
English  Spanish 

Tomás Garbizu (1901–1989)
Music for Txistu


Tomás Garbizu ranks as one of the greatest names in twentieth-century Basque music. This recording bears witness to his genius and his audacity in combining for the first time such disparate instruments as the txistu, the Basque double-headed drum (tamboril) and the keyboard, to form an entirely original and innovative ensemble.

The txistu is a duct flute with three holes, played with one hand, usually the left, leaving the right free to play various different percussion instruments. Part of a widespread European family of instruments, the txistu is the Basque culture’s most traditional dance instrument. Its distinctive size and form were established in the late eighteenth century and it has since become the symbol of Basque folk music.

Garbizu was very familiar with the txistu, having heard it played since his childhood, and his compositions for the instrument reveal his knowledge, respect and affection for the instrument, which he described thus: “The txistu belongs to the mountains; it should soar, free as a bird”.

This recording features the Basque Country’s best-known txistulari, José Ignacio Ansorena. He collaborated with the composer for years, giving the premières of many of his works, and therefore has an exceptional insight into his music. He is partnered here by pianist Álvaro Cendoya, who has already recorded an album of Garbizu’s piano works in this series for Naxos. The recording was informed by Ansorena’s collection of the composer’s own performance notes.

The Six Old San Sebastián Songs come from a collection of typical and very well-known Basque folk-tunes, which Garbizu adapted with particular intuition for voice and piano and published under this title. He always had this version for txistu and piano in mind, however: on more than one occasion when Ansorena asked him for more txistu and keyboard works, he replied, “They’re all in the Viejas canciones donostiarras”. The commission was fulfilled with this most idiomatic of adaptations, whose pieces are a triumph of harmonic treatment in folk-song.

With the exception of Ixil ixilik (Quietly), which Garbizu originally wrote for horn and organ, and whose txistu arrangement he commissioned from Ansorena himself, the pieces in the two Basque Suites were written as performed here. In line with his wishes, they were grouped in this way for their publication in an issue of the revue Txistulari (run by Ansorena) dedicated to his music. They can also, however, be performed as independent numbers.

The melody of the Minuetoa (Minuet) is borrowed from Otzoal, a work well known among txistularis and originally composed by Miguel de Oñate. That of the Gabota (Gavotte), meanwhile, comes from an orchestral work by José Uruñuela. Ixil ixilik and Baratzeko pikuak (The Fig-Tree in the Orchard) are verse-and-refrain folk-tunes, while the Kontrapasa (Contrepas), Fandango boleroa (Fandango-Bolero) and Eibarko kontrapasa (Eibar’s Contrepas)are based on dance-tunes that would have been part of the core repertoire for Basque drummers in the nineteenth century.

The zortziko,in the sense referred to here, is an irregular rhythm highly characteristic of Basque music. It is written as a time signature of 5/8 but, as Juan Antonio Mogel said in the early nineteenth century, “even this does not help the foreign musician to invest it with the expression that a Basque would bring to it”.

The first two of the Four Zortzikos are both anonymous alboradas (dawn songs). San Juan zortzikoa is extremely popular throughout the western Basque Country and is played on the eve of St John’s  (or Midsummer’s) Day, 24 June, as part of the summer solstice celebrations that take place around a bonfire. The other two works in this set belong to a later subgenre, the sung zortziko, which in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was considered to be typical of Basque music, although this was not strictly true. El roble y el ombú (The Oak and the Ombú Tree), which uses the images of the most emblematic trees of the Basque Country and Argentina respectively, was created by a journalist from Bilbao named Félix Garci-Arzeluz. La del pañuelo rojo (The Girl in the Red Shawl), originally entitled Zortziko a Bilbao (Bilbao Zortziko) and composed by Avelino de Aguirre, became a hit in its revised version as sung by the tenor Ignacio Tabuyo.

Mendiko itzala (Shadow on the Mountain) was inspired by a trip the composer made to the Bortziri region of Navarre, of which he retained very fond memories. The Bortziri, or “five villages”, captivated him with their landscape, architecture and people. His musical portrayals of the region are built around two different ideas. The first part includes a traditional theme whistled by local shepherds to imitate different birds of prey (Belatza means falcon or kite), including the sound of their wings in flight. He had written a version of this previously but, dissatisfied with it, reworked it here. The second part features original melodies with which Garbizu recreates the sensations induced by the countryside around the village of Igantzi, combining lyrical piano fragments with rhythmical interruptions from a distant tamborilero.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century José Antonio Santesteban published the Cantos y Bailes tradicionales vascongados (Traditional Basque Songs and Dances), a collection of popular pieces in simple piano arrangements. Among them are these Guipuzcoan Dances, originally for txistu and tamboril, which had been published as early as 1826 in the Cancionero (Songbook) of Juan Ignacio de Iztueta. The idea of revisiting those scores appealed to Garbizu and, with a simple yet inspired touch, he re-adapted them for piano. On this recording we have given the txistu and tamboril the rôles they would traditionally have played.

Agur, jaunak! (Greetings, ladies and gentlemen!) appears to be part of a shared European tradition: versions of it can be heard in various different regions and countries across the continent. For Basque listeners it has solemn, social overtones, because of the words that are now sung to the tune and its adoption in 1918 as a semi-official performance piece for all sorts of public occasions. Garbizu’s version gives the txistu a playful, leaping part, full of trills and mordents.

José Ignacio Ansorena
Translated by Susannah Howe

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