About this Recording
8.572150 - BLASCO DE NEBRA, M.: Keyboard Sonatas (Complete), Vol. 3 (Pedro Casals)
English  Spanish 

Manuel Blasco de Nebra (1750–1784)
Complete Keyboard Sonatas • 3


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 an 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 recording features Nos. 3 to 6 of the set of sonatas published during his lifetime as his Opus 1, whose first edition is now held at the Library of Congress. Each sonata is made up of two contrasting movements. The gentle opening Adagios require each phrase to be clearly stated above the related accompaniment in the left hand. The use of dissonance and harmonic friction is what creates that “legato” character, connecting the phrases to one another so that each appears to emerge from the one that precedes it. The melodies are highly elaborate and ornamented and their length gives the impression at times that the music is suspended, unmoving, in mid-air, allowing the slow vibration of each sound to be felt. By contrast, the fast second movements are all lighthearted in nature; they call for high levels of virtuosity and technical ability. Performers are faced with all kinds of difficulties, but there is always a musical reason behind these challenges, none of which is there simply to provide opportunities for digital display. There are frequent reminders in these fast movements of guitar effects and technique, the composer’s aim being to emulate on the keyboard the agility and vigour of plucked strings and the shifting harmonies achieved when the Spanish guitar is played at high speed.

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 organized 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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