About this Recording
8.573503 - MORENO TORROBA, F.: Guitar Concertos, Vol. 2 - Homenaje a la seguidilla / Tonada concertante (Pepe Romero, V. Coves, Extremadura Symphony, M. Coves)

Federico Moreno Torroba (1891–1982)
Homenaje a la seguidilla • Tonada concertante • Concierto de Castilla


Torroba and the Guitar Concerto

Federico Moreno Torroba is among the most salient figures in the modern repertoire for the classical guitar. Indeed, he may well have been the first prominent composer to write for the instrument who was not himself a guitarist. There is considerable irony in this fact, as Torroba was principally a man of the theatre. He got his start writing zarzuelas (operettas) in Madrid and would eventually compose about seventy such works over a period of four decades. He was among the most successful composers of zarzuelas in the genre’s history, his biggest hit being Luisa Fernanda (1932), which has been performed over fifteen thousand times. However, that is but one of several of his works that have found a permanent place in the zarzuela repertoire.

How Torroba came to compose for the guitar can be summed up in a single word: Segovia. Andrés Segovia was an early admirer of his music, and around 1920 he persuaded Torroba to write something for the guitar. From this collaboration came a long list of masterworks, including such classics as the Suite castellana, Piezas características, and Castillos de España. Indeed, he eventually composed about a hundred works for the guitar. Urged on by Segovia, Torroba made some early attempts at a concerto, but these efforts did not bear lasting fruit until the 1960s, the decade in which Torroba devoted increasing attention to writing for the guitar rather than zarzuelas, which were by then going out of style. And Torroba became nothing if not prolific in writing concertos for guitar(s) and orchestra, a fact that this recording makes very clear. By the end of his life, he had composed ten such works, more even than his friend Joaquín Rodrigo. His concertos are mostly for solo guitar, though Nocturnos is for two guitars, and the Concierto ibérico, for four. This latter concerto was inspired by Rodrigo’s Concierto andaluz and, like that work, it was written for the celebrated Romero Guitar Quartet. In fact, during the period in which he wrote his concertos, Torroba was expanding the circle of guitarists for whom he wrote music, and in several cases these new collaborations provided the impetus for his creativity. These performers included not only the Romeros but also Narciso Yepes, Irma Costanzo and Michael Lorimer.

Torroba’s guitar works have two things in common with his zarzuelas. First, they are eminently lyrical and present us with a cornucopia of evocative and memorable melodies. Torroba described himself as a “melodist,” one whose operatic idol was Puccini. Second, they are grounded in the Spanish folklore that Torroba knew so well, including Andalusian flamenco.

Homenaje a la seguidilla (1962)

The seguidilla is a type of lively song and dance in triple metre that exists in regional varieties. It is especially characteristic of Castile but also found in Andalusia, as the playful sevillanas or very serious siguiriya. Torroba’s Homenaje a la seguidilla is a loving homage to this characteristically Spanish type of music. Dedicated to Narciso Yepes, who gave the initial première in Paris in 1962, it is in three movements, marked Andantino, Andante, and Allegro sostenuto. However, Torroba was not content with his effort and continued to revise the work over a period of several years. Its formal première finally took place in 1975, at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, with the composer conducting and Irma Costanzo as soloist. Costanzo was a native of Buenos Aires who had studied with Yepes and Uruguayan virtuoso Abel Carlevaro. Yepes recorded the Homenaje in 1976 and, after further substantial revisions, it was recorded again in 1981, with the composer conducting the English Chamber Orchestra and Ángel Romero as soloist (this revision was dedicated to Ángel). As Federico Sopeña said of this work:

“[In the case of Moreno Torroba,] without subjecting himself to any fad, faithful to himself and secure within that faith, his Homenaje a la seguidilla is like an autobiographical anthology, which one listens to with pleasure. I believe that the hour has arrived in which our programming will open more and more to the works of our composers who, dispersed by the Civil War—an entire generation—die twice, because the first death was that of incurable nostalgia.”

Local critics in Buenos Aires also sang the praises of Costanzo and the new work, describing it as “abounding in attractive and playful ideas, nobly conceived and realised, with a modernism that does not resort to absurdity and cacophony to establish itself as modern”.

The first movement recalls the opening of Falla’s Noches en los jardines de España in its gauzy and mysterious evocation of the seguidilla, with its triple metre with intermittent hemiola, Andalusian scale, and use of castanets. The arrival of the solo part heralds increasing animation and drive, with the distinctive seguidilla rhythm of an eighth followed by two sixteenths repeated over and over. The guitar part features rasgueo (strumming) passages and lightning-fast picados (scales) evocative of flamenco. Occasional asides in free rhythm seem to suggest the interjections of a solo singer, in contrast to more dance-like sections. What one also detects here is the admixture of harmonies that evoke not only Andalusia but also American jazz. Torroba was a great lover of Broadway musicals and of Gershwin’s music, so that his works of the 1970s in particular often exhibit a fragrant mélange of Spanish and North American elements. The second movement is a languid idyll, exhibiting Torroba’s inveterate lyricism. The final movement is a technical tour de force, and some passages may again suggest Falla, especially El amor brujo, a work Torroba knew very well.

Tonada concertante (1975–80)

During the years 1975–80, Torroba laboured over a new concerto, which he fancifully entitled Tonada concertante, a tonada being a type of theatrical song of the eighteenth century. Ángel Romero premièred the Tonada concertante in 1982, though it was dedicated to his father, Celedonio. Torroba had every reason to be completely satisfied with these renditions, and the Romeros thus developed a very close and warm friendship with him. The concerto is in four movements. The opening Andante—Allegro movement is notable for its playful good spirits, while the second movement, Andante, is especially introspective and foregrounds the composer’s lyrical muse. A brief scherzo-like movement, marked Allegro moderato, connects the slow and final movements. The concluding Allegro is a cheerful, dance-like romp that makes colourful use of percussion and winds.

Concierto de Castilla (1960)

The year 1960 was pivotal in Torroba’s turn towards the concerto. In December of that year he wrote to Segovia to say that he had finished his Concierto de Castilla, the first of his ten concertos. This was first recorded by Renata Tarragó and the Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid in 1962 on the Hispavox and Columbia Masterworks labels. The work is in three movements, marked Adagio – Allegretto moderato, Andante, and Andante – Allegro moderato, with the outer fast movements both featuring slow introductions. The work highlights not only virtuosic guitar playing but also the composer’s imaginative handling of the orchestra, especially the writing for winds. Torroba was always composing zarzuelas, even when he was writing a concerto. Thus, the work features a free-spirited lyricism evocative of the folklore of Castile, a vast expanse in the middle of the Peninsula with which the composer strongly identified. Born in the heart of Madrid in 1891, he spent his entire life there. His Castilian Concerto is the logical and heartfelt expression of this identity.

The three works on this recording are entirely representative of the great composer’s style in both their lyricism and Spanish ambience, so it is something of a mystery why they have enjoyed relatively little currency on the concert stage and the recording studio. These performances, by artists who display a profound rapport with the composer’s music, will do much to generate interest in and a long overdue revival of Torroba’s guitar concertos.

Walter Aaron Clark, University of California, Riverside
William Craig Krause, Hollins University

Authors of Federico Moreno Torroba: A Musical Life in Three Acts (Oxford, 2013)

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