About this Recording
8.573539 - TURINA, J.: Piano Music, Vol. 12 (Masó) - Recuerdos de mi rincón / La Venta de los Gatos / Navidad / El Cristo de la Calavera
English  Spanish 

Joaquín Turina (1882–1949)
Recuerdos de mi rincón • La Venta de los Gatos • Navidad • El Cristo de la Calavera


“You’ll notice that this latest album features a series of Turina’s “programmatic” works. To be honest, I wasn’t too sure about these pieces, and thought they might be a bit dull, but once I started working on them I realised how interesting they actually were, with some truly inspired and beautiful moments, especially in Recuerdos de mi rincón and La Venta de los Gatos. I hope you enjoy them too.” This is an extract from the note Jordi Masó sent me along with a copy of the original edit of this, the twelfth disc in his monumental project to record Turina’s complete piano works. His considered judgement of the contents of the latest album in the series is entirely accurate. The works recorded here were written between 1914 and 1924: the earliest is the “tragicomedy for piano” Recuerdos de mi rincón (Memories of my little corner), and the latest is La Venta de los Gatos (The Cats’ Inn, inspired by a well-known short story of the same name by the poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer who, like Turina, was a native of Seville). This productive decade also saw Turina complete Navidad (Christmas, 1916), a “staged poem or miracle play in two scenes”, and El Cristo de la Calavera (The Christ of the Skull, 1923–24, also inspired by a Bécquer short story). All these “programmatic” works reveal Turina’s deft touch for infusing his picturesque style with a sense of drama.

The year 1914 proved to be one of great significance for Spanish music. When war broke out, many of Spain’s most promising young composers were studying in Paris, but left the French capital to return to their neutral homeland. Among them were Falla and Turina, both of whom settled in Madrid, whose music scene had very much stagnated at this time. Falla did not stay long in Madrid, preferring to move south to Granada, but Turina threw himself into life in the capital and soon became one of the leading figures in its artistic circles, thanks to his dynamism and energy. While Falla’s idiom developed, however, and began to encompass an aesthetic more in tune with the changing times, Turina remained entrenched in his own picturesque brand of musical nationalism, achieving success and rapid recognition in the process.

It was the composer’s everyday life in his local neighbourhood in Madrid that inspired Recuerdos de mi rincón, a work full of humour and descriptive elements. This “tragicomedy” has an unusual score, peppered with detailed notes and stage directions—written by Turina himself—so that it becomes a kind of play, with provision for the parts of the various characters involved to be mimed during a performance. As the composer pointed out, the work is a “collection of pieces in which I describe a group of us who used to meet in the now defunct Nueva España café, on the Calle de Alcalá, including the Berenguer brothers, conductor José Lassalle and artist Villodas”.

Recuerdos de mi rincón is, then, a lighthearted divertissement comprising twelve mini-scenes meticulously dramatised by Turina, with almost as many stage directions in the manuscript as there are notes on the stave—above, between and below the staves his italic script describes the many incidents and situations experienced by the motley bunch of characters that people his plot, including Don Joselito, the “Diplomat”, Tony the Mexican, María, Muriedas, Eloísa, Amparo, the Soldier, the man from Aragón, Pepe, and Pepa from Granada.

Turina caricatures each individual by making an almost Wagnerian use of leitmotifs: the “man from Aragón” is therefore assigned an Aragonese jota, the Granadan Pepa is depicted with a typically Andalusian seguidilla and Amparo (the Galician waitress) is associated with a Galician dance form, the muñeira, and so on. The Soldier is represented by a lively pasodoble with military touches (including a cornet), and Tony the Mexican by a quotation from the Mexican national anthem. These overtly humorous touches in no way detract, however, from the musical qualities of a score in which Turina’s gifts are evident throughout—from the carefully conceived pianistic texture to the skilful use of both his own inimitable harmonic soundworld and folk tunes and rhythms. The work, premiered by the composer at a recital given on 15th January 1915 at the Ateneo in Madrid, is dedicated to his fellow frequenters of that particular “corner” of the Nueva España, the score bearing an amusing note in which he “begs their forgiveness in advance” for having immortalised them in these musical portraits.

The late-Romantic poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1836–1870), known for his poems (Rimas) and short stories (Leyendas), has inspired many Spanish composers over the years. From Isaac Albéniz to Tomás Marco and Antón García Abril, not to mention Tomás Bretón, Manuel de Falla, Enrique Fernández Arbós, Joaquín Rodrigo and Frederic Mompou, among many others—Bécquer has become a permanent presence in Spanish classical music.

Turina was no exception to the rule, and his admiration for the writer’s work is a thread that runs throughout his production. Their shared roots were a key part of this—musicologist Federico Sopeña pointed out how closely Turina was attuned to the “deep-rooted and subtle Sevillian essence of the poet”. The author of the Sinfonía sevillana wrote his first Bécquer-inspired work as early as 1911: the song with piano accompaniment Rima, Op. 6, which sets lines from a poem entitled Yo soy ardiente, yo soy morena (I am a passionate woman, I am dark of hue). In 1923 he chose another of the poems for the last of his Three arias, Op. 26 (Te vi un punto…—I saw you for a moment…). Ten years later, in 1933, he wrote the Three poems for voice and piano, Op. 81, based respectively on the poems Olas gigantes, Tu pupila es azul and Besa el aura que gime… (Huge waves, Your eyes are blue and The keening breeze kisses…).

Turina’s other two overtly Bécquer-inspired works draw on (eponymous) short stories, and both are included here. La Venta de los Gatos, Op. 32, is a substantial work, brimming with the “truly inspired and beautiful moments” noted by Jordi Masó. These are developed in an ambitiously constructed piece of writing which, like all the composer’s keyboard works, reveals just how talented a pianist he himself was. This was no doubt evident at the première, which Turina gave on 7th March 1925 at the Ateneo in Seville, not far from the real-life tavern that had inspired Bécquer’s tale, “halfway down the street that leads to the San Jerónimo monastery from the Puerta de la Macarena”.

Turina wrote the three movements that make up El Cristo de la Calavera in 1923/24. This faithful musical adaptation of a Bécquer Leyenda is, according to one of its finest interpreters, pianist Esteban Sánchez, a genuine dramatic triptych “reflected in music of impressive scale”. Turina gives every detail of the action in his score, and uses various onomatopoeic devices, such as the descending glissando that portrays Inés de Tordesillas’s glove falling to the ground—a chance event that leads two friends to profess (unrequited) love for her. The knights Alonso de Carrillo and Lope de Sandoval then try to fight a duel in front of an image of the “Christ of the Skull” in Toledo, but are prevented from hurting one another by the mystical powers of the statue. The work is dedicated to pianist-composer Joaquín Nin, “with a warm embrace from his old friend J. Turina. June 1924”.

The “miracle play in two scenes” Navidad was originally conceived as incidental music for a staged poem by Gregorio Martínez Sierra, and was first performed as such on 21st December 1916 at the Teatro Eslava in Madrid. A few months later, in September 1917, Turina created a piano reduction of the score, substantially revising it in 1927 before submitting it for publication. Once again, the manuscript reveals his powers of description, filled as it is with meticulously detailed stage directions for a drama full of references to and quotations from sacred music, Christmas carols and traditional melodies. While the demanding piano writing includes touches reminiscent of Debussy, Turina’s unmistakable style shines through at all times.

© Justo Romero
English version by Susannah Howe

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