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8.573544 - SOLER, A.: Keyboard Sonatas Nos. 57-62 (Čolić)

Antonio Soler (1729–1783)
Keyboard Sonatas Nos. 57–62


Born in 1729 at Olot, Girona, Antonio Soler, like many other Catalan musicians of his and later generations, had his early musical training as a chorister at the great Benedictine monastery of Montserrat, where his teachers included the maestro di capilla Benito Esteve and the organist Benito Valls. Soler studied the work of earlier Spanish and Catalan composers, of Joan Cabanilles and his pupil Josep Elias, combining his abilities as an organist with those of a composer. He took an appointment as organist at the Santa Iglesia de Lerida and was also employed at the Cathedral of La Seu d’Urgell. It was there that in 1752 he met the Bishop of Urgell, former Prior of the monastery of the Escorial, Sebastian de Victoria, who was seeking someone to serve as an organist at the Escorial. Soler took this opportunity, and was ordained subdeacon by the Bishop, entering the Hieronymite Order of San Lorenzo de El Escorial and taking his vows the following year. In 1757, on the death of the previous incumbent, Soler became maestro di capilla and organist at the Escorial, positions he held for the rest of his life.

Soler also benefited from contact with musicians from the court. The Escorial had been built by Philip II as a royal palace and a monastery, and the court generally spent the autumn there. This brought the initial possibility for Soler of further study of the organ with the court organist and for contact with Domenico Scarlatti, a strong influence on Soler’s style of writing in his addition to keyboard repertoire in some 150 surviving sonatas. Soler, in the course of his duties, wrote music for the church, but also contributed to secular repertoire for the entertainment of the court. Music received particular encouragement under Ferdinand VI, and rather less under his successor Carlos III. Soler, however, was charged with the teaching of the young princes Antonio and Gabriel, the sons of Carlos III, and received particular support from the younger of the two, Don Gabriel, whose Casita del Infante, built in the early 1770s, was in part designed for musical performances in which Don Gabriel participated.

As a theorist Soler published in 1762 a study of modulation, Llave de la Modulación, a treatise explaining the art of rapid modulation (modulación agitada), which brought correspondence with Padre Martini in Bologna, the leading Italian composer and theorist, who vainly sought a portrait of Soler to add to his gallery of leading composers. Soler was also an acknowledged expert on the construction of organs, advising on instruments for the cathedrals of Malaga and Seville, while his wider interests are exemplified in his Combinación de monedas y cálculo manifiesto contra il libro anonimo intitulado “Correspondencia de la Moneda de Cataluña a la de Castilla”, a polemical study of the comparative currencies of Castille and Catalonia, dedicated to Carlos III.

The many keyboard sonatas of Soler remain his best known achievement as a composer. Many of these were written for Don Gabriel and suggest, at least, the influence of Domenico Scarlatti, while continuing to reflect something of the changing styles of music exemplified in Vienna. The modern publication of the sonatas owes much to Father Samuel Rubio, who collected many of the sonatas in seven volumes, published between 1957 and 1962, and whose R numbering is in wide use, including sonatas subsequently added to his first listing.

Sonata No. 57 in G minor draws inspiration from Spanish folk-materials, with its lively attack, crossing of hands and recurrent ornamentation. It has sometimes been grouped with two other sonatas in G minor and G major. Sonata No. 58 in G major is a rondo, its cheerful main theme returning to frame episodes of varied figuration that call for some technical command. Sonata No. 59 in F major, another rondo, includes an episode in rapid figuration, a triplet episode and an episode in F minor.

Sonata No. 60 in G major has two movements, a fairly lively first movement, with the direction Andantino and a rapider Allegro vivo second movement. It is here followed by Sonata No. 61 in C major, a work dating from 1782 and in four movements. The first of these is a rondo, its relatively simple principal theme framing episodes of greater complexity. The rapid second movement brings characteristic figuration and is followed by a Minue di rivolti, an unusual form of Minuet, with themes returning in a different order. The sonata ends with a final movement replete with extended hand-crossing and use of the Scotch snap rhythm.

Sonata No. 62 in B flat major also dates from 1782 and is in four movements. It opens with a rondo, a form that offers episodes for technical display. The second movement is marked Allegretto espressivo and is followed by a Minue di rivolti, a form that seems to have been special to Soler. The sonata ends with a movement marked Allegro spiritoso that allows a lively exploration of remoter keys.

Keith Anderson

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