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8.573564 - SOLER, A.: Keyboard Sonatas Nos. 63-66 (Khristenko)

Antonio Soler (1729–1783)
Keyboard Sonatas Nos. 63–66


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 Elías, combining his abilities as an organist with those of a composer. He took an appointment as organist at the Santa Iglesia de Lérida 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, Sebastián 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 Málaga 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. 63 in F major opens a set of six threemovement sonatas dating from 1777. The elegant first movement, with its ornamented melodic upper part, explores remoter keys in its central section, before the return of the first theme. The lively second movement, with its two sections repeated, provides a distinct contrast before the final movement, a four-voice fugue, with its interesting harmonies, the whole urged forward by the impetus stemming from the opening fugal subject.

The second of the set, the Sonata No. 64 in G major, starts with a graceful and harmonically enterprising Allegretto, its two sections, with their touches of Spain, repeated. The second of the three moements, again in tripartite sonata form, brings characteristic chromatic elements, leading to a four-voice double fugue, a further demonstration of Soler’s command of counterpoint.

Sonata No. 65 in A minor, the only sonata of this set in a minor key, offers a characteristic display, its particular musical idiom in contrast to the work of his contemporaries elsewhere in Europe. Soler was only three years older than Haydn, but writing this sonata at a time when Mozart was trying to break away from his native Salzburg and its obligations and a seven-year-old Beethoven was subjected in Bonn to the random tuition provided by his unreliable father. The sonata again ends with a fugue a further demonstration of Soler’s contrapuntal ability, with its fugal answer in contrary motion and, as it progresses, with its use of remoter keys.

Sonata No. 66 in C major starts with an expressive movement, its right-hand melody ornamented and supported by a left-hand part that occasionally breaks free from its generally subservient rôle. The second movement brings a lively dance, with traces of Spain never far away in a sonata that makes greater demands on a player. The last movement is a fugue that explores the possibilities of remoter keys, propelled forward by its subject, based on an ascending scale, leading to an impressive conclusion with ascending octaves in the left hand and a tonic pedal-point.

Keith Anderson

Maria Canals International Music Competition

The Maria Canals International Music Competition of Barcelona (www.mariacanals.cat) is the principal music competition in Spain and one of the leading events in the world following its recognition by the World Federation of International Music Competitions in 1958. It was founded in 1954 by the leading pianist and pedagogue Maria Canals, and her husband Rossend Llates. With Her Majesty Queen Sofia as President of Honour, since 1954 the competition association has organised 110 competitions in the branches of piano, singing, violin, cello, guitar, flute, percussion and chamber music. During these years more than 7,000 entrants have taken part from a hundred countries from the five continents, and there have been more than 180 jurors from around the world. The competition holds its auditions in the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona, and offers the prize-winners important financial rewards, a tour of recitals and concerts with orchestra around the world and a recording for the Naxos label. Its winners have developed important professional careers in both performance and teaching in leading centres throughout the world.

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