The Madrid Quintet, ca. 1920 (Julio Francés, Odón González, Conrado
del Campo, Luis Villar and Joaquín Turina)

Joaquín Turina: his chamber music

Introduction to the program of the cycle "Joaquín Turina: His chamber music", held at the Conde Duque Cultural Center Auditorium in Madrid during the months of April and May 1997

The musical training of Joaquín Turina (1882-1949) was completed in Paris, which, in the early years of the 20th century, was the center of clearly different attitudes and aesthetic positions, as a result of an artistic concern that is still surprising today. In this capital two of the most important musical currents of the moment meet, fierce in very opposite environments: what we could call conservative, represented by the heritage of the music of Cesar Franck and its connection with tradition through constructive postulates cyclical -what Adolfo Salazar would later define, with a point of acidity, "symphonic cyclisms"-, and which turned around the Schola Cantorum, and the avant-garde, which reflects the impressionist heritage of Debussy and Ravel, mainly, and their spirit disruptive. Turina decidedly opts for the former, rigorously training in traditional technique and cyclical composition under the strong tutelage of Vincent D'Indy, which has as a consequence that, from his op. 1, the Piano quintet, to his latest work, the one that has 104 as its opus number and which is entitled From my terrace, like the use of constructive procedures that, although in their harmonic and melodic spheres can be considered of great interest because they reflect an authentic voice of their own, in the formal aspect they do nothing but recreate as wisely as ingeniously the great traditional forms, to which the Schola Cantorum mentality was particularly faithful.
Thus, the great music of Turina is built very mainly on formal schemes that any connoisseur of the subject, even superficially, can identify without great difficulties: Themes with variations, Fugas, Sonatas, Rondós, Lieder in sections ... The truly original of his music, and what has allowed him to survive, despite this traditional burden, is that these forms are never "pure", in the classical sense, but that all of them are imbued with a melodic, harmonic and rhythmic treatment, derived from a particular swallowing by its author of Spanish folklore, and, very mainly, of Andalusian, and his subsequent adaptation to them. This is particularly evident in his chamber music, which, although not as well known -except for some works- as his symphonic music or his piano music may be, is one of the most interesting facets of his production.

Cover of the program of the cycle Joaquín Turina.
His chamber music
(Madrid, 1997)

Of the 104 works that, as has already been pointed out, make up Joaquín Turina's catalog, they are dedicated to instrumental chamber music -that is, composed for a group of two or more instruments- 16 original works, of which 14 will be performed throughout this cycle. However, what is especially paradigmatic is not so much said number of works, which is not excessive, but rather that it seems to be deduced from the chosen groups a deliberate purpose of serving as a priority the chamber music combinations closest to the classical and romantic tradition, which is entirely consistent with the particular way in which Turina endorses the traditional training acquired at the Schola Cantorum. Thus, the 16 works cited include three string quartets (since as such we must consider the well-known Oración del torero in its transcription of the original for lute quartet by its author), three piano trios, a piano quartet, a piano quintet, and five duets for violin and piano. On the contrary, the three chamber works that remain to complete the 16 mentioned are truly curious, due to the fact that they are not very representative of the conventional groups of the genre: they are a sextet for principal viola, piano and string quartet entitled Andalusian Scene, a suite of nine numbers, each of which is composed for a different group, called Las Musas de Andalucía, and a Theme and Variations for harp and piano.
Chamber music was especially cultivated by performers in our country throughout the first half of our century, which had, as a logical consequence, that it was highly demanded by the general public. A simple glance at the magazines and specialized publications is enough to see how intense chamber life was, both in the great metropolises, such as Madrid or Barcelona, and that which was carried out thanks to the tenacious work of the Philharmonic Societies of the different provinces. This was possible thanks to the existence of chamber groups whose stability allowed the development of authentic seasons dedicated to the interpretation of their extensive repertoire. The Madrid Chamber Music National Ensemble or the Barcelona "Renacimiento" quartet are undoubtedly the prominent names of an extensive list of groups thanks to which the great classical and romantic chamber music repertoire was cultivated and publicly diffused, as well as the most recent.
All this collides with the current situation, in which chamber music must be developed almost clandestinely, since there are hardly any groups dedicated to its practice on a stable basis. Among them, the piano trio is, perhaps, the favorite formation: however, there are plenty of fingers on one hand to count those who carry out a continuous activity in our country. Most of the chamber music written for the remaining conventional formations (string quartets, quartets and quintets with piano, etc.) requires for its performance to have performers, generally symphonic, summoned for a specific occasion, which is due to its part of a sporadic cultivation of the chamber repertoire ... It is no exaggeration to affirm that the composer who in our days deals with a string quartet or a piano quartet (genres especially familiar to the composer only a few decades ago) does so from an almost theoretical point of view. Thus, today we are witnessing how the creative situation has been inverted until reaching the absurdity of a disproportionate growth of symphonic production, compared to the proportionally very low chamber production.
Acts like the one in question will certainly contribute in a very positive way to finally return the waters to their logical course, developing the interest of the general public for the chamber repertoire, and reminding those responsible for our cultural institutions that not only opera and symphonic music -with what all this entails of the "new rich" taste for the spectacular- live neither humanity nor the history of music.