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Headquarters of the Juan March Foundation. Madrid

Cuarteto con piano / Piano Quartet

For Violin, Viola, Cello and Piano

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Truly, it cannot be said that the chamber ensemble traditionally known as "piano quartet" (violin, viola, cello and piano) has enjoyed the unanimous predilection of the great composers, past and present. If we exclude the two by Mozart and the three by Brahms -authentic gems of the genre-, together with those composed by Schumann, Mendelssohn (much less interpreted than the previous ones) and some other more recent authors (such as Dvorak, Fauré, Chausson, Saint- Saëns, Walton, Copland and, already in Spain, Joaquín Turina), the instrumental combination in question does not seem to have run better luck than its "bigger" brother (in size), the "piano quintet". This lack of an abundant repertoire may very well have been the reason why in the current scene it is not easy to find stable ensembles dedicated to cultivating it (as there are when it is about string quartets, or even trios with piano [violin, violoncello and piano], the latter template largely used by composers of all times, including ours). This, obviously, is a strong dissuasion both for the composer, who does not write for that instrumental combination because later there are no groups that can play his work, and for the performers, who do not seem to want to group together in a stable way for the cultivation of such a limited repertoire, in one of the many paraphrases that the old deep structure of the hen and the egg can have.

Auditorium of the Juan March Foundation. Madrid

This Piano Quartet was composed throughout the summer of 1990 at the request of the Juan March Foundation, at whose headquarters it was premiered on February 27, 1991 by the pianist Menchu Mendizábal and the members of the "Arcana" Quartet Francisco Romo, Pablo Riviere and Salvador Escrig.

Program of the premiere of the Piano Quartet
Download the complete program of the concert

The work, in which I have wanted to collect all the heritage from the past, in relation to the unitary conception of the instrumental material, but without jeopardizing my creative freedom in relation to a current language, is articulated in three movements to the classic way. In the first one it is possible to appreciate, from the very beginning, that desire to combine the traditional flavor of the template, together with that of subjecting that characteristic "color" to strong timbre and linguistic contrasts, thus creating a sort of constant dialectic between tradition and modernity. Thus, a series of sections follow one another, in which the preponderance of the theme in some of them configures a very free recreation of a possible "sonata form".

Download the complete text (in Spanish), with musical examples,
of the introduction to the premiere of the Piano Quartet
Access to the complete text (in English) with audio examples

The second movement, molto adagio, is based on the achievement of various "climaxes" and their subsequent dissolution, through the progressive accumulation and elimination of elements, a procedure whose origin can already be traced from the first movement, by which a simple "deep structure" gradually acquires a complex "surface structure", worth the comparison with Chomskian linguistic postulates. The third movement is once again a free interpretation of another traditional form: the "rondo-sonata ", which in turn was nothing more than a free interpretation of the "rondo" and "sonata" forms, by which both were combined in a curious symbiosis. A refrain, in which the cumulative procedures of the previous movement are inherited, frames -very loosely- three couplets, the second of which (prestissimo) is characterized by a vertiginous quasi-repetitive sequence, with great prominence of the piano. A very difficult coda closes the work, in a kind of "apotheosis" of the process of gradual accumulation, taken here to its ultimate consequences.
In 2013, the Piano Quartet was included in the CD José Luis Turina. Chamber Music (CD VRS 2131), published in the BBVA Foundation's collection Spanish and Latin American Composers of Current Music, performed by the Plural Ensemble conducted by Fabián Panisello.

Cover of the CD of the Plural Ensemble (2013)

First page of the Piano Quartet


Recording: Plural Ensemble.
First movement (fragment)
Second movement (fragment)
Third movement (fragment)

YouTube link: First movement; Second movement; Third movement


Video of the concert held on November 26, 2017, at the Auditorium Centro Centro de Madrid, inside th 19th edition of the Festival COMA of the Madrid Association of Composers (AMCC)

Introduction by José Luis Turina

Piano Quartet. Performers: Members of the Diapente Quartet (Raúl Galindo, violin;
Pedro Michel Torres, viola; Jacobo Villalba, cello) y Francisco Luis Santiago, piano
I. Moderato

II. Molto adagio

III. Allegro. Prestissimo


Classic form, current language
By José Luis Téllez
(Article published in the Classical Music supplement of the newspaper ABC. Madrid, February 27, 1991)

Today the latest composition by José Luis Turina is premiered: a piano quartet that seeks to question the very history of that musical form

José Luis Turina is perhaps the most encyclopedic of our current composers. Rare is one of his works (numerous: they exceed thirty, some of them of considerable duration, and in all genres, opera included) in which a more or less cultist quotation is not hidden, is re-introduced from a new point of view an apparently obsolete musical procedure, or is actively reflected the historicity of past sound signifiers. In the Piano Quartet, which the March Foundation premieres this afternoon, Turina starts from that curious chamber formation (piano, violin, viola and cello) as a musical fact in itself. "I investigated the antiquity of the piano quartet -says the composer- and I was surprised that it is one of the most recent chamber groups: the first example is Mozart, followed later by Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms, among others. From that verification I worked the piece in the predominant direction of confronting the pure formal design of classic line with a grammar of current language". (The Mozartian pieces Turina refers to have the numbers KV 478 and 493 -G minor and E flat major respectively-, and are dated 1785 and 1786.)
The Piano Quartet is therefore articulated in three independent movements that paraphrase the three normative times: the first in the form of a sonata with two themes; the second, a "lied" in five sections; a "rondo-sonata" (that is, with an intermediate development section) as a conclusion. "What happens -continues Turina- is that by using a type of language that is not governed by the anchors of modulation and tonality, these designs are emptied to become mere syntactic organizations. The work is a process of confrontation between these formal devices (which I consider to be an inalienable historical heritage) and entirely different and, in a certain way, antagonistic elements of language. Thus, the composition begins with a cell in the first measure that seems to suggest the head of a theme and that, in the following measure, is completely stripped of that aspect". Here Turina takes his recent way of working one step further, based on the incessant development of tiny cells (in a kind of synthesis between the late Liszt and Anton Webern), "but always from a perspective in which deep structures are dialectically related very simple with very complex surface structures".
The reference to Chomsky, explicit in that description, is not a simple metaphor: "I try to build a doubly baroque writing, in the sense that the processes of amplification and accumulation reach, by operating simultaneously on the entire sound texture, a great constructive intensity in which any detail that could seem merely ornamental is an absolutely essential element of the whole".
The work tries to evoke the color and the classic instrumental treatment typical of the historical moment in which the form emerges. Along with this, a certain way of extreme symmetry is perhaps the most striking result of the process. "The abstraction of the material and the lack of both quotations and tonality have forced me to develop a certain set of mirrors to the maximum", says Turina.
What has been said may be somewhat difficult for the reader: that is why he must attend the March Foundation today at eight in the afternoon: he will hardly be able to find twenty more direct and accessible minutes of music. Nor written with better craft.

The living language lesson
By Tomás Marco
(Review published in the newspaper Diario 16. Madrid, March 3, 1991)

José Luis Turina (1952) is one of the best composers of the present moment, and this, which was already well known, has been corroborated once again in the premiere of his Piano Quartet commissioned by the Juan March Foundation. Turina explains certain linguistic relationships in his work and looks for a series of dialectical tensions between a form derived from the classical past and a modern language.
It is as if it were a matter of using an already pre-established syntax with a new vocabulary. The reference to Chomsky made by the author is not idle and we find ourselves before a masterful exercise in language, but also before a work of creative and fully musical power: before a lesson on living language.
Turina assumes her past and his present and accepts music as a search for form through abstract sound, but with reference to a cultural context. The word eclecticism could be pronounced if it were not tinged with pejorative overtones by use. And even the already taboo "word" of postmodernism, if it were possible to remove the burden of irresponsibility that it has acquired.
We are facing a coherent work, masterfully done and above all very beautiful. The work of the members of the Arcana Quartet -Romo, Riviere and Escrig- as well as the pianist Menchu Mendizábal, who emphatically played a work that is very difficult, is admirable. They did it splendidly and everything, work and version, was a great success.
Before, the author had explained the work in a somewhat dry way for the general public and very precisely for professionals. Then the work spoke, which was the important thing, and it did it with great loquacity.

Premiere of the Piano Quartet by José Luis Turina
By Leopoldo Hontañón
(Review published in the newspaper ABC. Madrid, March 3, 1991)

I was referring not long ago to the real danger that lurks those composers who write and write non-stop, and present themselves, also non-stop, to as many contests and competitions as are called, that the quality, the very validity of the music they make, be deteriorated. But this is certainly not the case for José Luis Turina (Madrid, 1952), who has just premiered his umpteenth title. He writes, competes, receives commissions and premieres non-stop. I think he more than anyone else. And it turns out that each new work that comes to light is a new success. Conclusion: when you have natural musical talent of the caliber of José Luis, it has always been tirelessly and intelligently cultivated, and also from the beginning a laboriously acquired and exhaustively perfected compositional craft has been put at its service, there are enormous possibilities that whatever is done is well worth it.
It deserves it, and it does deserve it, this last premiere to which I have referred: the Piano Quartet that, presented by the author himself, was offered on Wednesday in the auditorium of the Juan March Foundation, the entity that had commissioned it. The new Quartet, which was drawn up last summer on sketches that the composer himself had prepared four years ago for the same instrumental combination, is a clear example of that starting assumption, of that palette of work on which Turina bases all its creative work: the permanent dialectic between tradition and modernity.
Starting from the generic-formal division that history establishes for the quartet formula in question, and even from the "traditional flavor of the template", it interacts and intertwines, throughout the three movements, compositional materials that are always -formal, structural, timbre or rhythmic- with elements that he elaborates, on top of those, with cumulative procedures, with new approaches and, consequently, with new -and lucid- syntactic and prosodic results. If anything, the emphasis with which, in the third movement, he appeals to rhythm as a basic dialectical element, perhaps separates him excessively, in an expressive mood, from the previous ones; no matter how much the philosophy and elaboration criteria used in it maintain maximum conceptual coherence with the other two.
From the brief but clear, timely and guiding sound examples with which they illustrated Turina's previous explanatory intervention, it was noted with what responsibility and depth the four magnificent performers chosen for the premiere had penetrated with the ideas of the new work:

(Expansion of the review published in the newspaper ABC on March 3, 1991. Madrid, March 4, 1991)

In the comment that appeared here yesterday dedicated to the premiere of José Luis Turina's Piano Quartet at the Juan March Foundation, the last paragraph had been "dropped". In it the performers were named, if always worth mentioning, much more on this occasion in which his preparatory work, in continuous contact with the composer, presented special relevance, later endorsed with a fully mastered material execution.
They had been these: Francisco Romo (violin), Pablo Riviere (viola), Salvador Escrig (cello), all three members of the Arcana Quartet, and Menchu Mendizábal (piano).

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(Score and parts without watermarks available at www.asesores-musicales.com )