My music for strings

Lecture read at the ESTA (European String Teachers Association) Meeting. (El Escorial, April 2, 1997)

First of all, I wish to thank the organizers of this Meeting for having been kind enough to invite me to participate in one of their sessions. I greatly value this type of initiative, and for that reason I am aware of the importance of being able to address a forum like this one to talk about my music, or, rather, about a part of it that for me has a special relevance, and that perhaps for some of you it may have a certain interest: the one composed for stringed instruments.
Before entering into the subject, I must publicly make an intimate confession, which perhaps sheds some light on the music that I am going to talk about: when I started in the world of music I was already seventeen years old -that is, my case is clearly that of a late vocation- and my dream, during the first years of apprenticeship, was to be a violinist. With the best of intentions, I got to study up to six years of such a difficult instrument, until that difficulty and the reality of my practically null qualities as a performer took charge of putting things in their place, and guiding me towards another of the possibilities that the rich world of music offered me, composition, and that soon came to occupy the main position among my concerns. Thus, I recognize that if I am a composer, I am because I came to this world of music at an ideal age for the development of an artistic activity with large doses of intellectual load, but not at all appropriate for learning an instrumental technique.
However, the years dedicated to the acquisition of this technique were not wasted. The perspective that my current age gives me, and a production close to eighty works, allows me to affirm that the more than theoretical knowledge of the technique of string instruments has been fundamental in my training as a composer, from an eminently technical point of view, as well as with regard to a clear predilection for the use of these instruments, either in a prominent role, as soloists, or as mere members of chamber ensembles.
As proof of this, a quick examination of my catalog of works, as it stands at the present time, yields the following balance, as far as string instruments are concerned:

- A symphonic work (Ocnos [Music for orchestra on poems by Luis Cernuda], from 1982-84), for reciter, solo cello and orchestra.
- A Concerto for violin and orchestra, from 1987.
- Three works for violin and piano (Movement, from 1978, and the 1st and 2nd series of Variations and theme (On the theme with variations «Ah! Vous dirai-je, maman», by WA Mozart, from 1990).
- A work for viola and piano (Sonata da chiesa, from 1987).
- A work for cello and piano (Dos duetos, from 1988).
- A work for two violins (Seis metaplasmos, from 1990).
- A Piano trio (violin, cello and piano), from 1983.
- Two string quartets (Lama sabacthani? , from 1980, and Quartet in G, from 1985).
- A Piano quartet (violin, viola, cello and piano), from 1990.
- A work for solo cello (En volandas, from 1982).
- A Viola octet (Divertimento, aria and serenade, from 1987).

To all of them, written, as can be seen, for string instruments treated as soloists, we should add at least 7 chamber works in which the string instruments have a prominent soloist participation (Three sonnets, from 1992, for voice, clarinet, violin/viola and piano, La commedia dell'arte, from 1986, for flute, viola and guitar, Tumulus of the butterfly, from 1991, for clarinet, cello and piano, As you look at, for oboe, viola, harp (or piano) and double bass, Title to be determined, from 1980, for clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and double bass, Variations on two themes by Scarlatti, from 1985 , for flute, oboe, clarinet, violin, viola and cello, and Kammerconcertante, from 1988, for flute in G, bass clarinet, violin, viola, cello and double bass), as well as another 8 composed for different chamber ensembles in which the strings have an obligatory presence.
As a business card for all this, I think this is a good moment to listen to a fragment from one of the works mentioned in the first place: the Trio for violin, cello and piano, from 1983, of which we will hear the second movement, in version of the Mompou Trio.

LISTENING: Fragment of the 2nd movement of the Trio (Recording: Mompou Trio)

Anticipating a certain distrust in my self-analytical capacity, I do not think I am wrong if I affirm that my musical thinking is solidly supported by a series of basic principles, which in turn are weakly based on the circumstances, always unpredictable, that surround and condition the development of each concrete work. These basic principles are none other than expression and structure, mainly, together with the assumption of inherited tradition as both an aesthetic and constructive reference. Regarding the first two, expression and structure, I could say that my music is a continuous search (or, perhaps better, "persecution") for the balance between both parameters, understood as the fruit and result of the internal dialectical struggle between the tensions by both originated, since in it the technical, objective connotations of structuralism and the psychological, subjective dimension, which derives from expressiveness, are continually shaken.
Along with this, tradition plays a very important role from very different points of reference, depending on whether its presence is explicit or implicit. In any case, and is more or less present, the inherited tradition acts on all of us as a mother tongue, from which we can voluntarily flee, but which from its acquisition indelibly marks our conscience, forges our tastes, stimulates our feelings and, for all this, it determines our subsequent artistic evolution, as it has done with that of our culture, forcing us from its own premises to judge the unknown, which, on the other hand, is often impossible and inevitably leads to serious errors of valuation.
In my music, tradition is evident in many different ways. As a presentation I have chosen the fragment of my Trio for violin, cello and piano that we have just listened to, because it seems to me to be ideal for it, given its accessibility in a first audition. This is only possible when the listener effortlessly recognizes a series of elements, insofar as they are part of his cultural baggage or tradition. These elements do not have to be obvious, as in the case of the fragment just heard: there are no clearly recognizable chords, no easy consonances, and no melodic features that we could call basic. On the contrary, the language is fully atonal -or pantonal, if you will-: the chords are strongly dissonant, and there are hardly any linear aspects that we could define as "melodies", at least in a primary sense. But, as I said at the beginning, there is a treatment of the material put into play that the cultivated listener recognizes as something familiar. This requires a material of great simplicity, so that it is quickly reflected in the listener's memory, in order that he can follow his various adventures throughout an elaboration that draws on its sources in a thematic development in which it would not be difficult to recognize classical and romantic influences.
In the example above, the violin and cello represented the string. Next we will listen to a fragment of a composition originally written for cello and piano, and quickly transcribed for viola at the request of the American violist Laura Klugherz, who premiered it in the version for said instrument and whose performance, accompanied by Steven Heyman, runs the recording that we went on to listen to. The title of this piece is Two duets, respectively called "Duo" and "Double", of which we will hear the second of them.

LISTENING: 2nd movement ("Double") of the "Two duets" for viola and piano.
(Recording: Laura Klugherz, viola, and Steven Heyman, piano)

Although we have listened to the previous piece, originally written for cello, in its version for viola, the exact opposite occurs with the one that follows: it is a fragment of the 1987 work Divertimento, aria and serenade composed for the infrequent grouping of viola octet, and later transcribed for cello octet, a version in which it has been most widely disseminated, as well as recorded on a CD. We will hear the first minutes of the piece -"Divertimento"- in version of the cello octet Conjunto Ibérico de celllos, under the direction of Elías Arizcuren.

LISTENING: 1st movement ("Divertimento") of "Divertimento, aria and serenade" for cello octet
(Recording: Cello Octet Conjunto Ibérico. Dir.: Elías Arizcuren)

To close this sample of chamber music, I have selected a fragment of a work written for two violins, in which I tried to capture a good part of my concern about certain questions related to the undoubted and thorny relationship between music and language, on which are based some of my works, both vocal and instrumental, such as the one that will serve as an example. The fragment of music that we will listen to comes from the work entitled Six metaplasms, for a violin duo, based on what in somewhat less technical grammatical terms are called "diction figures", which is the grammar's way of naming the phenomenon of language by which speakers add or delete syllables to words, without changing their meaning. Thus, the first type of metaplasm consists of three different figures: prosthesis, epenthesis and paragoges, depending on whether the added syllable is at the beginning, in the center or at the end of a word: (aqueste for este, Ingalaterra for Inglaterra, and huéspede for huesped, for example). The second type, based on syllabic reduction, integrates as many figures: apheresis, syncopations and apocopes (norabuena for enhorabuena, navidad for natividad, and ningún for ninguno). In my work for two violins this is taken as a constructive pretext, presenting, as a recreation of the aforementioned figures of diction, a theme to which sounds are added at the beginning, in the center or at the end of each element of which it consists, and, in a second section, a series that loses sounds at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end, respectively. Let's hear the first half of this work, dedicated to metaplasms that add syllables (Prosthesis, Epenthesis and Paragoges). The aforementioned theme is made up of a succession of chords on double strings, which are played alternately between the two violins. The recording is performed by Rebecca Hirsch and Jonathan Harvey.

LISTENING: Six metaplasms (fragment). (Recording: Rebecca Hirsch and Jonathan Harvey)

The work that I consider the most important in my production -or, at least, with which I feel most satisfied-, is precisely a work for a string instrument, the violin, treated with absolute prominence: it is my Concerto for violin and orchestra, composed in 1987 commissioned by the Alicante International Contemporary Music Festival. It seems to me that it perfectly sums up my aesthetic approaches, as well as being a meeting point for a series of procedures that are especially dear to me. In my catalog, this Violin Concerto supposes a kind of general balance, in which a series of concerns and obsessions mentioned in previous works come together, which are definitely exorcised in this one.
What, in general terms, I propose in this work is a journey through an aesthetic world that is deliberately lacking in "uniformity" -insofar as it is understood to be centered on a single style or language-, but not for that reason of a coherence that does not come from the economy of the means used, but from the existence of elements of a timbral and harmonic character that contrast with each other to the same extent that they complement each other.
The Concerto consists of three clearly differentiated movements. The first of them presents a game of timbral contrasts and oppositions between the violin and the orchestra. The latter only produces noises -understanding this term in the old-fashioned way, as indeterminate sounds, or not previously determined- through the use of blows with the knuckles and drumming with the fingers on the harmonic box of the string instruments, together with the use by the percussions of untuned diaphragm instruments (the percussion part is so important in this work that it could well be called "Concerto for violin, percussion and orchestra"). The violin discourse unfolds over that atmosphere, generating a clear opposition between noise and music, this being conceived throughout this movement in a free atonal language, in which different thematic ideas are raised that will later reappear throughout the work, in a clear cyclical treatment of them. Let's hear a fragment of this first movement:

LISTENING: 1st movement of the "Concerto for violin and orchestra" (fragmento)
(Recording: Víctor Martín (violín) and Tenerife Symphonic Orchestra. Dir.: Víctor Pablo Pérez)

The second movement, almost a classic rondo in terms of form, acts as the scherzo of the work. The main section is written within the strictest academic twelve-tone principles. As a chorus it appears twice, and in each one of them only 24 of the 48 twelve-tone series derived from a main series are used. Now, I allowed myself a playful variant that makes all the apparent seriousness of the method lose its rigor and crumble. In each intervention in the series, whether in its original, inverted, retrograde or inverted retrograde form, as well as in all its transpositions, I have deliberately omitted one note: the G. Due to this, no two series are the same, since they all differ at the point where the G leaves its hole, consequently modifying the whole of the series. As a scherzante detail, the G, highlighted by its absence throughout the entire chorus, closes both interventions of the same, being his presence this time emphasized by appearing alone, and duplicated throughout the orchestra. Let's hear the first chorus of this rondo that constitutes the second movement of the Concerto:

LISTENING: 2nd movement of the "Concerto for violin and orchestra" (fragment)

This game of absence, first, and presence, later, of the G note, manages to emphasize said sound, taking it as the basis of the subsequent stylistic evolution of the Concerto. After a first cadence the chorus is re-exposed, now using the 24 series not used the previous time. The second couplet is in charge of a dramatic section, in which the higher sounds of the violin are superimposed, in an impossible dialectic, to the lower sounds of the bassoons, horns, trombones and tuba. That climate is broken to give way to a coda, in which the scherzante character of this second movement is recovered, and in which I used repetitive procedures that little by little engulf the soloist, until they completely annul him. Let's listen to this end of the second movement.

LISTENING: End of the 2nd movement of the "Concerto for violin and orchestra"

After this /i>coda, a long cadence of the soloist takes place, in which the language approaches from an atonality domesticated by serial treatment to a modalism that we soon identify as related to the Phrygian mode that has precisely the G note as its tonic (the choice of this note is not free either: remember that it is the lowest note of the violin). This cadence gives way to a transition section towards the third movement, in which for two minutes the orchestra and the soloist display a single static sound, based on the C major chord. With this, a new transformation has taken place: the G, Phrygian tonic, has changed function, as we would say in a harmony class, and has become dominant, producing a modulation to the key of C major. Let's hear a snippet of that cadence, as well as the beginning of this transition section:

LISTENING: End of the cadenza and transition to the 3rd movement of the "Concerto for violin and orchestra"

This entry into the new harmonic climate generated by the apparently static presence, but with a great inner dynamism, as has been appreciated, of the harmony of C major, does not take long to drift towards a wide fragment of music composed in a frankly tonal language, that goes through a series of sections centered respectively, in the keys of C major, B minor, C# minor and again C major. Obviously, the two intermediate keys, B minor and C# minor, act as a neighbour-notes of the main key of C major. At the end of the third movement, the music returns to the initial climate, recapitulating the timbral world of the opposition between noise and music, within the same free atonal treatment. In a final act of humility, the soloist leaves his bow and integrates, drumming and striking his instrument, into the orchestral group, which gradually disappears, leaving him alone in that -for him, new- sound environment. Let's hear the first minutes of this third movement of my Concerto for violin and orchestra, in the wonderful performance of Víctor Martín with the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Víctor Pablo Pérez.

LISTENING: 3rd movement of the "Concerto for violin and orchestra" (fragment)

As the end of my intervention, I wish to acknowledge that there is still a pending section in my catalog dedicated to the composition of music for string instruments, but oriented towards their pedagogy, and very especially with regard to their elementary and middle levels. I consider that this aspect of creation has been very little attended, not only by me, but by Spanish composers in general, very different from what has happened in other countries, such as Hungary, where the composition of didactic music enjoys of a great tradition, thanks to the work developed by composers of the importance of Bartók and Kodaly. In this sense, it seems as if we composers have placed ourselves in an unreal limbo, as far as aspects related to music as important as its teaching are concerned, and we do not know how to move outside of a world that is directed almost exclusively to try to expand with our works the repertoire, already immense, destined for concert halls.
During the last four years I have been in a very close contact with the world of educational planning and reform, having collaborated as a Technical Advisor with the Department of Music and Performing Arts of the General Subdirection of Artistic Education of the Ministry for Education and Science, in the elaboration of the regulations that develop the reform of musical education within the framework of the new Law. This, together with my capacity as the father of two children who began in those years in the difficult learning of the violin and the cello, has sensitized me in a very special way to everything that refers to those first years of teaching string instruments, and the result of this has been some works (a duo for two violins, a collection of pieces for a cello ensemble, and a Suite for string orchestra) in which I have tried the no less difficult task of putting aside technical difficulties, in order to give primacy to other aspects more formative in that level of studies.
These pieces are still awaiting the moment to demonstrate their didactic effectiveness, which, if positive, would intensify my interest in this type of composition. For the moment, I must limit myself to leaving it on the public record, and to end this intervention by emphasizing something related to all this that seems particularly important to me, so I do not want to stop addressing it in this session.
It is not hidden from anyone that the reform of musical education has been an event for an aspect so scandalously neglected by our country. During the 1970s and 1980s, the demand for musical training -completely absent from general education- overwhelmed the possibilities of our conservatories, causing a massification that had a profound impact on the degradation of the quality and meaning of the teachings, which rapidly were reduced to a hybrid that was as excessive for amateurs as insufficient for future professionals. In addition, this demand was directed in a very high percentage towards the piano and guitar specialties, and was attended to as irresponsibly as uncontrollably by successive administrations, until it completely deformed the sense of the conservatories, which thus lost all relationship with the needs derived from the professional world.
The new Law proposed as a priority objective a rationalization of these teachings, reserving conservatories exclusively for the training of professionals, and promoting the creation of Music Schools that serve to give non-professional training, although of quality, to amateurs, as well as for the detection of students whose talent advises their access to professional studies. As the foreign professors present here know very well, this double model is the one that has been consolidated with great success for decades in most of the countries of the European Union, in which its effectiveness has been more than amply demonstrated.
Since 1992, the gradual introduction of the new teachings has been taking place, which has affected not only the replacement of the previous curriculum by the one resulting from the new legal framework, but, what is even more important, a professionalization of the conservatories that, in turn, has required a restructuring of its teaching offer and a redirection of enrollment towards the specialties that are necessary for the development of the musical life of our country.
In relation to all this, I am particularly proud, as a member of the team that has contributed to putting it into practice, that the panorama of musical education at its elementary and middle levels has suffered, in the six years that have elapsed since the beginning of the implementation of the new rules, modifications as profound as the following:

1) Regarding general aspects:
- Professionalization of the conservatories, already mentioned, which implies a rigorous selection of students through the admission tests established for each specialty, and
- Demassification of the centers, as one hour of weekly instrument class is mandatory, from the first year of elementary grade (which means a maximum of 18 students per teacher.

2) With regard especially to string instruments:
- As a priority objective, presence of group practice from the beginning of studies, which translates into one hour of collective class during the four elementary level courses, between one and a half and two hours of Orchestra during the six courses of the middle level, between an hour and an hour and a half of Chamber Music during the last four courses of said level and the four courses of the upper one, and a weekly hour of String Quartet during the entire last level.
- Obligatory presence of complementary Piano teaching during the first four years of the intermediate level, for all symphonic specialties.
- Finally, and I hope that as data of special relevance for you, creation, in higher degree studies, of new specialties, among which is that of "Pedagogy of the different instrumental specialties and singing", in order to attend the training of teachers of these teachings. This puts an end to the long tradition that supposed the absence in musical studies in our country of a true didactic training, since this was as symbolic as it was ridiculously reduced to a specialized Pedagogy course and two of Teacher Practices. The development of the new specialty has implicit subjects such as Instrument Didactics, Music Didactics, Piscopedagogy, Analysis, Improvisation and Applied Composition, among others, in addition to those of the instrumental specialty such as Orchestra and Chamber Music.

The professionalizing objective of the new teachings has led to a considerable increase in the number of positions for teachers of string instruments. Thus, in the last 5 years only the MEC has created, for elementary and professional conservatories located in its territorial management area, no less than 105 positions for string teachers, of which 51 are violin, with the capacity to attend to 1800 more students, approximately. It should be noted that all these places are currently operating at full capacity.
The growth of string teachers and the containment of other specialties, such as Piano and Guitar, results in a much more balanced staff and in line with the objectives of a professional center, and allows the smooth development of Orchestra teaching, true axis of the middle grade of the new curriculum. With that objective in mind and as final data, I can say that in the previous academic year, 1995-96, which can be considered as an equator of the implementation of the elementary and middle degrees (five years), as well as the extinction of the teachings of the previous plan (another five years), the comparative enrollment of the piano and string specialties between both plans in a typical conservatory in Madrid, such as "Teresa Berganza", is as follows:

1966 Plan: Piano: 195 students / String: 44 students, divided into 5 classes.
1992 Plan: Piano: 30 students / String: 67 students, divided into 5 courses.

In another conservatory in Madrid, the "Ángel Arias", the data are similar, although less spectacular. :

1966 Plan: Piano: 79 students / String: 32 students (5 years).
1992 Plan: Piano: 47 students / String: 72 students (5 years).

Unfortunately, all these achievements are underestimated, if not unknown, not only by the social environment, but -which is especially serious- by a large part of the teaching staff, who persist in not seeing in the new legal framework more than a triumph from the theoretical to the practical, when in reality it is exactly the other way around. Thus, it is common to hear how in recent times the apparently most authoritative voices of our musical life pour their most acid criticisms on the new teachings, which only demonstrate their most absolute ignorance of the subject, by never going beyond referring, curiously, to to purely anecdotal aspects, without therefore going into deeper considerations from the point of view of what the new rules entail for the clarification of the teachings, in the first place, and for their professionalization, later. For that reason, and because the stakes are high, I would like to end this intervention with this call to attention on such an important aspect of string instruments as their teaching, with the hope that it will serve as less, as the basis of a possible controversy in which truth and sanity end up shining.
Thank you very much.

Madrid, March 1997.