Among the many chamber ensembles that can be called octets, the one made up of eight equal instruments is truly curious. The main exponent is the ensemble of eight celli, whose antecedents must surely be sought in the first of the Bachianas Brasileiras by Villa-Lobos, composed in 1930, and for which a large number of works have been generated in recent decades, including arrangements and scores originally written for that group, thanks to the stable creation of some professional ensembles, among which it stands out for its trajectory the "Conjunto Ibérico" created in 1989 by the Spanish cellist Elías Arizcuren.
However, Emilio Mateu, professor of viola at the Madrid Royal Conservatory of Music, was responsible for the first creation in Spain of an octet with similar characteristics, but made up of eight violas, which received the name "TomásLestán", in homage to the first Viola teacher at the Madrid Conservatory, the city where he died in 1908. The octet was made up of Emilio Mateu's higher-grade students, and given the lack of an original repertoire for that group, I was invited in 1987 to compose a work that, with the title of Divertimento, Aria and Serenade, was premiered by said group in the Auditorium of the Senior College "San Pablo" in Madrid on May 5, 1988.
The "Tomás Lestán" octet had an ephemeral life and there have been no other groups that have followed in its footsteps, but fortunately Divertimento, Aria and Serenata were able to survive being re-instrumented a few years later, in 1991, for the cello octet "Conjunto Ibérico", which already enjoyed great prestige, and which premiered the new version in May 1992 in the Chamber Hall of the National Music Auditorium in Madrid, and its recording on CD for the "Canal Grande" label a few years later.
Elías Arizcuren y el Octeto de violoncellos "Conjunto Ibérico", hacia 1994
As in other works composed for groups made up of equal instruments (such as Four Quartets, for four corni di bassetto, from 1994, or Paraphrase on "Don Giovanni", for cello octet, from 2000), none of the members of the group has a more prominent or more important role than that of the others, since precisely the equality between the instruments that make up the group is the basis for an absolutely equitable treatment of the material put into play. Hence, in part, the frequency of a fragmented writing distributed among the eight soloists, and which is finally recomposed in a single line in the ear of the public, or the imitative passages in which a main melodic material runs through the different parts of the set.
As its own title suggests, Divertimento, Aria and Serenade is divided into three sections that are performed without interruption. The first of them stands out for its changes in character, sometimes scherzante, sometimes energetic, and with frequent purely timbral environments that alternate with more rhythmic sections, within a free atonality. On the contrary, the Aria has a purely modal flavour, in which the eight instruments start from a melody played in unison, from which they break off little by little until they end up in a contrapuntal eight-voice divisi. The Serenade is composed almost entirely on the harmonic base of C major, from which melodic, rhythmic and timbral cells are generated whose pulverized writing is distributed equally throughout the ensemble. A coda, not without a certain drama, breaks the previous harmonic ecstasy and ends the piece.
Cover of the CD oc the Cello octet "Conjunto Ibérico" (1994)