La música abstracta de Joaquín Turina / The abstract music of Joaquín Turina

(Article published in the first supplement "Cultures" of the Diario de Sevilla. Seville, March 4, 1999)


If any music lover is subjected to a rapid association of ideas test, it is certain that, when faced with the name of Joaquín Turina, the unconscious response will be: "Seville". Which, without a doubt, would greatly satisfy the composer, since there are few productions in the History of Art more clearly and deliberately oriented to establishing such a close relationship between the work and its pretext or source of inspiration. Fifty years after his death, the reference to Seville in relation to Turina's music is as obvious as unnecessary. The exile's own nostalgia in a place as impersonal as Madrid towards the corners, the festivals, the processions and the women of Seville, in particular, and of Andalusia, in general, is what beats recurrently in the background of a great part of the best pages of Joaquín Turina, the works that, such as The bullfighter's prayer, the Sevillan Symphony, the Sanlúcar de Barrameda Sonata, the Andalusian Women... guarantee, by their grace and their incomparable freshness, a place for its author in the history of Spanish and universal music of our century. If the term had not been used for other purposes, it would rarely be more accurate to speak of "concrete music" to define all these works, as close as they are object and idea, sign and referent, signifier and signified.
But, as happens on so many occasions, the leafiness of the trees of the known does not allow, many times, not only to see, but even to glimpse the forest of what is yet to be known. It is the other music of Joaquín Turina, what we could call his "abstract music", which urgently needs to be rescued from the background to which the inertia derived from the specific weight of the most representative works of his production has subjected it. The fiftieth anniversary of his death is an ideal date to remember, but also to discover what is still hidden, both for the general public and for a good part of the professionals.
That "abstract music" is, mainly, his chamber music, in which Joaquín Turina wisely mixed his highest doses of Spanish inspiration with a rigorously European compositional technique, with the best results, for both ingredients, of such a peculiar symbiosis: in it, the local flavor loses folkloric superficiality and is magnified in contact with the noble and severe classical formal procedures, while the academic rigor of the latter is neutralized by the spontaneity and freshness derived from the use of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic turns that infuses them with a new vitality and energy. Unlike other of his contemporaries, Joaquín Turina achieved in his chamber music an admirable and difficult synthesis of the popular and the cultured that can only occur in someone who has drunk equally from both sources.
In this it played a preponderant role the fact that his musical training began in Seville and, after a stopover in Madrid, culminated in Paris, which, in the early years of the 20th century, was the seat of clearly different attitudes and aesthetic postures, as a result of an artistic restlessness that even today is surprising. In this capital, two of the most important musical currents of the moment were brought together, fiercely in very opposite environments: what we could call conservative, represented by the legacy of César Franck's music and its connection with tradition through the cyclical constructive postulates -what Adolfo Salazar would later define, with a touch of acidity, "symphonic cyclisms"-, and which revolved around the Schola Cantorum, and the avant-garde, which collected the Impressionist heritage of Debussy and Ravel, mainly, and his spirit disruptive. Turina decidedly opted for the former, rigorously training in traditional technique and cyclical composition under the strict tutelage of Vincent D'Indy, which had the consequence that, from his op. 1, the Piano Quintet, to his latest work, the one with 104 as the opus number and entitled From my terrace, he liked the use of constructive procedures that, although in their harmonic and melodic spheres they can considered to be of great modernity insofar as they reflect an authentic voice of their own, in the formal aspect they did nothing but recreate as wisely as ingeniously the great traditional forms, to which the mentality of the Schola Cantorum 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 difficulty: Themes with variations, Fugues, Sonatas, Rondós, Lieder in sections... The truly originality of his music lies in the fact that these forms are never "pure", in the classical sense, but all of them are imbued with a melodic, harmonic and rhythmic treatment, derived from a very particular assimilation by its author of Spanish folklore , and, very mainly, from Andalusian, and its subsequent adaptation to them.

Of the 104 works that make up Joaquín Turina's catalogue, 16 are dedicated to instrumental chamber music -that is, composed for a group of two or more instruments-. However, what is particularly paradigmatic is not so much the number of these works, which is not excessive, but rather it seems to follow from the chosen groups a deliberate purpose of serving, as a priority, the chamber combinations closest to the classical and romantic tradition, which is entirely consistent with the particular way in which Turina makes it own 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 The bullfighter's prayer in its transcription made by its author of the original for lute quartet), three piano trios, a piano quartet , a piano quintet, and five duets for violin and piano. On the contrary, the three chamber music works that remain to complete the 16 mentioned are truly curious, due to the fact that they are not very representative of the conventional ensembles 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 composed for a different group, called The Muses of Andalusia, and a Theme and Variations for harp and piano.
This prioritization of traditional ensembles is, in turn, a direct consequence of an intense chamber music activity, especially cultivated by performers in our country throughout the first half of our century, which in turn caused a high interest in it for part of the general audience. A simple glance at the specialized magazines and publications is enough to verify how intense this activity was, both in the great cities, 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, which clashes sharply with the current situation, in which our institutions live more attentive to symphonic music than to chamber music, hardly attended to the extent that its extensive repertoire would make it advisable.
Undoubtedly for this reason, Joaquín Turina's chamber music is today more widespread outside our borders, where there are many chamber ensembles that widely cultivate it, and where the excellent discographic recordings come from, that little by little are filling that gap of our musical life, with which said music can be, for the time being, disseminated, until our country overcomes the symphonic measles, somewhat of nouveau riche, which has afflicted it for years, and recovers the lost taste for perhaps not so spectacular sonorities , but no less overwhelming and emotional. Why the generic name of "abstract music" that I have used in this article to refer to this important part of Turina's production? Because deliberately -with a few exceptions, such as Andalusian scene or The Muses of Andalusia- the composer avoided using descriptive titles for these works: opposite epigraphs such as By the Guadalquivir river, Under the orange trees, Holy Thursday at Midnight or From my terrace, so peculiar to the rest of his production, the chamber music works could not be more austerely baptized: Quintet, Piano Quartet, Sonata, Trio, as well as their movements, which rarely bear more names than the tempo chosen for them: "Lento", "Andante scherzando", "Allegro"..., but without losing, of course, the connection with the Spanish melodic, harmonic and rhythmic material, with which the author's artistic intention is crystal clear.
Perhaps the slow but unstoppable dissemination of this music, through its normalization within the chamber music repertoire, will also serve to dispel once and for all the apparently inevitable anti-Spanish prejudices -so profoundly Spanish- that, unfortunately, continue afflicting a large part of the audience and the professionals, and which have had such a negative impact on the knowledge and appreciation of Turina's music: from simple amateurs to renowned performers who, obviously, ignore the music of their country, to brainy teachers who spread among their students (!) an anti-nationalist doctrine that is as incomprehensible as it is old-fashioned, not to mention that criticism that is incapable (?) of separating the wheat from the chaff, which continues to insist on mixing the popular with Francoism... , or from Joaquín Turina's own publishers, who, with their persistent stubbornness in not republishing his out-of-print works -despite the increasing demand for them-, just throw stones at the common roof of our music. Because, in any case, a fiftieth anniversary like this should not only be a reason for commemoration; also -why not?- of good intentions.

Madrid, February 1999