Academicismo y libertad formal en la música para guitarra de Joaquín Turina / Academicism and formal freedom in the music for guitar by Joaquín Turina

(Lecture delivered at the Valencian Guitar Society, on October 23, 1999)


Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
As you all know, the fiftieth anniversary of Joaquín Turina's death was just a few months ago, on January 14. The Valencian Guitar Society has seen fit to dedicate one of its activities to this event, inviting me to deliver this conference, which I am especially grateful for, given my double status as a direct descendant of the Sevillian musician and, also, as a composer. Although my production has nothing, or very little, to do with that of my grandfather, on some occasions I have gladly accepted, and always with the awareness of a great responsibility, that my professional work was centered on his music. The orchestration of the last two movements of El poema de una sanluqueña, for violin and piano, which Joaquín Turina left unfinished (he only managed to orchestrate the first two), as well as the reconstruction of the score of the opera Jardín de Oriente, lost for many years, out of the orchestral parts, represented two moments in my professional activity that I remember with special affection. But if there is something that gives me special satisfaction, it is, as on this occasion, being able to divulge certain aspects of Turina's music that the inertia derived from the specific weight of the half dozen more fairly known works prevents or makes it difficult to consider.
And as it seems unavoidable to talk about Joaquín Turina without establishing a parallelism with the figure of Manuel de Falla, it will not hurt to remember here that both were born in the first years of the last quarter of the 19th century (in 1876 the first, and in 1882 the second), and that they die in the last years of the first half of the 20th century (1946 and 1949, respectively). Their lives are, therefore, almost rigorously parallel in chronology, as is a large part of their musical training which, begun in their native Andalusian cities and continued in Madrid, has as its goal perfecting it in Paris in the early years of the 20th century. The parallelism is so great in that period that it had to lead to interference: both artists stayed in the same Parisian hotel, the Kleber, until Falla was forced to leave it, unable to resist the continual disturbance of their respective pianos.
But that parallelism only goes so far, quickly giving way to deep divergences -which are never talked about-, since the later aesthetic and stylistic diversity also lies in that apparently identical initial route, since at that time Paris is not a single destination, but the seat of clearly different aesthetic attitudes and postures, as a result of an artistic restlessness that even today is surprising. In Paris, two of the most important currents of the moment meet, fiercely in quite opposite environments: what we could call conservative, represented by the legacy of César Franck's music and its connection with tradition through cyclical constructive postulates -what Adolfo Salazar would later define, with a touch of acidity, "symphonic cyclings"-, and that revolved around the Schola Cantorum, and the avant-garde, which gathers the impressionist heritage of Debussy and Ravel, mainly, and its disruptive spirit. Proof of this is the character of the pedagogues chosen by both composers: while Turina is rigorously trained in classical-cyclical composition under the strict tutelage of Vincent D'Indy, Falla is practically freed by Paul Dukas from the acquisition of a certain technique : "Work alone," were his words, "and I'll give you some instrumentation advice."
As is logical, such a disparate starting point at the height of the formation of both composers was decisive in the subsequent evolution followed by each of them. Thus, while Falla's music seems to lean towards a world little affected by classical forms, closer to the rhapsodic and, consequently, with a great relationship with the stage (the music composed for Diaghilev's Russian ballets is, without a doubt, the peak of his production), that of Turina, from his op. 1, the Piano Quintet, to his latest work, the one with 104 as the opus number and entitled From my terrace, likes the use of constructive procedures that, although in their harmonic and melodic spheres can be considered to have a great personality, in the formal aspect they do nothing but wisely and ingeniously recreate the great traditional forms, to which the mentality of the Schola Cantorum was particularly faithful. Turina's wise mix of his highest doses of Spanish inspiration with a rigorously European compositional technique gave the best results, for both ingredients, of such a peculiar symbiosis between the popular and the cultured: in her music, the local flavor loses its 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 infuse them with a new vitality and energy.
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, Rondos, Lieder in sections... The truly of his music, and what has allowed it to survive, despite this apparent traditional ballast, lies in the fact that these forms are never "pure", in the classical sense, but rather 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.
In Joaquín Turina's catalogue, made up of no fewer than 104 works, two groups of works draw powerful attention, at least from who are speaking to you: those dedicated to chamber music, which add up to a total of 16, and the 5 pieces written for the guitar. This production is proportionally much lower than piano music, which accounts for more than 50% of the total, but much higher than that dedicated to these genres by their rigorous contemporaries. Neither in Albéniz, nor in Granados, nor in Manuel de Falla is there an interest in the composition of chamber music -one could count on the fingers of one hand the works composed by the three for classical chamber groups-, and much except for the guitar, which only occurs -with a masterful example, yes-, in the case of Falla. However, Turina devotes herself to both genres with absolute continuity in the case of chamber music -her first cataloged work is a piano Quintet, and her sixteenth, Homenaje a Navarra, for violin and piano, has the number 102 of opus-, and with clear regularity in the case of the guitar, since his five works, which range from op. 29, Sevillana, up to Homenaje a Tárrega, op. 69, are written spaced between 1923 and 1932.
Those years coincide with the acquaintance, first, and then the friendship with Andrés Segovia, the main promoter of the composition of these works and to whom the three that were premiered by him are dedicated: Sevillana, Fandanguillo and the Sonata. The composer is in that moment between 41 and 50 years old. He is, therefore, in his period of greatest creative maturity, as evidenced by a quick glance at the remaining works composed by then: among them are El poema de una sanluqueña, La oración del torero, the Trio n. 1, Canto a Sevilla, the choreographic fantasy Ritmos, the Sonata n. 1 for violin and piano, the first series of the Cinco danzas gitanas, the Rapsodia sinfónica, for piano and strings, and the Cuarteto con piano, no less. It is, therefore, a happy time, creatively, which undoubtedly serves as a counterpoint, sometimes direct, and others, contrary, to the professional and family life of Turina: From 1923 the composer reaches a financial situation unburdened, by obtaining the position of master concertor of the Royal Theater of Madrid; in 1926 he was appointed music critic for the newspaper El Debate, after the death of Vicente Arregui, and at the end of that same year he was named Favorite Son of Seville; in 1929 he made an important trip to Cuba; in 1931 he was appointed Professor of Composition by the Cloister of the Madrid Conservatory, as well as a member of the National Board of Music and Lyrical Theaters of the recently inaugurated Second Republic... However, this until then successful period sadly ended with the death of his daughter Maria in the early days of 1932.
It is important to highlight the fact that, as far as Turina's chamber music is concerned, what is especially paradigmatic is not so much the number of works composed, which is not excessive -16-, but rather what seems to be deduced from the groups chosen for 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 assimilates 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 La oración del torero 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.
And to mark an important reference in the knowledge of the personality and music of Joaquín Turina, it is appropriate to remember that precisely the op. 1 of his catalog is a piano Quintet (that is, two violins, viola, cello and piano), written in the key of G minor, and composed in the first months of 1907, when Turina was in full phase of academic training under the tutelage of Augusto Serieyx, a collaborator of Vincent D'Indy at the Schola Cantorum in Paris.
This work perfectly summarizes the musical thought of the composer that precedes his definitive maturity, since it comes to suppose the work that attests to the acquisition of a solid writing technique, as well as the perfect assimilation of the aesthetic and stylistic postulates of which Turina was imbued during the years spent in the classrooms of the Schola. In the Quintet we can appreciate a splendidly built music, although closer to the personality of its teachers than possessing an authentic personal voice. However, and although with this work Turina considered his formative stage closed, he must have considered it worthy of appearing in his catalog for its own entity, on the one hand, and on the other because it almost represents a symbol of the assimilation of some constructive principles -the cyclical ones- which it will not abandon in the rest of his abundant production. Consequently, and despite the fact that for opinions as authoritative as that of his collaborator and first biographer, Federico Sopeña, this work is nothing other than "the culmination of the prehistory of Turina's style", it is only apparently necessary to appreciate in the Quintet the lack of personality that is so often blamed on it: it may not have it in terms of the melodic turns, rhythms or harmonies characteristic of the peculiar language of Turina that is familiar to us; that is, in technical aspects related to the realization of the musical idea. But as regards the formal structure of his music, the constructive rigor of its architectural elements, the Quintet is, without a doubt, the work from which we must begin to count the music of Joaquín Turina. For that reason, and fully aware of it, the composer did not hesitate to assign number 1 in his catalog to this important work.
As a sign of the constructive rigor that we have just alluded to, and of Turina's taste for classical forms, a quick review of the movements of the Quintet yields the following balance: The work begins with a slow Fugue, based on a theme from Gregorian chant, which is followed by a second movement whose form is that of the classical first sonata movement. The third movement is a curious synthesis -very Franckian, on the other hand- of andante and scherzo. Lastly, the fourth movement is introduced by two cadenzas, one for the violin and the other for the viola, which precede a classic rondo-sonata form with three episodes, the first and third of which consist of an inversion of the subject of the fugue, which, always in accordance with the Franckian cyclical principles, thus acts as a generating element of the general cyclical form.
The premiere of the Quintet was splendidly received by the Parisian public, which contributed to its being highly demanded during the immediately following months -despite the fact that until the date of its premiere, on May 6, 1907, its author was perfectly unknown. by said public-, being interpreted no less than in Saint Petersburg in that same year. In one of the subsequent auditions of the work, the one held on October 3, 1907 at the Grand Palais in Paris, as a premiere, for having been awarded by the Autumn Salon of that year, an extraordinary event took place in Turina's life, which, with enormous grace and liveliness, the composer himself reflected in a writing -that, by the way, earned him great praise from none other than Gerardo Diego- which I will give you reading below, since, although it is a well-known episode, its presence seems obligatory to me in this session of approach to the figure of the composer, since it provides the necessary keys for it:

"... At the beginning of October 1907 my first work was premiered at the Salon d'Autumn in Paris, a "Quintet" for piano and string instruments.
Already placed on stage, and violinist Parent with his bow ready, we saw a fat man, with a large black beard and an immense broad-brimmed hat, enter in a hurry and somewhat suffocated by his running. A minute later, and in the greatest silence, the audition began. Shortly after, the fat man turned to his neighbor, a skinny young man, and asked:
- Is the author English?
"No, sir, he's from Seville," answered the neighbor, completely stupefied.
The work followed, and after the fugue the allegro came, and after the andante, the finale. But finishing this one and making the fat man burst into the foyer, accompanied by the neighbor, the skinny young man, was all one. He advanced towards me, and with the greatest courtesy pronounced his name: "Isaac Albéniz". Half an hour later the three of us were walking, arm in arm, along the Champs Elysées, gray in that autumn evening; After crossing Concord Square, we settled in a brewery on Calle Real, and there, before a glass of champagne and cakes, I underwent the most complete metamorphosis of my life. There the "patrica chica" came to the fore, there was talk of music with "views of Europe", and from there I left completely changed my mind. We were three Spaniards and, in that cenacle, in a corner of Paris, we had to make great efforts for national music and for Spain. I will never forget that scene, nor do I think the skinny young man will forget it either, who was none other than the illustrious Manuel de Falla".

To such an extent did Joaquín Turina never forget that scene, that the work that immediately follows the Quintet in his catalog -that is, the one that appears with opus number 2- already bears a very significant title of the metamorphosis caused in him as a consequence of the conversation with Albéniz: Sevilla (picturesque suite for piano); metamorphosis that also reaches the names of each movement of the composition, which from then on will be common in all his music: compare the titles of the four movements of the Quintet (Fuga lenta, Allegro, Andante-Scherzo and Final), with those of this "Picturesque Suite" (Under the orange trees, Holy Thursday at midnight and The fair), and it will be possible to appreciate to what extent the transformation promoted by Albéniz is profound.
In that sense, and judging by the quality of the music contained in the Quintet, it is fair to recognize that Turina was at that time a musician not only trained, but perfectly prepared to join the musical avant-garde of his time with a production consistent with the prevailing aesthetic. Therefore, that Albéniz's advice bore fruit so quickly must be attributed to an enormous power of persuasion, stemming from a clearly extraordinary personality, which found fertile ground in a young composer who was at the crucial point of being forced to choose an aesthetic orientation from which to develop his profession, at a time when nationalist-type music -rich in novel modal and rhythmic aspects- occupied a privileged position within the possibilities offered by the avant-garde.
It was, in short, a happy series of coincidences that decisively determined the rest of Joaquín Turina's creative life, since, once he had found the aesthetic path to follow, the composer adopted a deliberate attitude of not deviating from it. in the future, in what refers, at least, to the most significant technical aspects: in this way, it is hardly possible to establish an evolutionary process both of the rhythmic and melodic turns, and of the harmonic and formal procedures used, that goes through his musical production: rather, it can be affirmed that Turina belongs to that rare class of composers in which it is not easy to distinguish between a work of youth and a work of maturity, as refined and defined as his language is from his first babbling, and for those who lack meaning, therefore, the permanent search for their own voice.
Now, such a clearly defined personality should not have been the automatic result of a fluid and enlightened change of orientation; rather, the conversation with Albéniz must have involved a kind of seismic movement in the depths of Joaquín Turina's aesthetic entrails, strongly rooted around the technical and formal postulates acquired at the Schola.
In this sense, it is once again mandatory to reflect on the double-edged sword that for any professional -and the artist is nothing else, after all- is academic training. Without questioning its necessity, it is extremely difficult to achieve a magical balance between rigor and creativity, between technique and spontaneity, because the excess of the first can have consequences on the second as negative as those of its defect, to the point of coerce all the freedom that you want to achieve with its domain.
That balance, which is easily perceptible in many artists, is especially achieved in the case of Turina, in that this problem was solved -consciously or unconsciously- in an admirable way by the composer, since from the first to the last of his works he can trace the eternal conflict between both aspects of creation, which, if in other authors can be irreconcilably antagonistic, they become in his music happily complementary.
As with the rest of his production, the very titles of the five guitar works oscillate eloquently between the most abstract formal rigor and the evocation of images and environments. Thus, the most far-reaching piece is simply entitled Sonata, while, at the opposite extreme, we should place the one with the most elusive and suggestive title: Ráfaga. Halfway between the two, the remaining three refer precisely to the Andalusian music that they recreate in their own way, as can be seen behind the terms Sevillana and Fandanguillo, as well as those of Garrotín and Soleares that make up the Homenaje a Tárrega.
Music differs from the plastic arts, in addition to many other obvious things, in the way in which the receiving subject (call it the public, spectator or listener) approaches the thought that the emitting subject (painter, sculptor or composer) wishes to transmit through the artistic object. When visiting a museum or a painting or sculpture exhibition, it is the object itself that demands the viewer's attention. Then, the interest usually forces the consultation of the author or the title of the work, normally located in a small notice of said data next to it, which complements the impression caused by its direct perception.
In the case of music, the process is usually the reverse. The listener is presented at the entrance of the concert hall with a program where authors, titles, and all those observations about the works that are going to be heard that the commentator on duty has considered appropriate are carefully detailed. Which means that, unlike the visitor of a museum or an art gallery, the public that attends a concert has a prior knowledge -a pre-judgment, if you will- of certain aspects of the works that they have not yet heard, which can condition their hearing and, with it, their understanding and subsequent assessment of the works themselves.
But all this framework of subjectivities also constitutes a double-edged sword that can hinder a correct appreciation of other intrinsic and objective values of the composition. All this digression attempts to highlight the burden of semantic imprecision that the terminology in use entails, and that in the case of Joaquín Turina's guitar music could lead one to think that the Sonata is a work in which the technical and the formal aspects take precedence over those of spontaneity and freshness, while in Sevillana, as it moves within a genre closer to fantasy, with which the title itself is sometimes complemented, the constructive rigor is considerably attenuated, when it is not conspicuous by its absence.
Nothing could be further from reality. A careful examination of Turina's five guitar pieces leads to the same conclusion as the rest of his production, both piano, chamber and symphonic. In this sense, the most successful titles would seem to be those that combine, together with the generic and abstract denomination of the classical form that serves as their structural support, the image, the landscape or the character that the music tries to make its own in order to rework it and, after subtle procedures that oscillate between alchemy and goldsmithing, breathe an artistic breath into it, which can also be captured by all those who participate in the same cultural environment: in this way, denominations such as Sevillan Symphony, Guitar Quartet or Sonata Sanlúcar de Barrameda perfectly synthesize the formal rigor and the evocative intention.
In any case, the pure formal abstraction deduced from the title itself is confirmed, in the Sonata for guitar, in the succession of ideas and movements: the first is an authentic classical sonata-form, configured in an exposition of two contrasting themes, preceded by its corresponding introduction, followed by a development and concluded with the restatement of the two themes, even preserving the traditional change of key of the second theme that takes place in this closing section of the classical sonata: exposed in a harmonic scope linked to the key of G major, is reexposed in D major, which is the main key, although in the opposite modality, of the piece.
For the second movement, Turina chooses a formal structure characteristic of the slow tempo of the classical sonata: the ternary form known as lied, finished off with a broad final coda. The Sonata ends with a last movement, animated in character and brilliantly written, for which Turina once again uses a characteristic form of the concluding movement of the classical sonata: the rondo form -alternating a refrain between different couplets-, in which inserts, in the place corresponding to the second couplet, the second theme of the initial movement, thereby configuring a traditional rondo, in terms of structure, enriched with the cyclical procedures that the composer made his own in his formative years at the Schola Cantorum.
But this description of the formal and constructive solidity of the work is not an obstacle for the material contained in the mold to suffer from a similar rigor. Quite the contrary, the succession of ideas is so fresh and spontaneous that when listening to the work nothing suggests a predominance of the academic over flexibility. The secret lies in the use of ideas derived from Spanish popular music -Andalusian, preferably, although sometimes Turina does not hesitate to use rhythmic and melodic formulas from Galician, Basque, Catalan or Aragonese folklore-, which are always original in terms of their creation, although all of them identifiable with a dance or popular song rhythm, and which are subjected to further elaboration and development through the same technical procedures as the thematic ideas typical of the classical and romantic periods, with which the different aspects of the composition are updated simultaneously, both formal and melodic, rhythmic and harmonic. Thus, a listener familiar with Spanish popular music will easily recognize in the Sonata for guitar the presence of turns and popular rhythms that give this music a grace and spontaneity that perfectly complements the formal world that serves as its basic structure.
Similarly, but in an inverse conceptual way, the pieces whose title would suggest a deliberate renunciation of all formal rigor, such as Ráfaga, are solidly built over structures in which it is always possible to recognize a classical form, although sometimes their contours blur under the expansive pressure of the material they contain.
I end these introductory words to the concert that we are going to listen to immediately, leaving in the air precisely that doubt, which only the composer could elucidate: because it would seem that, the thematic ideas and formal procedures being always similar, the pressure of some on the others is what determines the final result and, with it, that the name of the work itself points in one direction -that of formal rigor- or in another -that of descriptive evocation-, depending on which of the two has been revealed as the predominant force.
In any case, I hope that with these words I have contributed to a better understanding of certain aspects related to Joaquín Turina's music, in a year, that of the fiftieth anniversary of his death, which is assuming a real revision of his works and, with it, of the importance of his figure in recent Spanish musical creation. I thank the Valencian Guitar Society again for the opportunity it has given me to be able to contribute to all this, and to all of you, thank you very much for your attention.

Madrid, October 1999