Primera lectura de Encore alla turca. Grupo de cámara de la JONDE.
Priorato Le Mesnil St. Martin (Montaut de Villeréal), septiembre de 2014

La composición de música de cámara en el marco educativo / The composition of chamber music in the educational framework

(Paper read at the round table on "Chamber Music in Spain", within the 31st Segovia Chamber Music Week, in July 2000)

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen:

First of all, I would like to thank the Juan de Borbón Foundation for having invited me to be part of this round table on "Chamber Music in Spain", within the 31st Chamber Music Week of the Musical Summer of Segovia.
I have been assigned to develop in a few minutes a particular aspect of chamber music (that of its composition), but integrated into another more general one (the educational framework), which seems quite logical to me given my dual status as a composer and as a professor, activities on which my professional activity has been focused for twenty years. My table companion on this occasion and colleague in teaching tasks, Víctor Martín, is then responsible for developing the educational framework through the aspect of the interpretation of chamber music.
As you all know, our country has been undergoing a reform of the educational system for almost a decade, which, in the case of artistic education, in general, and music, in particular, has led to a profound transformation, both in substance and in form, of the pedagogical approaches, the methodological principles and the previous didactic attitudes. The course that will begin next October will mark the full implementation of the new middle grade, as well as the extinction of the middle and higher grades of the previous study plan, and the beginning of the progressive implementation of the courses of the new higher grade, considerably delayed with respect to the initial calendar, which placed it in the 1995-96 academic year. Five years before the first promotion of higher graduates emerges, it is perhaps too soon to point out a balance of the results obtained by the new organization of these teachings; but in any case it is always good to remember their intentions, as well as the role that the different sectors of the educational community, and especially the teachers, must play throughout the process, if these results are to be as positive as expected, and given that the renewal of educational approaches should have as a direct consequence a transformation of the teaching methodology.
As an example, my teaching specialty, Harmony, undergoes a profound transformation in the new curriculum, not in the background of the teaching, but in the process of its learning: the traditional predominance of writing, centered on the more than doubtfully effective technique of the realization of basses and trebles, has given way to an assimilation of the contents through its practice. During the two courses of the second cycle of the middle grade, between the ages of 14 and 16, students, whatever their instrumental specialty, must acquire basic harmonic knowledge through listening and practicing on the keyboard, basically, to, in a later stage -the third cycle, from 16 to 18 years old- intensify written practice, within the teaching of Fundamentals of Composition, as preparation for access to specialized higher studies.
And among the instrumental teachings of the aforementioned middle grade, those of the ensemble are the ones that most clearly allow us to verify the depth of the transformation promoted (1), and in whose development the current composer can participate more directly, is linked to teaching -as is my case, as well as that of a good number of my colleagues, who find in teaching, in addition to a second vocation, a way of subsistence- or he is a mere professional composer.

The first thing that is obvious about the intentions of the reform with respect to instrumental teaching as a whole is its quantitative increase, in relation to the previous curriculum. In a quick review, it will be enough to remember that in the 1966 plan these teachings did not begin until the student had passed the penultimate course of the middle grade. Only then was it possible to take the two years of Chamber Music established in the intermediate level in general for all instrumental specialties, in order to obtain the title of Professor -although the first of them could be sufficient, substituting the second for an Instrumental Ensemble course.
In the upper grade, ensemble teaching was only present in the 3rd and 4th years of Chamber Music; but, in a way that is as incongruous as anachronistic, its performance was necessarily linked to the specialties of violin, cello and piano, thus giving an aristocratic consideration to the chamber music repertoire written for these instruments (whose maximum exponent would therefore be the piano trio), and relegating the rest to the most absolute commoners (including the viola and, with it, the string quartet, to the astonishment, first, and the blush, later, of locals and strangers).
Well, the absurdity of that situation has been fully corrected, in form and substance, in the new arrangement, not so much with the aim of repairing an obvious historical injustice (that of not having considered all instruments equally suitable for chamber music practice in the upper grade), but with the aim of taking advantage of the unquestionable formative aspects of ensemble instrumental teachings that confer to them a basic educational value, for which making music in a group continuously throughout the studies becomes considered indispensable for the formation of the integral musician.
Thus, these teachings begin in the first year of the elementary grade, through the collective class, and continue in the middle grade with the teaching of Orchestra, throughout the six years of the section, and with Chamber Music -compulsory for all specialties, singing included- during the last four years. As for the higher grade, a basic course load has been established for Chamber Music and Orchestra subjects that will require a minimum of three courses for each of them to be completed. All this supposes a radical change, as I pointed out before, in pedagogical orientation and didactic methodology, in which the choice of the appropriate repertoire for the different levels plays a decisive role.
It is precisely in this aspect that the composer has the opportunity to participate with his creative work in nothing less than the process of training young people who, tomorrow, will have to be the professionals who interpret his music. Because in a matter of contemporary ensemble repertoire, in general, and chamber music, in particular, aimed at the initial and middle stages of studies, the needs are very great, since what is available is, in the case of a good number of specialties, inversely proportional, quantitatively and qualitatively speaking, to the instrumental technical level of the different training sections, which makes it very problematic to determine a quality didactic programming in numerically inferior courses. And although this is not the case, obviously, of the teaching of Chamber Music in the upper grade or in the last courses of the intermediate grade, in which the technical level allows access to the main works of chamber music literature, neither will they be helpless the attempts to swell that repertoire, especially with regard to "less frequented" specialties, speaking from the point of chamber music.

Professional music education has spent decades focused on the theoretical and practical study of works from the baroque, classical and romantic periods, which, at this point in history, must begin to be considered serious, because it occurs at the cost of a resolute rejection of the incorporation of more recent music to the didactic repertoire. This reveals a clear lack of harmony between contemporary music and an important part of the society to which it is supposedly directed, which is all the more worrying since it is nothing less than the one that is in charge of educating the new generations, for whom the musical culture of their time can become completely alien.
For all the foregoing, I see in the field of chamber music composition and as a whole the best of the fields in which the contribution of contemporary creation to the training process of children and young people can be developed, by allowing their familiarization, making them its own, with those musical parameters not sufficiently developed in traditional music that are its own (timbres; harmonies, interval and rhythmic complexes; textures...), and that require a great cohesion of all the members of the group, without necessarily implying be in possession of a virtuoso technique to be tackled.
In my opinion, the creative orientation that opens up in this way constitutes a magnificent opportunity to put our young students in contact, from an early age, with the contemporary repertoire and to get them used to interpreting the music of composers who are not only alive, but very close to them, with whom it will even be possible at a given moment to exchange impressions on the interpretation of the works worked on. My experience in this regard could not be more favourable, and having dedicated a large part of my creative activity in recent years to the composition of chamber music for young people has provided me with some of the greatest satisfaction of my career as a composer and, of course, as a teacher.

In any case, it should not be thought that the instrumentalist's age and lower technical level make things easier for the composer; Quite the contrary, they complicate them enormously, especially when writing for instruments with which one is not very familiar, and which therefore make it essential, if one wants to achieve the desired didactic efficiency, contact with the teachers of the different specialties for which it is written... or transcribed, which is especially important in the aforementioned expansion of the ensemble repertoire. In any case, the composer must write works, and not mere exercises: technically simple, but aesthetically authentic. Voluntarily dispensing with technical complexity should not presuppose the loss of musical depth that, ultimately, mobilizes the person internally.
And one last thought out loud: the composition of chamber music for educational purposes is a no less magnificent opportunity to give a new direction to the professional meaning of composition. Surely overwhelmed by the specific weight that the great works of the great masters have in our days, it would seem that it makes no sense to undertake the composition of works that do not have as their ultimate goal to go down to posterity. Diversifying the creative task -following in this way in the footsteps of Bartók, Kodaly, Carl Orff or, more recently, Gy├Ârgy Kurtág- and composing, along with catalog works, others of no lesser quality, but with not so many pretensions to the future and more than immediate utility, is not only an excellent exercise in humility, but also a way of correcting the inflation of transcendence that the current composition has been suffering from for many years.

Thank you very much for your attention.

(1) Collected in Royal Decree 756/1992, of June 26, which establishes the basic aspects of the curriculum for the elementary and middle grades of music. For Chamber Music, specifically, these aspects are: development of the sense of pitch; listen to other instruments while playing your own; developing sensitivity to dynamics, phrasing, rhythm, and vibrato; development of habits of self-discipline; homogenization and planning of bow strokes, joints, etc.; as well as knowledge of the instrumental repertoire and its stylistic evolution.

Madrid, July 2000