Structure and expression

(Article published in No. 1 of the magazine Twelve notes – Preliminaries. December 1997)


Undoubtedly, the first thing that the reader of an article like this would want to know about its author would be related to the influences, implicit and explicit, that may exist in his work and that determine his current aesthetic position, and that, in short, may have contributed to the configuration of what we call "his style". In that sense, it would be petulant on my part to pretend that my style as a composer is defined. If that were so, I would surely have stopped composing at the time, but since I have the feeling that the configuration of a style is something completely unattainable -because the aesthetic objective is continually renewed-, I continue composing and, with it, searching for that utopian ideal state that is the obligatory motor of all artistic creation.
On the other hand, I believe that most of the influences that one receives are of a subjective nature and, therefore, beyond all intellectual control. In any case, I can point out some that I am aware of and that determine in part the current state of my musical thinking, as well as my attitude when evaluating the works of other composers. Since I cannot help feeling that I am heir to the entire cultural tradition of which I am a part, I admit that I have been influenced in a very special way, from the point of view of an exclusively aesthetic attitude, by composers who, even at the risk of being branded as reactionaries by their contemporaries have not hesitated to assume the tradition they inherited to attempt a synthesis between it and the music of their time. In this sense, I feel a special devotion to the figures of Palestrina and J. S. Bach -to cite just two very illustrious names from the past- and, in the 20th century, to those of Stravinsky or, already in our days, Luciano Berio.
As for more technical aspects, the composers of the Polish school (Penderecki and, especially, Lutoslawski), and the knowledge, during my time as a student in Rome, of the music of Salvatore Sciarrino, had a very decisive influence on my musical training. which directed my interest towards a timbral and atomized organization of the sound material in which I am still moving today, after having drawn radically different consequences from it than those of the Italian.
As Ortega very lucidly pointed out, style is nothing more than a certain system of tendencies referring to what a work should be. In my specific case, these tendencies are of a very diverse nature, which is easily appreciable both in my global production -I admit that I like to address very different aesthetics from one work to another- and in the same work (an example of this could be my Concerto for violin and orchestra, in which the music follows a stylistic journey that begins with free atonality, continues through twelve-tone, and ends in tonality). In any case, I do not find a priori anything negative in the fact that differentiated stylistic features are perceived in the course of the same work, instead of obeying all of it to a supposed internal coherence derived from the exclusive use of a single material. This is, in my opinion, a radical criterion according to which the Variations op. 30, by Webern, based on a single series which, in turn, derives all of it from four single notes -two semitones, separated by a minor third-, would necessarily be superior to Béla Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra, where the characteristic discourse of its author voluntarily gives way to Brahmsian sonorities or echoes of popular music, to cite two works written around 1940. Quite the contrary, the fact that the same work reveals the different trends that come together in the same scale in the musical thought of its author is the consequence of a plurality that, when it is the result of an intelligent and sensitive selective criterion, is the basis of the artistic and intellectual wealth of the man of each present age, whose balance lies -as in all the orders of life- in knowing how to have one foot in the past and the other in the future. Ultimately, the greater or lesser skill and ability of the composer is decisive so that the musical result of a work of these characteristics is closer to the masterpiece than to the pastiche, but -I repeat- it does not seem to me that a priori there is anything embarrassing in the approach.
In the same line, radical aesthetic attitudes give me a devastating feeling of sadness, because they remind me of the nineteenth-century attitude, still common today, of the composer who only understands -or worse: who only wants to understand- music. If I'm a composer, it's because at a certain moment -quite late, for what is usual- I made that decision, but even today I continue to ask myself if it was the right one: every time I regret not having been able to acquire other techniques and other knowledge that would have allowed me to tackle a series of activities that tempt me equally. And of course, all those frustrations usually end up finding accommodation in my music. To give an example, in the last ten years certain aspects related to linguistics -one of my great passions- have had a decisive influence on it, both in terms of the conclusions drawn from the study of all those musical parameters of the spoken language that are lost in writing (intensity, accent, rhythm, intonation), such as in relation to certain structural and syntactic aspects, or the musical translation of certain poetic procedures that, like Góngora's exaggerated hyperbatos, affect the organization of musical material, whose syntax is subjected to a process of expressive reworking and distortion.
In relation to my aesthetic position regarding the different prevailing trends at present (if it is possible to speak of prevailing trends at present: rather it would be necessary to refer to a generalized aesthetic dispersion, a partly predictable consequence -of pure and simple generational conflict- of the prevailing radicalism -that one, yes- in the sixties-eighties), I think that, after all the above, the correct thing would be to describe it as "independent", or, at least, estimate that it points in that direction. I think that this is the result of a defense mechanism that is directly related to my late vocation (I started studying music at the age of 17), a fact that prevented me from being directly affected by the events that decisively marked the generation that, by age, it corresponds to me (the one from Guerrero, Encinar, Aracil and Riviere, among others). When I began to compose (my first work worthy of consideration dates from 1978, when I was 26 years old) my contemporaries had been writing for at least ten years and had lived very intensely the end of the sixties and the entire decade of the seventies, whose aesthetic consequences reach me quite swallowed and with their vigor diminished. It is not surprising, therefore, my feeling of generational "marginalized", since although for what has been said I am perhaps closer to the next generation, age and mood prevent me from fitting into it.
Finally, my assessment of my own music basically coincides with that adopted by a large part of the critics who have pronounced on my works throughout all these years, who have seen in it an attempt to synthesize two concepts, structuralism and expressiveness, antinomical only in appearance, since the musical fact lacks a concrete meaning, which means that its meaning is always beyond the intention of the author, who can never fully foresee the relationships and associations that his music -especially if is drawn according to unusual codes- will inevitably provoke in the listener. In this sense, any ordering of the musical material will always carry an implicit expressiveness that, although in principle it is necessarily subjective and different for each listener, can be channeled by the composer in a certain direction, according to a careful structuring, articulation and elaboration of said material.
All this places the artist, in general, and the composer, in particular, before the continuous and unsolvable dilemma of the transubstantiation of the physical fact -call it sound, oil or stone- in the psychological fact that we call a work of art, a dilemma in the face of which we can only reach a compromise between the tendencies generated by the material used, which are always directed towards the easiest and simplest, and those that the author himself puts into play to counteract them. And as is logical, the result of all this can only be permanent frustration with the objective not achieved, a paranoid situation that forces the artist to live with himself in perpetuity, condemned to a job that in each work intends to get a little closer than in the previous to the intuited ideal. For this reason, if I had to answer at this moment the fearsome question of the famous questionnaire about the current state of my spirit, I would not hesitate for a moment in the answer: dissatisfied. And that's why, as I said at the beginning, I keep composing.