Joaquín Turina (right) with the members of the Francé Quintet (ca. 1919)


Una aproximación a Joaquín Turina a través de su música de cámara / An approach to Joaquín Turina through his chamber music

Lecture with musical illustrations, read at the Colegio Mayor Juan Luis Vives in Madrid, on March 17, 1997, as part of the Humanities Course From Falla's nationalism to avant-garde music, held at the Autonomous University of Madrid (1)


Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

I would like, first of all, to thank the Music Department of the Autonomous University of Madrid, and very especially Professor Begoña Lolo, for having invited me to give one of the lectures of the Humanities Course entitled, in my opinion with great success, From Falla's nationalism to avant-garde music. In fact, the music of Manuel de Falla marks a kind of kilometer "0", of a before and an after, which serves as a point of reference for the Spanish music of an entire century, the 20th, which, almost reaching its end allows a first balance, even if it is necessarily provisional. In any case, we can examine quite objectively the consequences of its first half, a period in which most of Falla's and Joaquín Turina's production takes place, a composer the last one to whom I propose through this session an approach through of his perhaps least known facet, but in my opinion one of the most important: his chamber music.
Both Falla and Turina were born in the first years of the last quarter of the 19th century (in 1876 the first, and in 1882 the second), and died 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 the Paris of the first years of this 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.
However, in this apparently identical route also lies the subsequent aesthetic and stylistic diversity, since the end of it -Paris- is not a single destination, but rather, at that time, it is 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, embodied 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 cyclisms"-, 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 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 advice on instrumentation".
As is logical, such a disparate starting point at the height of the training 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, which has 104 as the opus number and is entitled From my terrace, likes the use of constructive procedures that, although in their harmonic and melodic spheres they can be considered of great interest, 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.
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 that heavy 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 treatment and rhythmic, derived from a particular swallowing by its author of Spanish folklore, and, very mainly, of Andalusian, and his subsequent adaptation to them. Throughout this session I will try to give an approach to all this through one of the facets, that of chamber music, the most interesting of his production, although not as well known -except for some works- as his symphonic or his piano music may be.
But before getting into the subject, I think that, in order to focus the talk on the right terms, it is convenient to highlight an aspect of the musical activity of our country in the years in which Joaquín Turina developed his work as a composer, in parallel with his teaching work, from the Chair of Composition at the Madrid Conservatory, and, in his last years, musical management, at the head of the now disappeared Music Commissariat of the General Directorate of Fine Arts.
Said aspect is none other than that of the chamber activity, especially cultivated by the performers of the time and, as a logical consequence, highly demanded by the general public. A simple glance at magazines and specialized publications is enough to verify how intense chamber music life was, both in the great metropolises, 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 groups whose stability allowed the development of authentic seasons dedicated to the performance of chamber music. The Madrid’s Agrupación Nacional de Música de Cámara or the Barcelona’s "Renacimiento" qauertet are, without a doubt, the prominent names of an extensive list of groups thanks to which the great classical and romantic chamber music repertoire, as well as the most recent, was cultivated and publicly disseminated.
All this collides with the current situation, in which chamber music must develop in an almost clandestine way, since there are hardly any groups dedicated to its practice on a stable basis. Among them, the piano trio is, perhaps, the favorite ensemble: however, there are more than enough fingers on one hand to count those who carry out continuous activity in our country. Most of the chamber music written for the remaining conventional groups (string quartets, piano quartets and quintets, etc.) requires instrumentalists, generally symphonic, summoned for a specific occasion, which means due to its part a sporadic cultivation of the chamber music repertoire... It is no exaggeration to say that the composer who today tackles a string quartet or a piano quartet (genres especially familiar to the composer only a few decades ago) does so from a point of almost theoretical view. Thus, today we are witnessing how the creative situation has been inverted to the point of absurdity, which implies a disproportionate growth in symphonic production, compared to practically zero chamber music production.
Having established such an important premise, it seems that the time has come to fully delve into the matter around which this session wishes to focus, which, as has been said, is none other than to provide an approach to the music of Joaquín Turina through his chamber music. This is, as has already been pointed out, numerous, since of the 104 works cataloged by its author, they are dedicated to instrumental chamber music -that is, composed for a group of two or more instruments- 16 original works, to which that it is worth adding a good number of chamber transcriptions, made by the composer himself, of symphonic or piano works, and that for reasons of time will not be the object of this brief study.
However, what is particularly paradigmatic is not so much the number of works, which is not excessive, but rather it seems to be deduced from the chosen groups a deliberate purpose of serving as a priority the chamber ensembles closest to the classical and romantic tradition, which is entirely consistent with the particular way in which Turina makes 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 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. 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 groups of the genre: they are a sextet for principal viola, piano and string quartet entitled Escena andaluza, a suite of nine numbers, each of which is composed for a different group, called Las Musas de Andalucía, and a Theme and Variations for harp and piano.
For the development of this study, I do not think it is necessary to adhere to a strictly chronological order of composition, preferring to stick to a brief commentary on the different works grouped by genre, alternating with listening to a selection of fragments, some very brief, from the most of them.
All in all, and to mark an important reference in the knowledge of the personality and music of Joaquín Turina, it is appropriate that the work that we examine in the first place is precisely op. 1 of his catalog. It is a piano quintet (that is, two violins, viola, violoncello 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 August Serieyx, 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 supposes 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 constructed music, although closer to the personality of its teachers than possessing an authentic voice of its own. However, and although with this work Turina considered his formative period 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 its 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 designs, 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 with regard to the formal structure of its music, the constructive rigor of its architectural elements, the Quintet is, without a doubt, the work from which we must begin to tell 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.

First page of the Quinteto

From the Piano Quintet op. 1 we will hear on this occasion the first movement: the fugue with which the work begins. For those who are familiar with the "sonority" of Turina's music, the successive entrances of the severe subject of the fugue, exposed first by the string instruments, will undoubtedly seem strange. However, and despite the solid academicity of its formal approach and the apparent lack of personality of the material put into play, the entrance of the piano marks a sound contrast in which it is possible to recognize some elements that, in later works, will be especially loved and exploited by the composer. Thus, some harmonies and, above all, that ease of Turin music towards the lyrical and singable explosion in the high register of the string instruments that characterize the measures that follow the entrance of the piano in this first cataloged work allow us to glimpse some of the most characteristic features of Joaquín Turina's language. We will listen to this first movement of the Quintet op. 1 for piano and string quartet, performed by members of the Menuhin Festival Piano Quartet, with the collaboration of violinist Christine Busch.

Listening: Quinteto op. 1, 1st movement


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-, coming to be interpreted no less than in Saint Petersburg in that same year.

Poster of the premiere of the Quinteto (París, May 6, 1907)

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 the Turina's life, which, with enormous grace and liveliness, the composer himself reflected in a writing -whose writing, 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, given that it provides the necessary keys for it:

"... At the beginning of October of the year 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 with the bow ready the violinist Parent, we saw a fat man, with a large black beard and an immense wide-brimmed hat, come rushing in, somewhat stifled by 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 him:
- Is the author English?
- No, sir, he's from Seville -the neighbor answered completely stupefied.
The work continued, and after the fugue came the allegro, and after the andante, the final. But finishing this one and bursting into the foyer the fat man, accompanied by its neighbor, the skinny young man, was all one. He advanced towards me, and with the greatest courtesy he pronounced his name: "Isaac Albéniz." Half an hour later the three of us were walking, arm in arm, down the Champs-Elysées, gray in that autumn sunset. After crossing the Place de la Concorde, we settled in a brewery on Royal Str., and there, over a glass of champagne and cakes, I underwent the most complete metamorphosis of my life. There the "small country" came to light, there we talked about music with "views to Europe", and from there I left with my ideas completely changed. 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".

Letter from Albéniz to Turina taking an interest
for the publication of the Quinteto

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: Seville (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 the extent to which 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 in accordance 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.
For a quick review of Joaquín Turina's work through the presence of chamber music, I propose that we continue with the duets for violin and piano. With regard to this instrumental combination, I think it is worth making a preliminary consideration: as has been seen in the list of chamber works previously read, it is practically the only instrumental duo cultivated by Turina, together with the Theme and variations for harp and piano and one of the numbers of Las Musas de Andalucía, entitled Polimnia, written for violoncello and piano, the latter work that we will hear later. Logically, I do not count in this category of instrumental duo the numerous pieces for voice and piano, which would by themselves justify a separate detailed study.
The music for violin and piano comprises five works, although due to its scope, a first Spanish Sonata, composed in 1908 and, therefore, slightly later than the Quintet op. 1, and recently recovered through its public audition and its edition by the Schott publishing house. However, it will not be the subject of this session, since I think it appropriate to respect the will of Joaquín Turina, who did not consider it worthy of being part of his definitive catalog of works, returning much later to the title of Spanish Sonata for op. 82, also for violin and piano, which we will comment on shortly.
The first work composed for violin and piano that appears in Turina's catalog bears opus number 28, and it is the well-known Poema de una Sanluqueña, composed between the months of August and October 1923. This Poema is an extensive piece of four movements, which is not, in the words of the author, "... a descriptive work, but an essay that could be considered as a state of the soul; that is, I intend to express a completely suggestive emotional aspect. This contrasts with my previous works, like La Procesión del Rocío, for example, which are purely descriptive".

First page of El Poema de una sanluqueña

As can be seen, once again nothing better than the words of the author himself to clarify aspects of creation that would otherwise go unnoticed. Turina himself confesses to having taken an important evolutionary step with this Poema de una sanluqueña, not so much in the superficial aspects of his language and technique, but towards a conception of the musical work that moves away from mere descriptivism to delve into psychological aspects of deeper depth, which supposes a turn from objectivism towards subjectivism that will only be accentuated in the works of full maturity, and that is hardly noticeable in the most superficial aspects of the production.
When Turina starts the composition of El poema de una sanluqueña, he already has three of her most representative symphonic works in his catalogue: La procesión del Rocío, op. 9; Danzas fantásticas, op. 22; and Sevillian Symphony, Op. 23, as well as the very important and unjustly relegated piano sonata Sanlúcar de Barrameda, op. 24. As in the last two works cited, throughout El poema de una sanluqueña (whose four movements are entitled, respectively, Before the mirror, The mole song, Hallucinations and The rosary in the church) it makes its appearance, as it is de rigueur in the cyclical form voluntarily adopted by the composer for practically all of his works of a certain magnitude, a beautiful and broad melodic idea, which bears here the eloquent title of "Hymn to Beauty".
We will hear of El poema de una sanluqueña, op. 28, the 2nd movement, entitled The mole song, played by violinist David Delgado and the pianist Stefan Schmidt. As you can see, it is an authentic scherzo located in the usual place that it would occupy in the four-movement classical-romantic sonata, since, although very freely treated, the general form of this composition is none other. The figurations of the violin are developed on a characteristically Turinian accompaniment formula, whose background is only interrupted to make way for a brief cadenza in double strings that comes to occupy the place that in the classical scherzo would have corresponded to the Trio or central section.

Listening: El poema de una sanluqueña, op. 28, 2nd movement


El poema de una sanluqueña is followed, 23 numbers later in the catalog, by the Sonata No. 1, in D, op. 51, for violin and piano. Curiously, neither in the title of the work nor in that of its three movements (Lento-Allegro molto; Aria-Lento; Rondó-Allegretto) is there any literary or poetic evocation of anything that is not strictly related to pure music, as if it was a deliberate departure from the descriptive on the part of the author. This alternation between the objective and the subjective will be one of the most marked characteristics of Turina's production, considered from a global point of view. Again in Turina's own words, this Sonata No. 1 "...is very simple in its lines, in three movements: Allegro in sonata form, almost without development; Aria, with a dramatic episode, of a popular type, and Rondó, in farruca rhythm... The Sonata in D follows the characteristic plan of this musical form, and I add, as in other works of mine, the folkloric element in melodic accents and rhythmic formulas...”.

Cover of the Sonata nº 1 in D

Between this first sonata and the second one, subtitled Spanish Sonata, is situated, with opus number 72, a short piece for violin and piano, whose title, Classical Variations, is sufficiently eloquent of the formal intentions of its author, as well as once again of his attachment to the musical forms consecrated by use since the classical period. Turina himself says of these Variations that in them "... a theme, almost a lament, with a sad expression, takes on different aspects, depending on the course of development. The first variation signifies a languid and lazy balance, which seems to be a guajira in the sentiment, although it does not have the combination of beats typical of the Cuban song. In the second variation, a copla of seguidillas can be heard in the distance. The third variation is a rhythmic and rigid tango, which prepares the fourth, a melodic evocation of a very tenuous that the violin sings with mute. The variations end with a happy and fast ending, in rhythm of zapateado".
As can be seen, Turina proposes, under the classic formal framework of the theme with variations, a transformation or elaboration of the main thematic idea that runs through characteristic rhythms and environments of Spanish and Latin American folklore. It is not the first time that this has taken place in his music, as previously one of the movements of the Trio No. 1, Op. 35, for violin, violoncello and piano, adopts the same approach, as later we will have occasion to verify by listening to it, and the same will happen with the first movement of the Sonata No. 2 for violin and piano that we will comment on below. All of this constitutes nothing more than a skillful and original way of synthesizing classic formal approaches with nationalist aesthetic procedures, with an overall result whose balance reveals both a rigorous technique and a happy inspiration, in a combination that allows one to quickly identify one of the voices most personal of recent Spanish music.
The Sonata No. 2 bears opus number 82, and for it Turina recovers the subtitle of Spanish Sonata with which he baptized the one composed in 1908 mentioned above, quickly discontinued by its author due to his lack of personality. Turina considered this second Sonata to be "... far superior to the first for its materials and its development." In a quick and succinct descriptive analysis, he also points out that "... it is made up of very free variations, based on Spanish rhythms; of a gypsy zambra as a scherzo and of a sonata-shaped finale that resolves into a fandango".

First page of the Sonata nº 2 ("Spanish Sonata")

So, as we can see, once again we find a recreation of three classic forms, each of which is seasoned with a very peculiar nationalist flavor through the use of rhythms and melodic and harmonic procedures directly taken from Spanish folklore. In this sense, it should be especially emphasized that Turina does not use the folkloric material taking it directly from the repertoire, but rather is in charge of its composition himself, albeit with the necessary submission to the formal, melodic and rhythmic molds of the different Spanish songs and dances.
The set of pieces composed for the piano-violin combination closes with a work as brief as it is curious, virtually unknown today, and truly atypical within his production. It is the Homage to Navarra, whose subtitle (Fantasia on Sarasate designs) reveals both the background and the form and, with all this, the author's intentions. In it, for the first time, Turina deals with a genre, rather than a form, widely used throughout the last century and in the first years of ours: that of "fantasies based on fragments of famous operas", which became enormously popular and that in our country acquired their own expression by taking fragments and themes from the best-known zarzuelas as a starting point, and which are still regularly performed today within the repertoire of music bands.
If there is something that powerfully draws one's attention -at least, that of the person speaking to you- of Joaquín Turina's production as a whole, and especially if you take into account, as we are confirming, the interest and dedication shown towards chamber music through its most representative groups, is the small number of string quartets that appear in its catalogue. As we saw in the previous list, these are only two, the Quartet in D minor, Op. 4, and the Serenade, op. 87, since the best known, The bullfighter's prayer, op. 34, is originally, as has already been pointed out, a piece composed for Spanish lute quartet and later transcribed for string quartet, as well as for string orchestra.
If we add to this that the Serenade is a work of very small dimensions, reduced to a single movement and written, in Turina's own words, "in order to form a pair with The Bullfighter's Prayer, exactly the same as if it were two candlesticks or two vases", we find ourselves with the paradox that in Turina's production there is only one single string quartet in the classical formal sense of the term, that is to say, of a work of certain dimensions, made up of several movements, based on in an extension of the structural molds of the sonata. The paradox, however, lies only in the comparison with the production of other authors, especially if one takes into account that his rigorously contemporary colleague Conrado del Campo wrote fourteen quartets around the same time, although unfortunately most of them remain unknown by the public today.

First page of the Quartet "of the Guitarra",
with is author's annotations

The Quartet op. 4 is subtitled "of the Guitar", because the initial theme of the first movement is based on the notes corresponding to the open strings of said instrument (E-A-D-G-B-E), which in the quartet act as an element or generating cell. The work consists of four movements, as corresponds to the romantic and post-romantic quartet, and which in this case bear the titles of Prelude, Allegro, Zortzico and Andante-Final. A decidedly cyclical work, by conviction and because it was still composed under the very close influence of the Schola, the main motif of the Prelude reappears in the remaining three movements. Throughout the quartet, whose will is decidedly Spanish, despite its still scholist influence, Turina recreates the material through different Spanish rhythms: zapateado, marianas, guajira... even a zortzico, curiously treated with a clearly Andalusian intention. Let's hear precisely that zortzico, third movement of the String Quartet op. 4 by Joaquín Turina, in the performance of the "Sine Nomine" Quartet.

Listening: Cuarteto nº 1, op. 4, 3rd movement


We now come to what is undoubtedly Turina's most solid chamber production, and the one that enjoys the most favor among performers, in a global sense, as evidenced by the numerous auditions and recordings to which it has been subjected. I am referring to the three trios for violin, cello and piano, composed in 1926, 1933 and 1936 and entitled, respectively, Trio in D, op. 35, Trio in B minor, Op. 76, and Circle, op. 91.
Turina himself declares in writing his preference for this instrumental combination, over the string trio: "It must be confessed -these are his words- that the composition of a string trio has the inconvenience of its sonority, somewhat poor and monotonous". And as Alfredo Morán, the main scholar of Joaquín Turina's life and work, points out very well, and to whom he owes so much the smooth running -if such a thing can be said- of this session, "...the truth is that in his works for trio he sacrificed the viola in favor of the piano, his favorite instrument, with which, without a doubt, these compositions gain in stability, strength and colour".
We will again follow the composer himself in a succinct description of his Trio in D, op. 35: "The first movement is a very difficult display of technique. It is a prelude and a fugue, the latter represented in reverse, beginning with the stretti." The following remark is scathing to himself: "The variations [second movement], on popular themes, and the finale [third movement] are more human."

First page of the 2nd movement of the Trío nº 1

The composition of the Trio in D occupies its author from May 1925 to February 1926, although the work is stopped on two occasions to attend to the composition of as many other works, nothing less than the Fandanguillo, for guitar, and the version for voice and piano of Canto a Sevilla. The same year of its completion, the Trio in D was awarded at the National Music Contest of the Spanish State, with a diploma and 3,000 pesetas in cash, which were delivered to the author on May 18, 1926.
As with other chamber music works already examined, Turina does not look for literary or poetic references in this Trio, nor for descriptive titles that may evoke in the listener impressions that are foreign to the music itself, in a desire to focus attention on the purity and form objectivity. And yet, little music can be considered more Spanish than this: as proof, we will hear its second movement, made up of a theme followed by five variations, each of which is elaborated on a popular Spanish air: muiñeira, schotiss, zortzico, jota and soleares, in a varied panorama of basic Spanish folklore, and thus configuring a movement so solidly built, from the formal point of view, as originally inspired, that since its premiere it has enjoyed the favor of performers both in our country and abroad, among whom this work is extraordinarily widespread. The version that we will listen to is starred precisely by a great foreign group: the North American Beaux Arts Trio.

Listening: Trío en re, op. 35, 2nd movement


The Trio in D is followed by a second trio composed between 1932 and 1933, seven years after the previous one. It bears catalog number 76, and the chosen key is B minor. The title initially planned for this work was Three Nocturnes for piano trio, but the original idea was quickly abandoned to make way for Trio No. 2 in B minor, in which Turina once again avoids any poetic or literary reference, both for the general title of the piece as well as for that of the three movements that make it up. The form once again takes classical structures as a reference, if possible with more vigor than on previous occasions: thus, and as the author himself personally acknowledges, this second trio is "... with a more classical atmosphere than the first and without elements popular". Regarding its structure, it "... presents some novelties. In the first time, two forms are superimposed, since the sonata has, instead of a development, a small lied. The finale is a chorale, cut by two episodes, which are growing in dynamism”.
Does this look at a marked classicism suppose a turn in Turin's aesthetics? In a way yes, because in the twelve works composed during the following four years (that is, until July 1936, when Turina temporarily abandoned composition), and with a few exceptions, a tendency towards the predominance of the formalism versus the picturesque. The production of this stage, in which the composer is between 50 and 54 years old, suggests a special period of reflection, in which maturity advises a provisional balance of the abundant work already done. In any case, the balance must have been positive for the aesthetic initiated according to the advice of Albéniz, since from 1939, the date on which Turina resumed the composition of the work En el cortijo, interrupted by the outbreak of the Civil War, his music looks again at the picturesque and the evocative, with titles such as Las musas de Andalucía, Por las calles de Sevilla, Rincón mágico, Contemplación or Desde mi terraza, the last work composed, cataloged with opus number 104.
Fully evocative, meanwhile, is Círculo, op. 91, written in the first months of 1936, for being the only piano trio written by Turina in which there is an evident descriptive intention, as the titles of the different movements attest: Dawn, Noon and Twilight, in which the different phases of the solar cycle serve as an excellent pretext to support a new composition of a cyclical nature.
The last chamber work written by Turina for a conventional ensemble that remains to be discussed is the piano quartet (that is: violin, viola, violoncello and piano) entitled Quartet No. 2, in A minor, Op. 67, and therefore linked, from the point of view of the catalog, to Quartet No. 1 ("of the Guitar")" mentioned above. The author's comments are as eloquent here as on previous occasions: "It is built on the basis of a generator design that appears in the introduction. The themes are original despite their popular atmosphere. It contains three movements: Lied extended, Scherzo in a somewhat capricious way, and Sonata, summary of themes”.

Cover of the Cuarteto con piano

This quartet, for which Turina reserves its most deeply expressive facet, is contemporary of the Symphonic Rhapsody, which appears in the catalog with the immediately preceding opus number, 66, and in all probability directly collects much of the musical material with which the composer had for it and that, due to somewhat petty editorial demands, she could not use then: among Turina's notes there is one dated 1929 in which there is a list of projects sent to its publishers, the Musical Union of Madrid, in which, among other works, he proposed the composition of a Sinfonía concertante or Concerto with string orchestra accompaniment. From the fact that instead of said concertante symphony the aforementioned Symphonic Rhapsody, whose structure suggests a concert movement, arose the following year, it must be deduced that the musician must have been insinuated, by his publisher, the convenience of brevity in his creations, to avoid large expenses and reduce losses in the event that the works do not obtain the desired acceptance.
All in all, both the Rhapsody and this Piano Quartet reveal that Joaquín Turina's creative maturity had reached a particularly interesting point at this point in his production. Let's listen to the second movement, Scherzo, in which a popular Castilian-type theme contrasts with the Andalusian material used in the first and third movements. Its performers are the members of the Menuhin Festival Piano Quartet.

Listening: Cuarteto en la menor, op. 67, 2nd movement


I have deliberately left for the end three of the most unknown and yet most original chamber works by the Sevillian composer, in terms of both the formal approaches and the instrumental groups chosen for their performance. The first of these is located very early in the production of Turina. Composed in Paris in 1911, it bears opus number 7 and is entitled, very eloquently expressing the author's intentions, Andalusian Scene. It is written for a sextet made up of a solo viola and a piano quintet.
Structured in two movements, entitled Crepúsculo-Serenata and En la ventana respectively, Turina poses in it an essentially singable cyclical discourse, in which the Andalusian elements acquire a dynamic passion. Despite being a page of splendid workmanship, the infrequency of the instrumental template chosen by Turina has made it difficult to interpret it and, consequently, its dissemination. Said inconvenience has been palliated by a recent recording, excellent on the other hand, by the Piano Quartet of the extended Menuhin Festival, and with the performance as soloist of the viola Paul Coletti, of which we will listen to a fragment, corresponding to the second movement, In the window.

Listening: Escena andaluza, 2nd movement: En la ventana


Turina's music, despite being splendidly written and solidly built, has not always enjoyed the favor of critics. Quite the contrary, for a long period of time it has been opposed by illustrious firms, such as that of the influential Adolfo Salazar, who, tempted by the easy image of the Falla-Turina binomial, have not hesitated to tip the balance as superficially as unfairly in favor of the first, pouring for it on the second the most unfavorable opinions.
As an example of this, I think it is of interest to reproduce here the words that a no less famous critic and musicologist, Vicente Salas Víu, dedicated in a commentary written in 1945 to the Andalusian Scene, whose second movement we have just heard: "... the Andalusian Scene, from Turina, belongs entirely to that type of music for sextet that used to liven up the evenings of the sad cafes some time ago. Music for pensioners in retirement, old ultra-romantic young ladies, who console themselves for their life with the dream of Andalusian barcarolles and serenades in the moonlight. Insignificant music, full of that candor and also of that bad taste that predominates in the watercolors and genre squares of old provincial families. All the lyrics of Turina, so without trap, is shown in it with a syrupy sweetness, which reaches the point of becoming pleasant in the hard times we live in".

First page of the 2nd movement of the Escena andaluza

Such harsh statements contrast strongly with the praise dedicated to the same work in the Revista Musical Hispano-americana by the critic Ignacio Zubialde, in 1914: "This is a charming work that everyone should know. (...) Perhaps in none like in it ... the characteristic qualities of Turina are manifested, nor is his new orientation towards musical nationalism affirmed with a higher aesthetic sense. Here the literal use of folkloric elements disappears, which are replaced by her own ideas, but with such an intense ancestral flavor that anyone would be deceived about its origin, thus achieving the author greater freedom of writing without diminishing the accuracy of the environment (...)".
The op. 100 of the catalog, entitled Theme and variations, is written for a combination no less curious and infrequent than the previous one, although smaller in terms of the number of performers. It is a duet with piano, but in which the usual melodic instrument has been replaced by another equally polyphonic instrument, although more limited in terms of its possibilities: the harp.
Very much in line with other compositions, Turina resorts again to the classic form of the theme with variations, among which there is no lack of covering the main melodic idea through clothing that infuses it with an undoubted Spanish color, which in this case is enhanced by means of the timbral resemblance that in certain registers the harp presents with the guitar.
The last work that remains to comment is the op. 93, integrated, as has already been said, by a collection of nine pieces that bears the generic title of Las musas de Andalucía. In a few brief notes, the composer himself gives an account of his careful planning of the work, in what refers to the chamber ensembles chosen for each one of the numbers, as well as the respective titles -the names of the nine muses to which each of these numbers refers- and subtitles, revealing the evocative intention of the author:

"Clio, muse of History. It is a piano impression, A las puertas de La Rábida...
Euterpe, muse of Music. Piece for violin and piano entitled En plena fiesta.
Talia, muse of Comedy and goddess of fields. It is a sketch for quartet, under the title Naranjos y olivos.
Polimnia, muse of the Ode. It corresponds to a Nocturno for violoncello and piano.
Melpomene, muse of Tragedy. It is represented by a poem by Josefina de Attard, Reflejos, for voice and piano.
Erato, muse of Lyrical Poetry. It is a painting for singing and quartet entitled Trovos y saetas...
Urania, muse of Science. The piano translates it into a Farruca fugada.
Terpsichore, muse of Dance. The piano is also the interpreter of a Minuet.
Calliope, muse of Epic Poetry. A Himno for string quartet and piano closes the cycle".

First page of Polimnia (from "Las Musas de Andalucía")

As can be seen, this curious collection of pieces includes three numbers for solo piano and six for various chamber combinations, ranging from duet with piano (for voice, violin or violoncello) to the unusual grouping of voice and string quartet, including a string quartet and a piano quintet. This unusual variety of groups has made it difficult to spread this set of pieces, to the point that there is no news that, after its premiere in 1944, it had been performed in its entirety before 1994 -that is, 50 years later-, which took place in Argentina, although some issues have had an independent life, such as the one that will serve as a sound illustration to close this session.
This is the fourth piece in the cycle, entitled Polimnia and subtitled Nocturne, and whose selection here is due both to the fact that it has the cello as the protagonist, which has not happened in any of the examples heard so far, and because it is, to my judgment, the most successful number of the nine that make up this curious cycle of The Muses of Andalusia, as evidenced by its frequent presence in the repertoire of cellists. We will hear it in a version by the cellist Marc Jaermann and the pianist Ricardo Requejo.

Listening: Las musas de Andalucía, op. 93 Polimnia


This session ends with this Nocturne, which I hope has been to your liking and has contributed to a better understanding of the figure and work of Joaquín Turina. Perhaps the slow but unstoppable diffusion of this music, still very unknown, through its normalization within the chamber music repertoire, will also serve to dispel once and for all the, it seems, inevitable anti-Spanish prejudices -so profoundly Spanish- that, unfortunately, continue to afflict a large part of the public and professionals, and that have had such a negative impact on the knowledge and appreciation of Spanish music, in general, and that of Joaquín Turina, in particular. Because, in any case, a fiftieth anniversary we will celebrate soon should not only be a reason for commemoration; also -why not?- for good intentions.

Thank you very much.


(1) With very slight variations, this lecture was later read at the León Conservatory (on July 15, 1999, within the Spanish Music Festival); at the Malaga Conservatory (on February 3, 1999, within the 5th Andalusian Contemporary Music Week of the City of Malaga Orchestra); and at Alcoy Cultural Center (on November 23, 1999, under the sponsorship of the Collective of Composers of the School of Composition and Creation of Alcoy), on this last occasion under the title of The unknown music of Joaquín Turina.



Review published in the newspaper Ciudad
of Alcoy
on November 23, 1999