ANTONIO JOSE: Sinfonia castellana / Suite ingenua / El mozo de mulas
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Antonio Jose Martinez Palacios (1902-1936)
Sinfonia castellana Evocaciones Suite ingenua El mozo de mulas Suite
A tragic prelude to the Second World War, the SpanishCivil War brought hundreds of thousands of personaltragedies, many of which touched the Spanish culturalworld. The execution of the poet Federico Garcia Lorcais well known, but among the victims of the conflict wasa promising young composer called Antonio JoseMartinez Palacios, known in musical circles simply asAntonio Jose.
Martinez Palacios was born on 12th December1902 in Burgos, then a small city far removed from thecultural concerns of Madrid or Barcelona. Despite this,the young musician made a name for himself and beforehe was twenty was awarded a grant to continue hisstudies in Madrid. In 1920, at the age of eighteen,Martinez was appointed orchestral conductor of theTeatro de la Latina, although his work there was fairlylimited given that the theatre's repertoire consistedmainly of revues and other such light entertainment.
Very little is known even today about his years inMadrid. As yet no light has been shed on his teachers orthe people or music that influenced him, but we do knowthat he began to write more ambitious works, such as theSonata castellana (Castilian Sonata, 1922), followed ayear later by the Sinfonia castellana (CastilianSymphony), his most formally advanced orchestralwork. Other piano works dating from these years includethe Danza de los bufones (Dance of the Jesters, 1920),the Poema de la juventud (Poem of Youth, 1924), thetitle by which his Fourth Sonata is known, and the Tresdanzas burgalesas (Three Dances from Burgos, 1924).
He also began to direct a number of choral ensembles, avery popular form of music-making in 1920s Spain,choral singing frequently being linked to thedevelopment of workers' movements from the 1880sonwards.
In 1925 and 1926, Antonio Jose travelled to Paris,and this was to have a definitive influence on his style.
While his use of Castilian folk-music put him somewhatin the rearguard in comparison with some of the otherSpanish composers of his generation who wereexperimenting with neo-classicism, as exemplified byErnesto Halffter's Sinfonietta (1925), his affection forFrench music in general and impressionism in particularled him to follow Falla's example and stay closer toFrance than to the modernism of fin-de-si?¿cle Vienna.
In 1925 Antonio Jose moved to Malaga to take upthe post of music teacher in a school whose pupils weredrawn from local high society. This was a period ofintense compositional work during which he produced afourth Danza burgalesa (1928) and the Sonata gallega(Galician Sonata, 1929). The key work of these yearswas, however, Evocaciones (Cuadros de danzacampesina) (Evocations: Country Dance Sketches,1926), the composition that brought him a certain degreeof national renown. Originally for piano, when it wasorchestrated in 1928 the work was made known by theMadrid Symphony Orchestra and its conductor EnriqueFernandez Arbos, the artists most involved in new musicin Spain at that time. The Suite ingenua (Innocent Suite)and Improvisacion, for organ, both from 1928, are thelast works from his Malaga period.
Having failed to obtain the post of harmonyprofessor at the Malaga Conservatory, and deciding notto take up the more exotic offer of a job in Quito,Martinez returned to Burgos. In 1929 he becameconductor of the Orfeon Burgales (Burgos ChoralSociety), which was then in serious crisis, although itwas still the most active institution in the city. Heimmersed himself in both performing and teaching,running a music-school and writing a songbook forchildren. It was at this time that he put together hisanthologies of folk-music, a local treasure he wanted tomake as widely known as possible. His success inachieving this can be seen in the fact that his Coleccionde cantos populares burgaleses (Collection of BurgosFolk-Songs) was awarded the National Music Prize of1932. Martinez also wrote a number of works for theOrfeon Burgales: the Himno a Castilla (Hymn toCastile, 1929), the Cuatro canciones popularesburgalesas (Four Burgos Folk-Songs, 1931), the Trescantigas de Alfonso X (Three Ballads by Alfonso X),originally for voice and piano, then for chorus (1932),and the Cinco coros castellanos (Five CastilianChoruses, 1932).
With his major operatic project El mozo de mulas(The Muleteer) still unfinished, in spring 1936 AntonioJose attended the International Musicology Congress inBarcelona, one of the last such events of the SecondRepublic. He presented a paper on the folk-songs ofBurgos, which were without doubt his principal musicalinspiration. A few short months later, on 8th or 9thOctober, he was to meet his death.
The Sinfonia castellana gives us many clues to anunderstanding of the work of Antonio Jose: borrowingsfrom folk-music, elegant orchestration, a taste for colourand elements taken from French impressionism. Thefirst movement, El campo (The Countryside: Allegro), isin sonata-form, its first theme being a song from theanthology Folclore de Castilla o Cancionero popular deBurgos (Castilian Folk-Music, or Burgos Song-Book),published in 1903 by the influential composer and writerFederico Olmeda de San Jose. The second theme isderived from the first, and at the end, a dance tune takesover. There is some chordal repetition, and there are nowell-defined thematic contrasts, yet the movement has adelicate, watercolour-like colouring. Adolfo Salazar, themost influential Spanish critic of the first thirty years ofthe twentieth century, though he recognised AntonioJose's worth (he considered him the outstanding Spanishcomposer of his generation), was justified in pointingout that this movement was not altogether successful informal terms. In the opinion of Emilio Casares, the twomiddle movements, Paisaje de atardecer (TwilightLandscape: Andante con calma) and Nocturno (Lento),are the most interesting, in that they move away fromliteral quotations of folk-tunes and into the areas ofimpressionist aesthetics and harmony. Bucolic andpolished, with effective writing for the harp, the Paisajemovement introduces a subjective, late-romanticlyricism with touches of Debussy, and is tonally mostimpressive. The fact that the Nocturne is also a slowmovement is one quite original feature of this work. Theharp reappears in this ecstatic passage which seems topaint us a picture of a peaceful summer's night. Aseductive violin solo passionately expands to all thestrings. The fourth movement, Danza burgalesa (BurgosDance: Allegro vivo), works symmetrically with thefirst, returning to the nationalist idiom and once againusing materials from Olmeda's Cancionero. The energyof a traditional festive dance is obvious; the insistentrhythm is interrupted by a song-like episode only toreturn and reaffirm its presence.
Antonio Jose's opera El mozo de mulas, based on anepisode from Don Quixote (Part One, ch. XLIII),remained unfinished at his death. Begun in his Malagayears, the vocal/piano score was complete, but the operawas only partially orchestrated, a task completed byAlejandro Yag??e in 1992. In 1934, however, thecomposer had presented the Preludio y Danza popular(Prelude and Folk-Dance), two extracts from the operasignalling his return to orchestral writing. They werefirst performed that same year in Madrid.
The Preludio (Moderato) is the introduction to thefirst act, and is abstract and impressionistic in nature. Itopens with an oboe solo, which leads into a passage forstrings marked intenso, which in turn links to anexpressive flute solo above arpeggios on the harp anddivisi tremolos in the strings. The addition of moreinstruments increases the lyricism of the piece, whichultimately returns to the oboe solo and the now mutedstring intenso passage. The Danza popular comes fromAct Two; Alejandro