Jes??s Arambarri (1902-1960)
Eight Basque Songs In Memoriam Spanish Fantasy
Jes??s Arambarri is a significant figure in the history oftwentieth-century Basque music. A romantic, scholarly and sensitive musician ofextraordinary insight and finesse, he drew not only on the traditionestablished by Felipe Pedrell, Manuel de Falla and Isaac Albeniz, but also onthe work of his fellow Basque composers Jose Maria Usandizaga, Jes??s Guridi andFather Jose Antonio de Donostia. Although his fame rests primarily on his workas a conductor, he also composed a series of stylish and expressive pieces,earning him a rightful place of honour within the ranks of Basque composers.
Arambarriwas born in Bilbao in 1902 and began his musical education there beforetravelling to Paris, where he stayed until 1932, to study composition withDukas and conducting with Golschmann. He then went on to further conductingstudies with Felix Weingartner in Basle. Some of his most important works datefrom his student years: the Four Impromptus, the orchestral prelude Gabon-zarsorginak, the String Quartet in D, the Canto elegiaco for piano written inhomage to Juan Crisostomo de Arriaga, and the Eight Basque Songs for sopranoand orchestra (1932).
Onhis return to Bilbao Arambarri worked almost exclusively as a conductor andonly wrote a few more works, most of which were conceived as tributes to thosewho had most influenced his career: Ofrenda (1946) for Manuel de Falla, Inmemoriam (1939) for Juan Carlos de Gortazar, and Dedicatoria (1949) for JavierArisqueta. His only other compositions are the ballet Aiko-Maiko, the zarzuelaViento Sur and the orchestral works Fantasia espanola and Castilla. As well astaking charge of the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, he also appeared as guestconductor with all the major Spanish orchestras, introducing audiences to alarge number of new works. He was appointed permanent conductor of Madrid'sBanda Sinfonica in 1953 and died in 1960 while conducting the ensemble at theParque del Retiro.
Arambarri'ssound academic background, his feeling for the folk-music of his native regionand his ability to give form and colour to any kind of musical image, enabledhim to create music characterized by its elegance and restrained Romanticism,with celebratory as well as dramatic and sombre resonances in his tributepieces. He excelled above all in orchestral writing and had a sharp sense ofthe practicalities of performance, acquired through his long experience ofconducting other people's works and composing his own from the perspective ofthe performer-composer relationship.
Shortorchestral pieces have a special place in Arambarri's production - even hisearliest works demonstrate his predilection for melodic, transparent writingwhich draws its inspiration from existing material, such as the Basquefolk-songs which lie behind Gabon-zar sorginak (Witches on New Year's Eve) andthe Four Impromptus. He was known for the way in which he isolated differentorchestral timbres: his motifs almost always pass from one instrument toanother within a relatively small ensemble. Exchanges between differentsections then produce very clearly defined colour contrasts, with very littleblending. There is something playful, childlike and joyous in this search foropposing or contradictory sounds (the harmonic progressions are controlled withgreater precision in the more lyrical Impromptus).
TheEight Basque Songs, taken from love-songs and lullabies collected byResurreccion Maria de Azcue and Padre Donostia, show Arambarri's development asa composer. The influence of Falla's Siete canciones populares espanolas can bediscerned, although Arambarri's treatment is very different. Rather thantransforming the songs into anything more sophisticated, he allows them tospeak for themselves, with the accompaniment of gentle rhythms and subtle,velvety strings, always within a moderate dynamic range. The harp plays a majorr??le throughout the cycle and the winds are employed with great wit towards theend.
Asense of pent-up emotion is woven through the tributes to Manuel de Falla -Ofrenda (Offering) - and Juan Carlos de Gortazar - In memoriam. The former,written one day and first performed the next, borrows the rhythm of the farrucafrom the older composer's Three-Cornered Hat, over which the sorrowful voice ofthe cor anglais gradually unfolds a tune that develops motifs taken fromFalla's music. The latter quotes from the chorus of Guridi's Asi cantan loschicos, whose text was by Gortazar, and from the Gregorian Dies irae.
Althoughthe Fantasia espanola - Arambarri's contribution to the Parisian trend forSpanish-flavoured pieces - is not lacking in the colours traditionallyassociated with that country's music, castanets included, the composer did notstrictly adhere to the idea held in Paris of \Spanish atmosphere". Once againhis preference for isolating the melodies and entrusting them to the morelyrical instruments (the oboes among the wind, and cellos among the strings) isevident, giving the "local colour" motifs derived from the tonadilla and theseguidilla a different treatment. Lyricism also lies at the heart of theintermezzo from the zarzuela Viento Sur (South Wind, 1952) which dramatises atrue story dating from 1890, when bets on a race between the fishing-boats ofOndarroa and San Sebastian caused the ruin of the village of Ondarroa. This isa brief episodic fragment for reduced forces, in which the zarzuela's principalthemes are initially introduced by the string and woodwind sections, then givento solo oboe and violin, creating a dialogue whose restrained expressivenesshelps establish an oppressive, dramatic atmosphere.
English version: Susannah Howe