BRETON: Piano Trio in E Major / String Quartet in D Major (Gyorgy Oravecz/ New Budapest Quartet) (Marco Polo: 8.223745)
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TomasBRET?ôN (1850 -1923)
Piano Trio in E Major
String Quartet in D Major
Talent willout, as the saying goes. Tomas Breton y Hernandez began life in humblecircumstances on 29th December 1850 in the Spanish city of Salamanca. Hisfather, a baker, struggled to support the family. He died when Tomas was onlytwo years old, and from then on his widow managed through worsened conditionsby taking in students as lodgers. Tomas's older brother supplemented the familyincome by working as a silversmith, and a friend of his became the futurecomposer's first music teacher.
At the ageof eight, Breton enrolled in Salamanca's Escuela de Nobles y Bellas Artes deSan Eloy and began his formal musical education. Two years later he began toeke out a living by playing the violin in theatre and dance orchestras. In 1865a visiting zarzuela company offered him a position, which he assumed later thatyear when his mother took her two sons to Madrid. Not long afterward he enteredthe Madrid Conservatory to study violin and composition, all the whilecontinuing to play in restaurants and theatres. After mastering thedifficulties of three courses in harmony in only five months, Bretonsufficiently impressed the director, Emilio Arrieta, that his academic work wasaccelerated, and he graduated with honours - a first prize - in 1872.
Immediatelyhe embarked on a professional career. Only two years passed before he waslaunched in the theatrical world as a composer of zarzuelas, among them Losdos caminos, El viaje de Europa and El alma de un hilo. But histrue aspiration was opera, and he made his first, insecure, attempt with Guzmanel Bueno.
In 1880Breton married and became the father of a son. That same year he received twoscholarships which permitted him to study in Rome for 13 months at the AcademiaEspanola de Bellas Artes. There he learned German in order to acquaint himselfbetter with Wagner's work, and from Rome he travelled on to Vienna, where heimmersed himself in the city's musical atmosphere. During this period hecomposed the obligatory symphony, but more problematical, for lack of an ablelibrettist, was the composition of an oratorio and an opera. In 1882 heresolved the difficulty by following Wagner's example: he wrote his own texts.
The results were not comparable. Although highly cultured by then, Bretonlacked the poetic sense, and the music of the Revelation-based oratorio ElApocalipsis and the opera Los amantes de Teruel failed to redeemthem. Premiered in Italian as Gliamanti di Terollo in 1889, the operaearned more criticism than praise. At best it was seen as an act of youthfulrebellion, roundly condemned by the establishment, which included his formersupporter Arrieta, but cheered by younger aficionados, who suggestedthat a few judicious cuts and alterations to the libretto would remedy anyfaults. Arrieta countered that if cutting were the answer, then everythingwould have to be cut. The conflict enlarged when the hated Eduard Hanslick, whoknew nothing about Spanish music, blasted it after a Viennese performance, andFelipe Pedrell was impelled to write an open letter in defense of Spanishhonour. For a time Breton's name was the rallying cry for artistic revolution.
Between1875 and 1896 Breton composed the ten theatrical works upon which hisreputation rests today. His fondest aspiration always was to create a seriousSpanish opera. He never wanted to be known as a zarzuellsta. Ironically heplayed an important part in the zarzuela's revival and succeeded best in the generochico or one-act comedy. His most popular work has been and always will be Laverbena de la Paloma (1894), a zarzuela that captures Madrid's vivid streetambience. Artistically speaking, his most successful stage work is LaDolores (1892), originally a zarzuela, later expanded into a full opera.
Reintroduced in 1895, it ran for 66 consecutive performances in Madrid, followedby 137 in Barcelona. Like La verbena de la Paloma, it owes its continuingfavor to an employment of the Spanish popular idiom. Subsequent operas such as Farinelli,Tabare, Raquel and Covadonga failed to arouse much passionone way or the other.
One wouldhardly expect a string quartet by a Spanish composer most famous for zarzuelasto radiate a purely Viennese spirit, but that is exactly the case with Breton'sD major quartet, published in Madrid c. 1910. Even the French influence of thetrio is entirely absent. The opening Allegro moderato ma non tanto ispreponderantly lyrical, and if any specific parallel were to be drawn it wouldbe to Schubert's Quartettsatz. Following the classical pattern?á evendown to the exposition repeat, the movement is consistently genial and lovely.
A theme in the cello's low register ushers in the Andante on a tragicnote, and what follows is a substantial, complex musical argument thatexpresses emotional profundity with admirable poise. This is music of matureinsight, in which the play of harmonic colours admits fleeting glimpses ofsunlight into a
sombreworld of shadow. The scherzo, Allegro, brings playfulness tinged with melancholy,and the gracious trio, accented with pizzicati, offers a tune that is captivatingin its simplicity. An introduction marked Grave begins the finale. Consistingof a chorale theme that ends each statement with a stunningly virtuosic passagefor one of the four instruments, it leads to a lyrical, valedictory theme thatimmediately becomes the subject of a fugue. We are not dealing with the sort ofdreadful academic fugue that uninspired composers use to fill pages of music paper.
This is a fugue with something to say, and it forms the body of the movement.
Beethoven's example is apparent, and as the music moves along it comes evercloser to joy, ending the quartet with healthy affirmation.
@ 1994David Nelson