DONOSTIA: Basque Preludes / Nostalgia
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Jose Antonio Donostia (1886-1956)
Padre Donostia was not only one of the greatest Basquecomposers of sacred, symphonic and stage music, butalso a highly influential collector of and expert in hisnative region's folk-music. The true significance of hiswork in both fields has yet to be fully recognised.
Jose Gonzalo de Zulaica y Arregui was born inSan Sebastian in the Spanish Basque Country on8th December 1886. At the age of ten he was sent to theCapuchin College in Lekaroz in Navarre, where hestudied piano, harmony and counterpoint with FatherOtano. He joined the order himself and on his ordinationas a priest took the name Father Jose Antonio ofDonostia (the Basque name for San Sebastian). Givenhis background then, it was entirely natural that heshould have found himself drawn to two of the strongestcurrents in European music at the time, nationalism andthe revival of liturgical plainchant under Pope Pius X.
Padre Donostia dedicated much of his time toresearching traditional Basque folk-music and studyingGregorian chant. After a period of study and meditation,he fulfilled a long-held desire when he undertook thecomposition of his Preludios vascos para piano(Basque Piano Preludes), based on traditional themes.
He composed other works between 1910 and 1920,including Euskal Eresiak and the Melodias catalanas(Catalan Melodies).
His music had an immediate impact, and in January1920 he travelled to Paris to continue his studies. Therehe met Ravel and had the opportunity to study all thelatest artistic trends, before setting off on a series ofjourneys around France and Argentina, where his workswere enthusiastically received. During the 1920s hewrote the stage works Los tres milagros de santa Cecilia(The Three Miracles of Saint Cecilia) and La vieprofonde de saint Fran?ºois d'Assise (The Profound Lifeof St Francis of Assisi). His orchestral compositionsalso include the instrumental versions of a number ofBasque pieces, the Preludes, Acuarelas vascas (BasqueWatercolours), Infantiles (Pieces for Children), and theabove-mentioned stage works.
When the Civil War broke out in Spain in 1936, hewent into exile in France and there devoted himselfalmost entirely to sacred music. Two of the mostimportant works of his later years are the Poema de laPasion (Passion Poem) and the Requiem Missa prodefunctis. Having returned to Spain at the end of the war,he settled in Barcelona, where he helped establish theSpanish Institute of Musicology. The last years of hislife were divided between Barcelona and Baztan (inNavarre), where he died in 1956.
Padre Donostia's greatest achievement was to bringprestige to traditional Basque music. He succeeded in findingand conveying its deeper significance, faithfully andelegantly, as well as in achieving the perfect balancebetween the assimilation of tradition and the huge influenceof his impressionist contemporaries, Ravel and Debussy.
At the core of his piano repertoire are the four booksof Preludes (1912-16), to which must also be added theMenuet basque (Basque minuet), Andante para unasonata vasca (Andante for a Basque sonata), Herrimina(Nostalgia), Homenaje a J.C. de Arriaga (Tribute to JuanCrisostomo de Arriaga), Pri?¿re plaintive ?á Notre-Damede Socorri (Heartfelt Prayer to Our Lady of Socorri), andtwo original pieces for guitar, Tiento y cancion (Tientoand Song) and Vora'l Ter (On the Banks of the Ter).
Common to the four books of Preludes is a concernfor the strict reproduction of the traditional melodies,which are always allowed to shine through. PadreDonostia's expressive writing rises up above themelody, its express intention being to describe the text,harmonic backgrounds representing landscapes,rhythmic patterns, impressionistic recitatives, distantmusic from religious processions and festivities,children's games, and so on, all of which are marked bytheir simplicity and nostalgic lyricism. Although theworks were written within a short time of one another,the later pieces show that Padre Donostia's musical andharmonic idiom was beginning to move away from itsclassical roots to become more impressionistic in nature.Santiago Gorostiza
(English version: Susannah Howe)