Antonio Soler (1729-1783)
Sonatas for Harpsichord, Volume 10
Owing mainly to the tireless efforts of the late FatherSamuel Rubio and other editors in making many of his works available in printduring the past forty years, Antonio Soler is now justly regarded as the mostimportant composer active in Spain during the second half of the eighteenthcentury. He was born at Olot, in the province of Gerona in north-eastern Spainin 1729 and baptised on 3rd December. At the age of six he entered the famouschoir school at the Monastery of Montserrat where he studied organ andcomposition. Before that he probably received some tuition from his father, whowas a regimental bandsman. In 1744 he was appointed organist at the cathedralin Seo de Urgel and was later ordained as subdeacon there.
At that time the Bishop of Urgel asked him if he knew of aboy who could play the organ and who wished to take holy orders at theEscorial. Soler volunteered himself, saying that he very much wanted to takethe vows and retreat from the world, and so on 25th September 1752 he became a monkand entered that famous monastery near Madrid, built by Philip II. He alsobecame master of the Chapel there, probably in 1757 following the death of hispredecessor, Gabriel de Moratilla. Soler remained there until his death in1783.
During the years 1752 to 1757 Soler is reputed to havestudied composition with Domenico Scarlatti and many of Soler's sonatas showhis influence to a marked degree both in form and musical language. Despite hisprobable debt to Scarlatti, however, Soler's own personality is very much inevidence in these works. Many of these sonatas, like Scarlatti's, are singlemovements in binary form, that is, in two sections, each of which is repeated,although Soler also composed a large number of multi-movement sonatas. It isquite possible that he was one of the copyists of some of the manuscriptvolumes of Scarlatti's sonatas, now housed in Venice and Parma.
Fortunately for posterity Soler's wish for a quiet life didnot work out quite as he intended. Apart from his monastic duties he wasexpected to train the choir, provide choral music for services, and provide theRoyal family with secular and instrumental music during their frequent visitsto the Escorial. The Spanish court regularly spent the autumn there. Soler'sachievement is also astonishing when considering that much of his day wouldhave been taken up with prayer and the routine of the community. Periods ofillness often prevented him from working. We learn from the anonymous obituaryof Soler, written by a fellow monk on the day he died, that he survived on onlyfour hours' sleep most nights, often retiring at midnight or one o'clock in themorning before rising at four or five o'clock to say Mass. Mention is also madeof his religious devotion, compassionate nature, scholarly interests andexcessive candour. Soler died at the Escorial on 20th December, 1783, from agradually worsening fever which he had caught the previous month. Soler's hugeoutput runs to nearly 500 individual works, and of his 150 keyboard sonatas, mostwere intended for harpsichord.
A large number of Soler's instrumental works, including manyof the sonatas, were composed for the Infante Don Gabriel (1752-1788), son ofCarlos III, whom Soler served as music master from the mid-1760s. As withScarlatti, Spanish folk-song and dance elements feature prominently in hissonatas. Soler was much influenced by the changing musical fashions of thesecond half of the eighteenth century and some of the single movement sonatas,as well as the four-movement works dating from the late 1770s and early 1780sapproach the Viennese classical school in musical language. There are a largenumber of slow movements amongst the single-movement works which contain someof his most profound and memorable music.
Recent research has shown that, as in the case of Scarlatti,many of the single movement sonatas were intended to be played as pairs, thoughthis is not always apparent in Rubio's edition, except in the case of RubioNos. 1-27, which follows the same numerical sequence of the English edition.Many of Soler's sonatas make use of the full five-octave compass and wereprobably originally played on a 63-key harpsichord with a compass from F tog˝ which Diego Fernandez built for the Infante Don Gabriel in 1761.
The Sonata in D flat major (without Rubio number) is alively work with its profusion of fresh ideas, surprising modulations, anddance-like syncopated rhythms towards the end of each half. It seems to havebeen unknown to Rubio as it is not included in his complete edition. This iscurious since it forms the first sonata in the collection of twelve known as\The Madrid Conservatory Manuscript" of which Father Rubio must surely havebeen aware.
Sonata No. 88 in D flat major is one of Soler's morefamiliar works and is paired with its predecessor. This is one of thecomposer's most exuberant and energetic sonatas containing plenty of drive,brilliance and technical virtuosity, including scale passages, rapid repeatednotes and hand-crossings. Other features include bagpipe effects, infectiousSpanish dance rhythms, and startling modulations such as the abrupt transitionfrom A flat major to F major after the first section repeat. The whole work hasthe character of a jig in 9/8 time, although written in 3/4 using triplets.
Sonatas Nos. 77/78 in F sharp minor form a pair. The firstsonata is a lyrical, poignant slow movement in which the interval of a thirdfeatures prominently, both melodically and harmonically as a unifying elementin the most serious and heartfelt of sonatas amongst Soler's output. By way ofcontrast the rich-textured Sonata No. 78 is one of the composer's moststrenuous works technically, featuring rapidly moving left hand octaves, wideskips, passages in thirds, and also some remarkable modulations in the secondhalf.
Sonata No. 37 in D major consists mainly of somewhatelaborate triplet figuration in the right hand, sometimes syncopated, against aforward moving bass line. There are several sonatas by Scarlatti in a similarvein.
Sonata No. 64 in G major is the second work from acollection of six sonatas dating from 1777, all of which have three movements,the last of which is a fugue in each case. The term Pastorale aptly describesthe character of the first movement, a piece of considerable charm containingsome unexpected twists of melody and harmony with themes seemingly derived fromSpanish folklore. This is followed by a typically Galant Allegretto grazioso insonata form with some audacious chromatic touches, and the joyful four-partdouble fugue which follows with its peals of bells towards the end and its manyexcursions into remote keys, shows Soler to be a master of counterpoint eventhough he only employed it intermittently in the majority of his keyboardworks.
The fine Sonata No. 126 in C minor consists of two wellcontrasted movements. The first is a beautiful slow movement, which begins withimitation between the hands in the manner of a fugue, and in which dottedrhythms feature prominently. A short cadenza precedes the lyrical second subject,reinforced by octaves, and in the relative major accompanied by almostpianistic-sounding arpeggios in the left hand. There are some strikingmodulations in the second half. An energetic hunting type jig of irresistibledrive and vitality follows. The opening theme is closely related to that of thefirst movement, and both movements have first sections ending in the relativemajor. Again there are some extraordinary modulations in the seco