SOLER, A.: Sonatas for Harpsichord, Vol. 5 (Gilbert Rowland) (Naxos: 8.554434)
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Sonatas forHarpsichord Vol. 5
Owing mainly to the tireless efforts of the late Father Samuel Rubio andother editors in making many of his works available in print during the pastforty years, Antonio Soler is now justly regarded as the most importantcomposer active in Spain during the second half of the eighteenth century. Hewas born at Olot, in the province of Gerona in north-eastern Spain in 1729 andbaptised on 3rd December. At the age of six he entered the famous choir schoolat the Monastery of Montserrat where he studied organ and composition. Beforethat he probably received some tuition from his father, who was a regimentalbandsman. In 1744 he was appointed organist at the cathedral in Seo de Urgeland was later ordained as subdeacon there.
At that time the Bishop of Urgel asked him if he knew of a boy who couldplay the organ and who wished to take holy orders at the Escorial. Solervolunteered himself, saying that he very much wanted to take the vows andretreat from the world, and so on 25th September 1752 he became a monk andentered that famous monastery near Madrid, built by Philip II. He also becamemaster 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 have studiedcomposition with Domenico Scarlatti and many of Soler's sonatas show hisinfluence 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 did not work outquite as he intended. Apart from his monastic duties he was expected to trainthe choir, provide choral music for services, and provide the Royal family withsecular and instrumental music during their frequent visits to the Escorial.
The Spanish court regularly spent the autumn there. Soler's achievement is alsoastonishing when considering that much of his day would have been taken up withprayer and the routine of the community. Periods of illness often prevented himfrom working. We learn from the anonymous obituary of Soler, written by afellow monk on the day he died, that he survived on only four hours sleep mostnights, often retiring at midnight or one o'clock in the morning before risingat four or five o'clock to say Mass. Mention is also made of his religiousdevotion, compassionate nature, scholarly interests and excessive candour.
Soler died at the Escorial on 20th December, 1783, from a gradually worseningfever which he had caught the previous month. Soler's huge output runs tonearly 500 individual works, and of his 150 keyboard sonatas, most wereintended for harpsichord.
A large number of Soler's instrumental works, including many of thesonatas, were composed for the Infante Don Gabriel (1752-1788), son of CarlosIII, whom Soler served as music master from the mid 1760s. As with Scarlatti,Spanish folk-song and dance elements feature prominently in his sonatas. Solerwas much influenced by the changing musical fashions of the second half of theeighteenth century and some of the single movement sonatas, as well as thefour-movement works dating from the late 1770s and early 1780s approach theViennese classical school in musical language. There are a large number of slowmovements amongst the single-movement works which contain some of his mostprofound and memorable music.
Recent research has shown that, as in the case of Scarlatti, many of thesingle movement sonatas were intended to be played as pairs, though this is notalways apparent in Rubio's edition, except in the case of Rubio Nos. 1-27,which follows the same numerical sequence of the English edition. Many ofSoler's sonatas make use of the full five-octave compass and were probablyoriginally played on a 63-key harpsichord with a compass from F to g\ whichDiego Fernandez built for the Infante Don Gabriel in 1761.
The first of the unmistakably Spanish sounding sonatas in D major, Nos.
73/74, is an exhilarating andpowerful dance movement whose texture is often enriched by a chain of thirds inthe left hand. The driving rhythms are temporarily halted in the middle of eachsection by the dramatic use of diminished seventh chords, after which thesecond subject appears, first in the minor, then in the major. No. 74 is heldtogether by extended melodic phrases in the right hand accompanied byguitar-like chords in the left hand, often with flamenco orientated harmonies.
A more exultant passage containing bagpipe drone effects and virtuoso arpeggiosis introduced towards the end of each half.
No. 118 in A minor is a lively Spanishdance movement in 6/8 time. Short repeated phrases in the manner of Scarlatticontribute to its forward drive, rapid repeated chords in the left hand portraythe strumming of guitars, and there is a surprising modulation in the secondsection where, having paused on a chord of A major, Soler plunges straight intothe key of B flat.
Sonata No. 38 in C major is rich in thematic materialand nearly all the seemingly folk-inspired melodies appear to derive from theopening bars. The style is very close to Scarlatti, particularly some of thefigurations in the left hand.
Of the Sonatas Nos.
105/2 in E flat major, the first is an affecting slow movement of much lyricismand beauty. The first half of the work ends in the relative minor instead ofthe more customary dominant, and there are some irregular phrase lengths. Thesecond, on the other hand, is a busy driving work of much virtuosity andbrilliance. Trills, repeated notes, passages in thirds, left hand jumps andsurprising modulations are all there to dazzle the listener. The figure heardat the beginning of the work appears in a type of inversion just after thestart of the second section.
Sonata No. 58 in G major is one of several sonatas bySoler conceived in Rondo form rather than his customary binary form andmany of the almost pianistic figurations point to this being a late work. Thetwo long episodes before and after the second appearance of the Rondo themeinvolve virtuoso writing which is in marked contrast to the perky, audaciouslyna?»ve theme itself.
A graceful,Minuet-type movement of much charm, Sonata No. 114 in D minor is heldtogether by triplet figurations. The general harmonic drift is closer to theidiom of Haydn or C.P.E. Bach than that of Scarlatti, suggesting that this isalso a comparatively late work.
In the first of SonatasNos. 5/6 in F major, much use is made of the opening material, particularlythe triplet in the first bar, and the lyrical second subject is clearly derivedfrom it. There is some imitative writing between the hands, and there are somewide leaps in the left hand. No. 6 is a driving Presto movement of muchtechnical intricacy in the manner of Scarlatti. There are some remarkablemodulations, repeated chords imitating the Spanish guitar, and both sections endin the minor.
Sonata No. 95 in A major is the fifth of a set of sixfour-movement sonatas (Op. 4) dating from 1779. The work beg