SOLER, A.: Sonatas for Harpsichord, Vol. 7 (Gilbert Rowland) (Naxos: 8.554566)
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Sonatas forHarpsichord Vol. 7
Owing mainly to thetireless efforts of the late Father Samuel Rubio and other editors in makingmany of his works available in print during the past forty years, Antonio Soleris now justly regarded as the most important composer active in Spain duringthe second half of the eighteenth century. He was born at Olot, in the provinceof Gerona in north-eastern Spain in 1729 and baptised on 3rd December. At theage of six he entered the famous choir school at the Monastery of Montserratwhere he studied organ and composition. Before that he probably received sometuition from his father, who was a regimental bandsman. In 1744 he wasappointed organist at the cathedral in Seo de Urgel and was later ordained assubdeacon there.
At that time theBishop of Urgel asked him if he knew of a boy who could play the organ and whowished to take holy orders at the Escorial. Soler volunteered himself, sayingthat he very much wanted to take the vows and retreat from the world, and so on25th September 1752 he became a monk and entered that famous monastery nearMadrid, built by Philip II. He also became master of the Chapel there, probablyin 1757 following the death of his predecessor, Gabriel de Moratilla. Soler remainedthere until his death in 1783.
During the years 1752to 1757 Soler is reputed to have studied composition with Domenico Scarlattiand many of Soler's sonatas show his influence to a marked degree both in formand musical language. Despite his probable debt to Scarlatti, however, Soler'sown personality is very much in evidence in these works. Many of these sonatas,like Scarlatti's, are single movements in binary form, that is, in twosections, each of which is repeated, although Soler also composed a largenumber of multi-movement sonatas. It is quite possible that he was one of thecopyists of some of the manuscript volumes of Scarlatti's sonatas, now housedin Venice and Parma.
Fortunately forposterity Soler's wish for a quiet life did not work out quite as he intended.
Apart from his monastic duties he was expected to train the choir, providechoral music for services, and provide the Royal family with secular andinstrumental music during their frequent visits to the Escorial. The Spanish courtregularly spent the autumn there. Soler's achievement is also astonishing whenconsidering that much of his day would have been taken up with prayer and theroutine of the community. Periods of illness often prevented him from working.
We learn from the anonymous obituary of Soler, written by a fellow monk on theday he died, that he survived on only four hours sleep most nights, oftenretiring at midnight or one o'clock in the morning before rising at four orfive o'clock to say Mass. Mention is also made of his religious devotion,compassionate nature, scholarly interests and excessive candour. Soler died atthe Escorial on 20th December, 1783, from a gradually worsening fever which hehad caught the previous month. Soler's huge output runs to nearly 500individual works, and of his 150 keyboard sonatas, most were intended forharpsichord.
A large number ofSoler's instrumental works, including many of the sonatas, were composed forthe Infante Don Gabriel (1752-1788), son of Carlos III, whom Soler served asmusic master from the mid 1760s. As with Scarlatti, Spanish folk-song and danceelements feature prominently in his sonatas. Soler was much influenced by thechanging musical fashions of the second half of the eighteenth century and someof the single movement sonatas, as well as the four-movement works dating fromthe late 1770s and early 1780s approach the Viennese classical school inmusical language. There are a large number of slow movements amongst thesingle-movement works which contain some of his most profound and memorablemusic.
Recent research hasshown that, as in the case of Scarlatti, many of the single movement sonataswere intended to be played as pairs, though this is not always apparent inRubio's edition, except in the case of Rubio Nos. 1-27, which follows the samenumerical sequence of the English edition. Many of Soler's sonatas make use ofthe full five-octave compass and were probably originally played on a 63-keyharpsichord with a compass from F to g′′′ which DiegoFernandez built for the Infante Don Gabriel in 1761.
No. 10 in B minor is one of the most stunningand spectacular of all Soler's works. Dashing runs, hand-crossings frequentlyinvolving left hand jumps of four octaves, and wide skips in the bass are allused with a breathtaking virtuosity and brilliance which at times goes evenbeyond Scarlatti's extreme flights of fancy in this sphere. A quotation fromthe preface to Rubio's edition of the Soler Sonatas describes the second ofthis pair, Sonata No. 11, as "a truly delightful piece, full ofcharm and poetry which the divine Mozart himself could have signed". Thisperhaps eloquently sums up the character of Soler's only keyboard venture intothe (for the period) somewhat outlandish key of B major, though whether Mozartwould have agreed with that statement is open to speculation.
Despite the variedthematic material and lively rhythms of Sonata No. 39 (in Dminor), this rich-?¡textured and passionate work has a rather dark and sombrecharacter. Virtuoso elements include arpeggios and passages in thirds.
No. 3 in B flat major is a lyrical slowmovement whose thematic material is almost entirely governed by the step-wiserise and fall of the opening bars. Towards the end of each section the generalmood of calm and tranquillity is momentarily disrupted by some flamboyantarpeggios in the left hand.
Nos. 80, 81 and 82 form an interesting trilogy,the first of which is a fine work whose rhythmic drive and physical energy arepowerfully enhanced by the frequent use of octaves in the bass, dotted rhythmsand wide leaps. There are also some striking modulations and harmonicprogressions. Sonata No. 81 is not in Soler's customary binaryform, and the constant alternation of fiery, urgent quick sections withoperatic-sounding cantabile passages make this one of the most exciting andindividual works among the composer's output. Sonata No. 82 is acharmingly rustic jig-like work in 6/8 time with an abundance of trills andmuch imitation between the hands. The opening bars are developed in the mannerof a three-part invention at the start of the second half, where the listenerreceives an aural impression of 9/8 time.
The somewhatmelancholy Sonata No. 113 in E minor is without doubt one of Soler'smost memorable and beautiful slow movements. There are many guitar-?¡likerepeated chords in the left hand accompanying soulful melodies in the right,and some of the modulations are almost romantic in feeling.
The first of thesprightly pair of sonatas which comprises Nos. 112 and 108 in C major is a workfull of rhythmic vitality, containing some arresting modulations and harmonicchanges, as well as being totally unpredictable in its abundant flow of ideas.
The second, subtitled Del Gallo ('The Cock's Crowing'), is Soler'sanswer to Rameau's 'La Poule', and a delightfully humorous little workit is too, with its dotted rhythms and frequent acciacaturas. Shortly after thedouble bar the cuckoo appears to join in for a while!
No. 97 in A major is the first of a set ofthree four-movement sonatas (Op. 8) dating from 1783. They differ in structurefrom the Op. 4 set in that the Minuets (which in this case follow the standardMinuet and Tri