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Spanish Music in the Twentieth Century.

Notwithstanding the accomplishments of the exiled Roberto Gerhard, according to Marco 'possibly Spain's greatest twentieth-century composer after Falla', or of Joaquin Rodrigo, surely Spain's most popular composer, the history of Spanish music since the war is not well known (least of all in Spain, where, as Marco points out, the concert and broadcast repertory is dominated by the works of mainstream European composers). His book, which first appeared in Madrid in 1984 as Vol. 6 of the series Historia de la musica espanola, goes some way to remedying this imbalance. Newly updated and revised, it is the only book in English which deals at length with contemporary Spanish music and is also a timely addition to the now dated studies of Federico Sopena (Historia de la musica espanola contemporanea, Madrid, 1958; 2nd edn., 1976), Manuel Valls Gorina (La musica espanola despues Manuel de Falla, Madrid, 1962) and Antonio Fernandez-Cid (La musica espanola en el siglo XX, Madrid, 1973). Thankfully, it is a good deal more objective and factual than its predecessors.

Tomas Marco is a leading figure on the Spanish contemporary music scene who is respected as a composer and academic and as a writer on a wide range of issues. Not surprisingly, his study does more than simply trace the history of Spanish art music in the twentieth century, for it is laced with illuminating and at times provocative insights into the broader socio-cultural aspects of contemporary musical life. In the final chapter, a summary of the state of Spanish music in Spain, Marco is uncompromising in his attempts to account for the apparent failure of native contemporary works to be more widely disseminated:

A number of factors have combined to erect an almost insuperable obstacle to knowledge of Spanish music of the past and the creation of a minimal Spanish repertoire. These factors include the weakness of musical institutions, the cult of star performers and the attitude of the interpreters themselves, the alienation of intellectuals from music, and the mechanisms that govern audiences. Spain was a musical outpost of the Italian lyric repertoire in the nineteenth century and is now dominated by the Germanic-Russian symphonic tradition, to such an extent that the old entrenched rejection of Spanish musicians influenced by German music has turned into an adoration of the German repertoire. In the meanwhile, Spanish composers influenced by Germanic music continued to be rejected.

But for Marco 'the principal culprits [for this current malaise] are performers and especially public officials, who make no effort to promote Spain's music within its own borders'.

Marco's book furnishes concise details of well over a hundred composers and their works, of whom many will be unknown to the English-speaking reader and have long been forgotten even in Spain. Indeed, he readily concedes that 'not all of the musicians mentioned in these pages are of sufficient historical interest to be remembered forever'; this is all the more reason why we should be grateful that they are dealt with so comprehensively here.

From Albeniz and Granados, whose music he views as a product of essentially nineteenth-century traditions, to Spain's most recent generation of composers, Marco pursues a strictly chronological path throughout. Where possible, he groups together composers who shared the same aesthetic or stylistic ground. In Chapter 8, he identifies as the Generation of '27 the diverse generation of composers which emerged before the Spanish Civil War (1936-9), inviting explicit parallels with the poetic Generation of '27; in fact two distinct groups of composers emerged at this time: the Madrid-based Grupo de los Ocho headed by Ernesto Halffter and, in Catalonia, the short-lived Generacion de la Republica, whose leading light was Roberto Gerhard. Although the Grupo de los Ocho was treated separately by Sopena (1958) under the sobriquet of the Generation of '31, Marco justifies his idea of a shared musical/poetic generation along stylistic lines: 'This generation in Spain combined neoclassicism, atonal experiments, twelve-tone music, and casticismo into an amalgam that reflected wonderfully well the folkloric, neoclassical, avant-garde, and surreal combinations in the work of the poets of '27'. Marco's comparable attempt to link the earlier generation of composers whose most important figures were Falla, Joaquin Turina, Conrado del Campo, Jesus Guridi, Julio Gomez and Oscar Espla (and which, following established precedent, he labels the Generation of Maestros) with the group of writers known as the Generation of '98 (whose leading member was Antonio Machado) requires rather more latitude, being justified solely on the grounds of 'areas of common concern'. Inevitably, there are many who will contest the validity of such collective generalizations; while they offer a useful overall perspective, they should be treated with a degree of caution. Even so, the Generation of Maestros, the Generation of '27 and the later Generation of '51, which saw the birth of the Spanish avant-garde in the works of Cristobal Halffter (who coined the term) and Luis de Pablo, represent for Marco the 'great generations of musical creators that Spain has known in the twentieth century'.

In Chapter 10, Marco paints a grim picture of the situation prevailing in Spain in the wake of the Spanish Civil War, which saw the voluntary exile of the leading members of the Generation of '27:

During the three years of the Civil War Spanish music was cut off from the outside world, and just when that conflict ended, the Second World War broke out, prolonging Spain's musical isolation for nearly six years except for a few inadequate exchanges between Nazi Germany and Spain. At the end of the Second World War, the blockade imposed on Spain prolonged her total isolation until the signing of the treaty with the United States in 1953. Even then Spanish musicians remained essentially cut off from the rest of the world for several years. Thus for some two decades Spanish music was left to its own devices, a serious state of affairs for a country that had lost good composers, fine performers, and vital teachers. As a result the public lost interest in music, and musical institutions fell into disarray. These consequences, though not irreversible, would prove difficult to correct.

In his treatment of individual composers, Marco provides a useful blend of factual biography with more general comments on representative works. However, he has not attempted the kind of detailed musical analysis found in, for instance, Arthur Custer's essay on post-war Spanish composers in Contemporary Music in Europe: a Comprehensive Survey, ed. Paul Henry Lang & Nathan Broder (New York, 1965; pp. 44-60), which could be usefully consulted in conjunction with Marco's book. Indeed, the mundane or superficial nature of his descriptions of works at times becomes somewhat tedious, as does his gratuitous tendency to list works which are not otherwise mentioned in the text. Elsewhere, he draws constantly on a varied vocabulary of untranslatable Spanish terms (e.g. casticismo or Alhambrismo) whose validity as stylistic indicators is questionable without music examples.

On the whole, I would have welcomed a more sustained treatment of the complex question of national opera, although this, to be fair, is beyond the scope of a book of this size. Similarly, Marco could have made far greater use of secondary sources (e.g. contemporary reviews), which would have lent greater authority to some of his opinions. The absence of a bibliography is also to be regretted.

The translation is well done apart from the tendency for titles of some Catalan works to be misspelt or 'Castilianized'; for instance, Pahissa's lyric drama La Preso de Lleida is incorrectly given as La prision de Lerida, and Vives's Catalan opera Euda d'Uriach as Eda d'Uriach. There are at least two factual inaccuracies: Granados wrote twelve Danzas espanolas for piano, not ten; and, perpetuating an erroneous tradition, his opera Maria del Carmen (1898) is incorrectly described as a zarzuela--though the music was strongly influenced by the popular zarzuela genre it has no spoken dialogue, unlike a true zarzuela.

Despite the journalistic cliches on the dust-jacket--'From the exhilarating impact of Isaac Albeniz . . . to today's complex and adventurous avant-garde'--this is a detailed and absorbing book, which, if not the definitive study, is an important contribution to our understanding of twentieth-century Spanish music.

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Author:Larrad, Mark
Publication:Music & Letters
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1994
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