Joaquín Turina, 1882-1949
Spain enjoyed a musical “Golden Age” during the Renaissance, after which it was largely overshadowed on the international stage by the prevailing styles from Italy, France and the German speaking countries. It was not until the rise of musical nationalism in the late 19th century that Spain found its voice again with its first modern masters such as Albéniz, Granados and de Falla, whose most well known music was written in the 1900’s. It was Albéniz who provided the necessary connections for the younger Joaquín Turina to study in Paris under Vincent d’Indy and to publish his first work, a piano quintet. While in Paris, Turina came to know such French masters as Debussy, Ravel and Fauré, leaving an undeniable influence on his own subsequent music. Turina produced a sizable quantity of chamber music including several piano trios, string quartets and sonatas, a piano quartet, two piano quintets and a piano sextet. His most well known works include Circulo for piano trio and the evocative La oración del torero for string quartet.
Turina composed the single-movement Toreador’s Prayer, Op. 34 in 1924. For the first thirty seconds or so of the piece, one would swear this was a newly discovered quartet of Debussy or Ravel, not only for its “impressionism” but also for its spicy Iberian flavor that both Debussy and Ravel borrowed from Spanish idioms which they helped to immortalize decades earlier. Shimmering atmospheres peppered with pizzicato and guitar-derived idiomatic ornaments set an exotic scene for adventure, bravado and passion as the toreador approaches the potentially fatal spectacle. Thoughts of mortality, the test of courage and honor, and perhaps a sudden nostalgia for the amorous sensuality of life turn the Toreador inward in a dreamy reflection full of longing and hope. Bright and languid harmonies suggest the amorphous and flowery romantic soundtracks of vintage movies that borrowed so much from this period of French and Spanish technicolor impressionism. The toreador’s private revere turns ultimately to prayer as humility and supplication lift the music up in a chaste, golden glow. The string quartet proves to be an admirably “colorful” ensemble for rendering this deliciously programmatic mood painting. Here, Turina demonstrates the unique power of music to vividly express a complex of conflicted, nuanced thoughts in an organic whole that captures the otherwise ineffable human condition.