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Eduardo Toldrá is one of the most important twentieth century composers in the song field in Spain. The style of concert music that was developed with great strength in German Romantic music spread its influence throughout Europe, though Spanish music took a long time to follow this stream. The
blocked the creation of a concert work: it was enough to do a version for voice and piano of the most popular arias so that the singers could set up their own recitals with a guaranteed success. Only Amadeo Vives managed to place in his repertoire a collection of songs specifically written as concert works, the “Canciones epigramáticas”. Albéniz practically ignored this style; however Granados and Falla on the contrary composed formidable works such as “La maja y el ruiseñor” and the “Tonadillas”. Falla based it on the Andalusian folksong that he often ‘reinvented’ in order to compose his “Siete canciones populares españolas”, the definitive work of Spanish song of the twentieth century.
This example led to musicians of younger generations to consider this style as a valuable form of expression and of a great artistic level. Guridi, Palau, Rodrigo, Montsalvatge have in their catalogue interesting contributions to this style. Nevertheless the composer who was most devoted to the
was Toldrá. His work is important in the number of works and quality. Toldra was a very complete musician: an excellent violinist who gave his first concert at the age of 7 as well as creating several trios and quartets; a notable orchestra conductor who premiered “La Atlántida” by Manuel de Falla; a promoter of concerts and musical activities; and a composer that always had in the voice his favourite instrument. His opera “El giravolt de maig” (The sunflower of May), is one of the leading examples of Spanish twentieth-century opera.
Yet it was in the field of song where Toldrá stood out. His output is very important; he controls marvellously Catalan as a musical language and he incorporates it in the majority of his works. Not in vain is he considered the artificer of the Catalan ‘renaissance’ in the field of music, a movement of nationalist basis that brought out the values of the Catalan culture as one of the most creative and original in twentieth-century Europe.
Toldrá always admired popular culture; he is not a folksong collector in the way in which it is usually understood, but he is a composer close to the popular songs when composing his works. Not only the popular Catalan tradition received his attention, but also other Spanish regions as he demonstrated in his collection of songs such as “Seis Canciones sobre textos españoles” or the “Doce canciones populares españolas”.
His style is very respectful of the lyrics; the songs are born from the poetic prosody itself, this is to say from the most musical element and less conceptual of poetry. In this way poetry and music come together in a synthesis which amalgamates poetic rhythm and musical expression. The intelligibility of the text remains always protected, which makes much easier the comprehension of the work by the listener. Toldrá worked in this way like the great romantic composers of song – Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, Strauss – and didn’t fall to the temptation of ‘intellectualized’ music, something much in fashion in his time. His songs are perfectly suited to the voice, which explains why the great Spanish voices, such as Conchita Supervia, Victoria de los Angeles, Montserrat Caballé and Jose Carreras, have shown their preference for Toldrá’s work in their recital tours.
With a great output for voice, Toldrá invigorated a style that needed figures such as him in order for it to settle within the Spanish and Catalan musical repertoire. In this sense he is an indispensable figure when valuating and getting to know twentieth-century Spanish music.
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