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Joaquin Turina and the “Sinfonia Sevillana”

     Joaquín Turina (December 9, 1882 –January 14, 1949) was a Spanish composer who was born into a middle-class family on December 9th, 1882, in Seville, Spain, but his origins were in northern Italy (between Verona, Brescia and Mantova).  His father, Joaquín, from Italian descent, had been born in Seville in 1847, was a painter trained at the Escuela Provincial de Bellas Artes (Provincial School of Fine Arts), and was a distinguished member of the Escuela sevillana. His mother, Concepción, had been born in a small town near Seville.  When he was a small boy, one of Joaquín’s favorite toys was a small accordion that was given to him by a housemaid, and music was always his favorite subject at school.  At four years-old he gained the reputation of being a child prodigy because of his improvised playing of the accordion.  He got his first music lesson at the Santo Ángel School and also accompanied the girls’ choir at that same school.

     Turina studied high school at San Ramón School and began his piano lessons with Enrique Rodríguez. In 1894 he started to study harmony and counterpoint with Evaristo García Torres, who, Turina always remembered with much affection and admiration.  Success first came to him as a performer and a composer with a piano quintet named La Orquestina which he established with friends who performed at parties and gatherings. He also played four-hand piano with his teachers.  His official presentation to the public was on March 14th, 1897, at the Piazza de Sevilla, playing in a recital organized by the Sociedad de Cuartetos (Quartet Society), where he interpreted on the piano, Fantasia on Rossini´s ‘’Moses” , by Segismond Thalberg. The reviews by the local news pointed out his success and the ability to overcome the difficulties of the piece.

     Ten months later Turnia played again successfully, for both the critics and the public, at the same place and soon began to explore the composition of the keys or chamber ensembles. His first orchestral piece was Coplas al Señor de la Pasión (Folk Songs for the Passion of the Lord), written for the Hermandad de Pasión (Passion Brotherhood) and premiering at the Church of El Salvador with a small orchestra composed of twenty musicians, a men´s choir, a tenor and a baritone, all of them directed by the author.  His desire to create a more important piece took him towards writing an opera when he was only fifteen years-old and which he named, La Sulamita, based on the book by Pedro Balgañón. He initiated and later abandoned his studies of medicine and instead decided to dedicate himself professionally to music. His teacher, García Torres, told him that he needed to move to Madrid.

     In March of 1902, three days after arriving in Madrid, Turina went to the magnificent Royal Theater to listen to the Orchestra of the Concert Society, under the direction of Wassilly Sapelnikow, who was offering the first performance in Madrid of the Fifth Symphony of Tchaikovsky.  During a private audience he would meet Conrado del Campo, who later would become his partner for many years to come. He went back to Seville but in the month of October he returned to Madrid to study for three whole years. He he met Manuel de Falla, and they would become life-long friends.  On March 14th, 1903, he presented himself to the people of Madrid at the Ateneo, with works from Scarlatti, Beethoven, Schumann, Wagner, and three of his own works which have since disappeared: La danza de los elfos (The dance of the Elves), Variaciones sobre cantos populares (Variations on popular songs), and Gran polacca.

     In Madrid Turina perfected his piano preparation with José Tragó and continued to compose piano works, a trio, a quintet, a sainete (farce or short dramatic composition) titled La Copla (Folk song), and also, an opera with libretto by the Álvarez Quintero brothers titled, Fea y con gracia (Ugly but funny).  His personal life changed radically between 1903 and 1904 with the death of his parents and his decision to follow José Villegas´ advice to move to study in Paris.  Turina established himself in Paris at the end of 1905 and started taking piano and composition classes with Moritz Moszkowski. A few weeks later, in January, 1906, he signed up to take composition classes with Vincent D’Indy at the Schola Cantorum, although he continued under the tutelage of Moszkowski as his piano teacher.

     Turina lived in Paris from 1905 to 1914 where like his countryman and friend, de Falla, he got to know the impressionist composers Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy.  On April 29th, 1907, he presented himself to the Parisian public at the Sala Aeolian, presenting his Poema de las estaciones (Poem of the seasons). Eight days later he went back to the same stage and with the same quartet for the premiere of his Quinteto en sol menor (Quintet in so minor).  He also established a friendship with Isaac Albeniz.  In 1908 Turina married Obdulia Garzón, who was to bear him five children. She was the dedicatee of the Danzas fantásticas, which he completed in 1919.  During his Paris phase, Turina wrote ten more pieces of work that little by little started moving away from the Schola Cantorum environment to give way to songs, rhythms, light and joy that are so characteristic of his native Andalusia.

     In 1913 Turina finished his training period at the Schola Cantorum. The school certificate signed by Vincent D’Indy is dated March 4th, and the 30th of that same month he premiered with a huge success at the Royal Theater of Madrid, La procesión del Rocío (The procession of El Rocio), with the Symphonic Orchestra of Madrid, and under the direction of Enrique Fernández Arbós.  The beginning of World War I forced his exit from Paris and along with de Falla, he returned to Madrid in 1914, working as a composer, teacher and critic.  His first premiere on October of 1914, was the lyrical comedy, Margot, op.11, with a libretto written by the married couple y Gregorio Martínez Sierra and María Lejárraga, who would become his regular collaborators for his theater plays.

     Turina´s production would focus on the symphonic music, chambers, songs, and especially, piano pieces, which within the catalogue surpass sixty titles out of more than one hundred in total.  Turina also maintained an intense concert activity, whether it was by himself, with chamber ensembles, or with singers. As an Orchestra Director he premiered his pieces, Navidad (Christmas, 1916) and La adúltera penitente (The penitent adulterer, 1917).   In 1917 he published the Enciclopedia abreviada de la música (Abbreviated Encyclopedia of Music).  In 1918 Serge Diaguilev hired him as the Tour Director of the Russian Ballet throughout Spain.  Also he worked as a Maestro at the Royal Theater at the same time as he premiered as a composer the following pieces: Danzas fantásticas (Fantastic dances, 1919), the Sinfonía sevillana (The Sevillian Symphony, 1920), Sanlúcar de Barrameda (1921), Jardín de Oriente (The Garden of the Orient, 1923), La oración del torero (The bullfighter´s prayer, 1925) and the Trío no.1 (1926).

     In 1926 Turina began his work as a music critic, first at El Debate, until the newspaper disappeared in 1936, later in the newspaper Ya, and lastly on the weekly magazine Dígame.  He also dedicated himself to the teaching of composition, first with private classes at his home, and from 1931 on, from his Chair as professor at the Madrid Royal Conservatory, while at the same time he gave conferences and masterful classes in and out of Spain. After the Spanish Civil War, which Turina spent living in Madrid and protected by a license that identified him as a ”worker” of the British Consulate, he founded the General Music Commission of the Ministry of Education in charge of reorganizing the Spanish conservatories and later was named the General Commissioner of Music in 1941, a position that gave him the opportunity to make a definitive organization of the National Orchestra.

     His other works, much of which shows the influence of traditional Andalusian music, include La oración del torero, written first for a lute quartet, then string quartet, then string orchestra, chamber music, piano works, guitar pieces and songs, and a short one-movement Rapsodia Sinfonica (1931) for piano and orchestra. The accumulation of his occupations and an illness that was becoming more evident each day limited his musical production. On the last nine years of his life he only composed 13 pieces of work. The last one of his catalogue is a piano piece titled, Desde mi terraza (From my balcony), which carries opus number 104 and is dated on 1947.  In his final days he was preparing the Tratado de composición musical (Musical Composition Treaty), but was only able to complete the first two volumes.  He became a member of the Spanish Academy of Arts, was awarded the Grand Cross of Alfonso X the Wise, and died in Madrid on January 14th, 1949, after a long struggle with cancer.

     I have the following works by Turina in my collection:

                Danzas Fantasticas, op. 22. 

                La Procession del Rocio, op. 9. 

                Ritmos, Fantasia Coreografica, op. 43. 

                Sinfonia Sevillana, op. 23.


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