More articles about Sebastian Albero

Essay 1 (Galvez)       Essay 2 (Kastner)      

(This first essay on Albero is taken from the introduction to "Treinta sonatas para Clavicordio por Sebastian Albero" by Genoveva Galvez, pub. U.M.E., Madrid, 1978. I am grateful to Mr. Richard Butler of Broughton Astley, Leics, for carrying out the translation.)


In the article "Musical obituaries of Madrid (1611-1808)" about Jose Subira (musical Yearbook vol 13, 1958, referring to information obtained from the parish records of St. Martin's church), the following appears:

"Don Sebastian Ramon de Albero y Ananos, principal organist of the Royal Chapel of his Majesty, late husband of Dona Maria Angela de la Calle and Alonso, native of the town of Roncal (kingdom of Navarra), son of Don Antonio Albero and Dona Francisca Ananos, deceased. He lived in the street "Les Preciados", in the houses of the Marquis of Quintana. He authorised the making of a will along with his wife in 1748, naming as heirs sons he might have during his marriage. (Mar 30, 1756)

In 1749, at 27 years old, he appeared in the service of the Musical Chapella of King Fernando VI together with the eminent Jose de Nebra and Joachim Oxinaga. And little more is known today of the life of our composer. These "30 sonatas" come from an undated manuscript, unpublished until the present edition, held by the Library Nazionale Marciana of Florence: It. IV, 197b (=9768). We appreciate their sending the microfilm which has helped us to bring to light the present publication.

A number of Albero manuscripts were exported by the singer Farinelli to Italy. The famous "castrate", musical favourite of the Spanish sovereigns Felipe V and Fernando VI fell from favour before Carlos III, and took refuge in his own country taking with him the keyboard instruments which Queen Maria Barbara had left him in her will, and numerous manuscripts, including Scarlatti's sonatas, which have enriched Italian libraries.

Domenico Scarlatti, in Albero's lifetime, was the private teacher of Queen Maria Barbara, the intelligent and beautiful wife of Fernando VI. Between Scarlatti and Albero was established, without doubt, a direct and lively link.

Obviously a parallel exists between the "30 Essercizii for the gravicembalo" (1738-1739), which are, as is known, the first sonatas of Scarlatti, and the "30 sonatas for the clavichord" of Albero. But if on the outside the sonatas (binary form, asymmetric) of the Spaniard are influenced by Scarlatti, it is not a dependance as menial as Giorgio Pestelli makes it in his book "Le Sonate di Domenico Scarlatti".(G. Giappichelli, Turin,, 1967). Pestelli has judged too hastily and with too much severity the work of our Albero.

While it is true that in the manuscript there are numerous errors (owing, no doubt, to the clumsy hand of the copyist), there shines through a very rich personality, capable at best of putting himself on equal terms with Scarlatti with regard to novelty of thought and advanced harmonic language.

Only later studies of all his work will be able to throw light over the influences, probably mutual, of these two greats of the keyboard.

Albero puts his sonatas in pairs: normally a slow piece follows an allegro, or there are two allegros of different meter and character.

The tonalities are narrowly related in each pair: either in the same key, or major-minor, or some similar relationship. The only fugues in the collection are sonatas 15 and 30, which stand on their own and which mark the halfway point and conclusion of the collection.

(Paraphased by ND, Oct 01)

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(This prologue appears in the UME edition of Albero's sonatas, published in 1978 in Madrid, and still in print. I am grateful to Richard Butler of Broughton Astley, Leicestershire, in translating it from the Spanish. As far as I am aware, there is virtually no information on Albero available in English.)

I want in the first place to congratulate my respected colleague Dona Genoveva Galvez, notable harpsichordist, for contributing in an extremely efficient manner to the known repertoire of Spanish 18th century keyboard music, and for bringing to light Sebastian Albero's 30 Sonatas for the clavichord, whose manuscript, apparently not an autograph, is kept in the Marciana de Venicia Library.

At that time the composers occasionally liked to put together their pieces in sets of 30 or so. Taking a few examples, Dietrich Buxtehude put together 32 small parts on La Capricciosa, J.S.Bach 30 Variations commonly called Goldberg, D. Scarlatti 30 Essercizi, and Albero 30 Sonatas.

This composer and keyboard player , his full name being San Sebastian Ramon de Albero y Ananos, was born in 1722 in Roncal, Navarra, and died March 30th 1756 in Madrid.

Musician in the service of Fernando VI, he was named first organist of the Royal Chapel in 1748.

It is still not known with certainty the date he settled in Madrid, but it was probably just before 1748.

The Neopolitan Domenico Scarlatti, master of clavichord to Dona Maria Barbara de Braganza, the wife of Don Fernando VI, from Lisbon and Andalucia, reached Madrid towards the end of 1733 where he settled. Until his death on 23rd July 1757, he resided with the court.

Albero died a year and four months before Scarlatti. His living with Scarlatti in the atmosphere of the Palace lasted only 8 years. Regarding Albero's age (26) and the parts he was playing in the chapel, it seems to me unlikely that he suddenly gave in to Scarlatti's style.

In consequence of the analysis of some of his extremely impressive fugues - more monumental and logical than any of Scarlatti's, or those of Seixas or Soler - it seems to me more sensible to suppose that Albero was pupil to a competent teacher of counterpoint of foreign tradition rooted in Navarra; perhaps Pamplona. He must have been open to french influences. After, studying their Ricercare, I think he may have known the style of the unmeasured preludes of J. H. d'Anglebert, Gaspard Le Roux and others. And curiously, his expressive musical language hints at times of Louis Couperin and Jacob Froberger.

The sonatas, on the other hand, summarise the harmonic vertical writing established previously by numerous Spanish organists in their 'Tientos partidos'; a musical type which spread throughout the peninsula. So it seems reasonable to me to see in Albero a composer whose musical formation is based in Spain, and not unduly influenced by Italy.

Almost all musicians who write about the art of Domenico Scarlatti and the binary sonata of his time, instead of paying more attention to the purely musical and expressive content of that class of composition, fall into the grave error of giving excessive emphasis to forms and structures, trying very hard, in vain, to establish connections between the two-part sonata and the future sonata, called 'classic'. Not knowing the past Iberian music and its own evolution, they thought that Scarlatti had to be the alpha and omege of Spanish keyboard music.

Writers who didn't compose strictly according to Neopolitan principles didn't succeed in establishing themselves in Spain or Italy either; they came to be considered as inferior, and were attacked with abusive criticism for having little skill.

This happened, amongst others, to Vicente Rodriguez, Carlos Seixas, Father Antonio Soler and also to Sebastian Albero.

Nevertheless, to be able to outline the development of the Spanish keyboard sonatas of the 18th century, we need to note the contribution Spanish and Portuguese folktunes and traditional Spanish operetta to the melodic lines.

Whatever the appreciation of the historical proof of the Iberian music of the 18th century it must be considered exempt from the shadow of Domenico Scarlatti. Now fortunately the Iberian musicology provides copious reliable documentation from which it can be deduced that the sonata or tocata was well evolved in the Peninsula long before Scarlatti's arrival in Lisbon and Madrid.

These days some studious and ill-informed writers are accustomed to call Spanish music of this period "Scarlattismo", when in fact the Neopolitan influence is modest, forgetting that many of the elements of the music are autonomous and of native root, and were written before Domenico arrived.

In spite of constant corrections the absurd comments over Scarlatti's stay in the peninsula didn't cease.

A few months ago was published in an English journal devoted to the keyboard and article entitled 'The Performer's Approach to Scarlatti' in which the author thinks that some sonatas of the great Domenico show influences of the Fado. How is this possible, knowing the Fado is an imported product which arrived in Portugal only during the second or third decade of the 19th century? It is needless to mention other silly folk attributes to Scarlatti.The activities of the brilliant virtuoso of the keyboard were, above all, confined to the teaching and the environment of his regal pupil Dona Maria Barbara de Braganza, for whom he had to provide sonatas and Ejercicios (exercises) of the highest technical degree. Both master and disciple, perhaps by virtue of their temperament and constitution and the conventions of courtesy in force in formal court ceremonial seem to have yearned for cold perfection rather than the warmth of sentimentality.

Seixas and Soler, on the other hand, composed for audiences less presumptious and inclined to an aestheticism somewhat sentimental. Albero was obliged to adjust his louder and brasher works to better suit the melancholy and sorrowful king, Don Fernando VI. Each type of client wanted his own selections of music. On account of the different environments the unification of styles for all audiences was neither desirable nor feasible.

The best way to compose music springs from the professional environment where one succeeds in putting down roots; learning from other composers; finding an independent and individual personality but never in the manner of a subordinate whom a musicologist of narrow experience might place deservedly or undeservedly on a lone pedestal.

Each one sets his own standard, neither measuring himself to Handel by way of Rameau, nor to Schumann by way of Chopin, or vice versa. So let us not apply other people's brands and inadequacies to Sebastian Albero, but let us be satisfied with his nature. Respecting him, let us be satisfied with his 30 sonatas, published here for the first time; his own particular manner of conceiving, in the 18th century, keyboard music essentially Spanish.

(Taken from essay by M S Kastner, 1978)

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