Sebastian Albero (Kastner and Galvez)
Josep Galles (Bengt Johnsson)
Josep Nebra (Maria-Salud Alvarez)
Antonio Soler(Martin Voortman)

Percy Scholes, in his 1938 "Oxford Companion to Music" - still the standard music reference book for many- has little to say about early keyboard music from Spain and Portugal. Antonio Soler gets a mention (1729-83): "Soler wrote a famous book on the organ.....he also wrote harpsichord pieces published in London....they were written when Scarlatti was in Madrid and appear to have influenced him..." . The blind organist Antonio de Cabezon is passed over briefly ("1510-66;..showed an advanced keyboard style....one of the earliest composers for keyboard instruments....") ...but that's about it. However, since Scholes published his book, a good deal of Spanish and Portuguese music has been discovered. Most of it has not yet reached the repertoire, and the average music graduate is unaware of its existence, but we occasionally hear odd snippets on radio 3 and Classic FM. I have heard the Soler fandango played on harpsichord twice in the last year, for example; highly virtuostic and exciting.

Not much of the Iberian repertoire has been made available in modern editions, and many of those items which have are not easily obtainable in the UK through being published by small Editoriales. One specialist in this repertoire who has information about scores and textbooks is John Collins; amongst his clients are several Colleges and Universities. John has said that he would be happy to be contacted with questions about the availability of specific volumes and may be reached either via email johnartcollins@yahoo.com or phone 01903 233117 (evenings would be better).

I am a pianist and I have listed below some information on early Spanish and Portuguese music which I consider worth playing on the piano. I do not play the organ or harpsichord well and cannot comment on the music's suitability for these instruments. This section will be periodically updated as time permits.

Students please note: although I have played a wider range of the repertoire than many musicians, I do not claim 'authenticity' of performance. Nor am I a virtuoso. If an ornament is impossible to play or if it sounds awkward, my experience as a composer means that I will not hesitate to alter it or miss it out. What works on the harpsichord does not necessarily sound good on the modern piano; a plucked string sounds quite unlike one which is struck.

So - on to the composers......

SEBASTIAN ALBERO (1722-1756) Albero was first organist of the Royal Chapel, Madrid, 1748-1756. Scarlatti was also employed by the Royal family 1733-1757 but in a different capacity. Albero wrote "30 Sonatas for the clavichord", published in 1978 by UME, Madrid. Comparing his work to that of Scarlatti, there are superficial similarities; their sonatas are binary and generally quite short and, but Albero's are more Spanish in flavour. There are clashes reminiscent of castanets, (eg sonata 6, bars 5-7) strong pulsing rhythms (nos. 9 and 12), and short angular figures repeated at different pitches. His harmonic language is advanced, and chords are sometimes bare, lacking the third and often consisting of a doubled tonic. Like Scarlatti, he places his sonatas in pairs with tonalities closely related: in the same key, or major-minor, or similar. Scarlatti generally uses the same, or, less frequently, a relative tonality (see Kenneth Gilbert editions, where Kirkpatrick's numbering is followed). With Albero, a slow piece follows an allegro, or there are two allegros of differing character. In the collection there are two excellent fugues: sonatas 15 and 30; more monumental and logical than those of Scarlatti, Seixas or Soler. At times there are hints of other composers in his shifting harmonies, and it is just possible that he knew pieces by the Italian and German schools; Frescobaldi, for example, appears in the Martin y Coll MSS. At other times his modulations are harsh and rather abrupt. In less enlightened times there was a tendency to regard him as an inferior Scarlatti, but Kastner (1978) says "let us not apply other people's brands and inadequacies to Sebastian Albero; respecting him, let us be satisfied with his 30 sonatas as they are, representing his own particular manner of conceiving keyboard music essentially Spanish". It is difficult to disagree with this; they are approachable for the amateur, lie well under the fingers, and with few exceptions are extremely effective on the piano. It is likely that when Albero is better known his works will be regular concert items.

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Edition: Tecla Aragonesa, volume 6: Six Sonatas, ed. J.G.Lopez. Zaragoza, 1998. Lopez describes Cosuenda as probably the best Spanish harpsichord composer of the period. He was a child chorister in the Collegiate church of Daroca, and then a tenor. He applied for the job of organist in 1757 but was unsuccessful. He applied for a number of similar positions at different churches and cathedrals, and was eventually appointed organist of Tarazona Cathedral in 1764 by competitive examination, keeping the position until his death. It is recorded in the chapter minutes for 1779 that a harpsichord and spinet were in active use in the cathedral.

The six sonatas are from a block of seven in the manuscript of Valderrobres. They are entitled "Seven sonatas by Mariano Cosuenda, the organist of the Cathedral of Tarazona", but sonata 7 is not included in the edition because it corresponds to Scarlatti K29.

The pieces are all binary and in one movement, apart from no. 5 which is in two. They have strong harpsichord character but they sound well on the piano. The distinguishing feature of Cosuenda's music is the presence of unusual arpeggiated figures which sweep up and down the keyboard, brilliant in texture. There are no singing melody lines, but there is an unusually strong rhythmic drive; even stronger than that of Josep Nebra. His work, more pianistic than either Soler or Albero, deserves to be better known. Newcomers to his music should try sonata 2 followed by sonata 4.

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MANUEL RODRIGEUZ COELHO (c1555-1635): PORTUGAL Organist at cathedrals of Badajoz, Elvas and organist/clavier player at Lisbon. Works: Flores de Musica, 1620, Lisbon. 2 vols, Portugaliae Musica I/III 1959/61, ed. M. Kastner. Coelho's tientos are quite long and fairly loosely structured and are really only suitable for the organ. For performance on the piano, the scores of these and his other pieces do not look promising. But for the pianist who can play them through at sight, they show surprising inventiveness and ingenuity; they sound better than they look. Nimble fingers are needed for the quicker parts, as with John Bull's pieces, since the elaborations of the melodies often involve rapid semiquaver runs.

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Edition: 22 Sonatas for the Clavichord or Harpsichord, Scala Aretina Ediciones Musicales, Mollerussa, Espana, 2001. Little is known of Espona. The following notes are taken from the above edition. He was born in Barcelona in 1714, and died in 1779. He became a monk in 1733, at El Escalonia monastery. He may have been one of the musical instructors of Antonio Soler (1729-1783). He wrote vocal music, organ pieces, and sonatas for keyboard. The editor believes that they should be played on the clavichord. I have tried them on the piano, and they seem as effective as Soler or Scarlatti on this instrument. Particularly good are the ones in D minor: nos. 1,2 and 17. No.16 corresponds to Scarlatti L339 transposed from D. Scala Aretina are to be commended for bringing out this interesting collection.

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FREIXANET Edition: 3 harpsichord sonatas, Scala Aretina, Ediciones Musicales, Mollerussa, Espana, 2001. According to the editor, very little is known of this composer, but he is probably Joseph Freixanet, born around 1730, a boy singer at Lerida cathedral. These are his only known sonatas. They sound well on the piano, and are of the Soler - Scarlatti - Albero type. All of them contain a mixture of quaver and triplet rhthyms and show a confident, fluent style; it is unlikely that these are the only pieces he wrote.

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JOSEP GALLES (1758-1836) Galles is not mentioned in Grove. The information here is paraphrased from the introduction to "23 keyboard sonatas", transcribed by B. Johnssohn and revised by G. Estrada, published by the Insttut d'Estudies Catalans, Societat Catalana de Musicologia, Barcelona, in 1995. Joachim Nin published six of these sonatas in 1928, elaborating on them a little as with his Soler edition. The Johnssohn - Estrada edition is faithful to the original manuscript. The sonatas, as Roma Escalas points out, fill a gap in the evolution of Spanish keyboard music;..." they link the more baroque style of Soler, Nebra (see later) and Scarlatti and the classical style in which can be heard the central European influences of Haydn and Mozart." The exact date of composition of these sonatas is not known. They appear suited to either piano or harpsichord. As for my own impressions: I am struck by the graceful, flowing melody lines in many of these pieces, the relatively simple style and the sparing use of ornamentation. There are often interesting modulations: for example, sonata 1 goes from Bb to Db and back to Bb; sonata 6 goes from Ab to B and back again.There is some cross-hands work but this is used sparingly, and is not technically demanding. The most beautiful of these sonatas; the longest by some margin, is no. 22: it hints at Mozart, J.C.Bach, and the classical style, but is rooted in a quite different tradition.

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FELIX MAXIMO LOPEZ (1742-1821) Works played: Dos. Juegos de Variaciones sobre el "Minue Afandango" for fortepiano, ed. G. Galvez, Madrid, 2000; Sonata Gm ed. G. Doderer, Organica Hispanica, 1976. If these pieces are representative of Lopez's output, he writes good, unpretentious music; it lies well under the hand and each idea flows well from into the next. We are a long way from the baroque style here; arpeggiated and Alberti-type figures occur, and there is virtually no contrapuntal writing. There is a new edition of Lopez available, just published, edited by Alberto Cobo, and an earlier edition by Alma Espinosa.

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FRANCESC MARINER (1720-1789) Obres per a Clave, published by Trito, Barcelona, 1997, ed. Martin Voortman. Toccatas, sonatas, pastorellas and other pieces suitable for the harpsichord. Mariner was an organist at the cathedral in Barcelona. A second volume containing his organ pieces is expected to appear. I have played these through once on the piano. They lie well under the fingers, and are fairly diatonic; the basses move slowly and often contain broken chords or repeated notes. The key signatures contain a maximum of 4 flats or 2 sharps and the modulations are to closely related keys. They are pleasant, light pieces with little contrapuntal character.

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JOSEP NEBRA (1702-1768) Editions: Tecla Aragonesa, vol III, transr. Maria-Salud Alvarez. Institucion "Fernando el Catalico", Zaragoza, 1995; also Tocatas y sonata para organo o clave, transcr. R. Escalas, 1987. The introductions to these volumes are in Spanish but "organista y vicemaestro de la Capilla Real, vicerrector del Colegio de Ninos Cantores y maestro de clave del infante don Gabriel" shows him to be primarily an organist. These pieces are well crafted binary sonatas; they have an impressive rhythmic drive, lie well under the fingers, and yet the figurations they use are often angular and at first appearance, rather awkward. The sonata no. 1 in G from the Escalas volume is very fine, and the sonata in F from the Alvarez volume is a model of elegance and control.

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VICENTE RODRIGUEZ (1690-1760) Edition: Thirty sonatas and a pastorella, 1744, cat. Orfeo Catalia of Barcelona, ms 12-VII-21. Pub. A-R Editions, Inc., Madison, Wisconsin, 1986. Edited by Almonte Howell. According to this publication, Rodrigues was the successor of Cabanilles. Organist, Valencia cathedral, 1713; ordained 1723. Continued as first organist until 1760. Howell gives the following information: 'The ms. is inscribed as follows: "Book of toccatas for harpsichord, distributed over all the notes of the octave...because of the out-of tuneness of their terminal harmonies, they occur in their least ill-sounding form..."(this is a reference to mean-tone tuning)..... These are the earliest known sonatas by a native Spaniard.' The texture is two-part, and at best, these pieces are well-crafted, show interesting ideas and modulations, and compare with the best of Soler. However, there is a lot of crossed-hands work in some of the pieces which, although adding to the technical difficulty, does not improve the music. The editor also recommends the judicious use of cuts in those places which would seem to benefit from them. There is a tendency towards repetitiousness in the spinning out of a figure to extreme lengths.

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CARLOS SEIXAS (1704-1742): PORTUGAL Organist at Coimbra Cathedral, then Lisbon Cathedral, where he became Vice Chapel Master, when the Chapel Master was Domenico Scarlatti. Works: 80 keyboard sonatas (ed. Kastner c1965), 25 sonatas (ed. Kastner, c1980); 15 sonatas (c1998, of which 7 are new). Predominantly two-part in texture. Variable in quality. The harmony is very simple, and most of the interest is in the melody line; there is little contrapuntal character. His slow movements are often melancholy and in minor keys. Some of the pieces hint at classical ABA form. The phrasing is often irregular and rather angular. The harmony is generally two-part.

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SOLER (1729-83) is probably the best known of the early Iberian composers; the Joachim Nin edition (published by Eschig in 1925) contains pianistic versions of about a dozen of his sonatas, fairly short and more or less in the style of Scarlatti. More sonatas gradually came to light, and Samuel Rubio brought out an expanded edition between 1958 and 1962; volume 6 reaches sonata 99. Rubio has a much lighter and more scholarly approach than Nin, confining himself to a careful transcription of the pieces, though before criticising Nin it must be remembered he is writing primarily for the pianist. Although there are similarities in style between Soler and Scarlatti, Soler's works tend to be more extended, often in several movements, and the figurations more virtuostic. Frederick Marvin brought out another edition in 1969 (pub. Mills Music), with yet more sonatas; without consulting Grove I am not sure of the count but I think it approaches 200. The following remarks are paraphrased from Rubio's edition:

Father Antonio Soler, monk of the order of St. Jerome in the Monastery of El Escorial from 1752 until his death must be considered the most distinguished musician of eighteenth century Spain. He played, taught, wrote treatises, composed, and made instruments himself. But he will be remembered above all for his compositions. As to his sonatas, we place them with those of Scarlatti, but Scarlatti's influence is not so great as some would have us think. Instead of the lyrical expansion of the Italian melody, Soler prefers the brief and graceful motives of elements to be found in Spanish dances. In spite of the many Italianisms his musical language is essentially Spanish.

It is difficult to see how Soler managed to create so many works in the scant spare time he had between his religious duties at the monastery. His sonatas have qualities which seem to give a foretaste of Haydn and Mozart, of whose existence he was probably unaware. In all justice we can call him the Spanish Mozart; Kastner comments that Soler's music is radiantly joyful, merry, mischievous, lively and light.

There is no autograph copy of any of Soler's sonatas. The existing manuscripts are all of a rather later date, and are often the work of amateurs who, not understanding the original, put in their own corrections. The Rubio edition offers a "guarantee of genuineness"; in compiling it, all of the mss of Soler know at the time were consulted.

Frederick Marvin writes the following in his later edition of the sonatas, which is again paraphrased: Soler was only six years old when he enrolled in the famed singing school at the Monastery of Montserrat. At the early age of 23, he was appointed organist and Master of Chapel at El Escorial monastery near Madrid. He tooks his vows the next year and worked for the rest of his life in these sombre surroundings. He taught Gabriel, son of Carlos III, who was also his patron, and he dedicated the bulk of his works for the enjoyment of the prince.

Marvin had collected over 180 sonatas in manuscript by 1957, and these give a clear picture of Soler's development. The most daring pieces, in harmony and form, seem to come from his middle period, but it is impossible to attach dates because all the mss. are copies.

The piano was a well-known instrument to Soler, and there was one at the monastery when he arrived. His use of colour in these works shows that he had the piano in mind when composing. He also wrote for the organ.

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The BRITISH HARPSICHORD SOCIETY website has more information on harpsichord music, and many reviews, including some by John Collins:


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Nigel Deacon

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