With this choreography the CND wishes to transmit the emotions of returning to listening to music, of resonating with it and enjoying it through movement.
The Compañía Nacional de Danza (CND) debuted a choreography with music by the city of Bilbao’s Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga, considered the Iberian peninsula’s leading exponent of the late-classical music movement. Commissioned by the Festival de Granada, the piece is a tribute to the composer and to the work he produced in his short but prolific life.
The music chosen for this choreography comprises Arriaga’s three string quartets of 1824, published by Ph. Petit and highly admired both by his maestro, Fétis, and by the public at large. As Fétis said in his own book, Biographie universelle des musiciens et biographie générale de la Musique (1834, re-published en 1860), Arriaga possessed “the gift of invention and the most complete aptitude for all the difficulties of his art,” adding “it is impossible to imagine anything more original, more elegant, or more purely and correctly written than these quartets.” The instruments for the piece are two violins, one viola and one cello. The pieces are:
ü Quartet No. 1 in D minor: III. Menuetto: Allegro-Trio: Più moderato
ü Tema Variado Op. 17: Andante, Variation 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and Variation Largo
ü Cuarteto No. 1 D Minor: II. Adagio con espressione
ü Cuarteto No. 1 D Minor: IV. Adagio-Allegretto
The central axis of the choreography is the repetition of a melody, as a leitmotiv, taking on different shapes, rhythms and keys. This allows the music to adopt different styles as it drives forward from a classical and neoclassical idiom to arrive at an idiom of contemporary movement.
Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga
Bilbao, 1806 – Paris, 1826
Basque composer (Bilbao, 1806 – París, 1826); considered the Iberian Peninsula’s leading exponent of the late-classical music movement.
He was brought up in the bosom of a musical family. His maternal grandfather, Miguel Balzola, had been both an organist and a piano maker. His father, Juan Simón de Arriaga, also played the organ in Berriatua (Biscay), before becoming a literacy teacher in Guernica. That work won his father accolades from the Real Sociedad Bascongada de Amigos del País, highlighting his affinity with the enlightenment movement.
In 1804, Juan Simón moved to Bilbao to take up a position as clerk. There, he would also prosper as a merchant shipper. Meanwhile, it seems another of his sons, Ramón Prudencio, was an equally gifted guitarist and violinist.
We know Juan Crisóstomo was brought up among the streets of the old quarters of Somera and Ronda, yet details of his early musical background evade us. Apart from his father’s influence on him, he was evidently a pupil of Fausto Sanz, violinist at the Santiago basilica and all accounts point to Arriaga’s musical talents being aired at local salons and orchestral events. At eleven years of age, he composed a trio called Nada y mucho (to become an octet a century later). That was before he signed his official “Opus 1”, an Overture for nonet in 1818. A year later, he worked on his Los esclavos felices (The Happy Slaves – 1819), a semi-serious opera based on the play by Francisco Comella and for which only the overture remains complete. During this period he also wrote some hymns and patriotic marches, tinged with liberal influences, as well as a Stabat Mater (c. 1821), possibly for Bilbao’s Cappella Musicale.
Encouraged by praise from such luminaries as Bilbao chapel master José Sobejano, the tenor Manuel García and the violinist Francesco Maria Vaccari, he moved to París in 1821. There, he undertook official studies in harmony and counterpoint with François-Joseph Fétis and violin with Pierre Baillot. In 1823, after receiving second prize in the conservatory’s annual counterpoint and fugue contest, Fétis made him class assistant. A year later, his three string Quartets, published by Ph. Petit, received Fétis’ glowing admiration. From there, his body of work swelled. A Symphony “for large orchestra” was followed by new religious works. Indeed, his lost fugue, Fuga a 8—on a phrase from the Creed—was reportedly hailed a “masterpiece” by the conservatory director, Luigi Cherubini. Then came a number of profane cantatas and arias. In Paris, while revising some of his earlier works from Bilbao, he struck up a friendship with pianist Pedro Albéniz, a fellow Spaniard from the neighbouring province of Rioja.
In the midst of such intense activity, Arriaga died of a pulmonary infection, just days before his twentieth birthday. Thus fell the final curtain on the career of the Basque Country’s most prodigious and precocious musical talent, whose work was showing mature romantic notions. With that, the early enthusiastic public reception of his music was also curtailed, both in France and Spain.
A eulogistic reference to his work was made in Fétis’ Biographie universelle des musiciens et biographie générale de la Musique (1834, reprinted in 1860), marking the first step in rescuing Arriaga’s legacy. Here, Fétis said his disciple possessed “the gift of invention and the most complete aptitude for all the difficulties of his art.” He added, “it is impossible to imagine anything more original, more elegant, or more purely and correctly written than these quartets.” Towards the end of that century, his great nephew, Emiliano de Arriaga, led efforts to recuperate his ancestor’s legacy. Indeed, with the help of publishers Louis Dotesio, together with the Sociedad de Cuartetos de Bilbao, created in 1884, Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga became a veritable icon and legend in Bilbao. At that time, Emilio Arrieta coined the expression “Spain’s Mozart” in reference to his relative’s creative genius. The groundswell culminated in the creation of a “Permanent Commission” (“Comisión Permanente” – 1887) aimed at honouring and divulging Arriaga’s legacy. Following the 1906 centenary celebration of his birth, the artist Francisco Durrio was commissioned to create a monument to Arriaga—not finally inaugurated until 1933. Both Bilbao’s main music conservatory and theatre are named after the musician.
Works: Nada y mucho; Los esclavos felices; Tema variado en cuarteto; Variaciones sobre el tema de ‘La Húngara’; Stabat Mater; three Estudios (Caprichos) and one Romanza for piano; three strng Cuartetos; Ouverture pastorale; Symphony in D; Salve Regina; Misa à 4; Medée; Ma tante Aurora; Oedipo à Colonne; Herminie; Agar dans le désert; as well as lost pieces and fragments.
Mario Lerena (Bilbaopedia)