Joaquín Turina (b. 1882, Seville; d. 1949, Madrid)
Turina has often been viewed as a poor relation to the Albéniz-Granados-Falla triumvirate. While the Sevillian cannot claim the pioneering status of the first two or the endless capacity for artistic discovery of the last, his unique musical voice merits more serious attention and higher regard than it has received. In a perceptive program note entitled "Spanish Music and Culture at the Turn of the Century: Joaquín Turina," Antoni Pizà of the CUNY Music Department postulated a political interpretation of the composer's dubious
reputation. According to this view, Turina's loyalty to Franco's regime earned him the scorn of more
progressive-minded musicians and critics, including Gilbert Chase, author of a leading English-language resource on Spanish music. Whatever the underlying motivation, Chase's complaint of a formulaic approach to composition and a stifled artistic development seems to have subtly infected critical esteem for
the composer. In fairness, the charge of a certain sameness in Turina's output is not groundless, but it presupposes a Beethovenian model of artistic evolution as the sole ideal. By such criteria, the work of a Chopin or a Mompou must also be judged wanting, since such composers carve out and inhabit their unique niches early on. Moreover, the adherents to Chase's perspective ignore the specific characteristics that make the "Turina sound" an instantly identifiable musical presence. Fertile melodic invention, infectious indigenous rhythms, dizzying harmonic parallelisms, shimmering sonorous effects - one imbibes and inhales Turina's music as much as one hears it. At the same time, the intense sensuality is balanced by a rigorous sense of form and order, the product of Turina's studies with Vincent d'Indy at the Parisian Schola Cantorum.
In this regard, the music is remarkable not only for its adherence to traditional forms, but for the freedom and creativity with which Turina handles them. In this sense, he does not fit into the neo-classical movement so much in vogue in the 1910's and 20's, because his classicism is of a more sincere and vital nature. Turina doesn't merely remember earlier styles or pay homage to his musical predecessors: he speaks in the syntax of a seemingly native language. Indeed, as his opus 1 - a neo-Franckian piano quintet - demonstrates, Turina's assimilation of Schola Cantorum compositional techniques was in place even before the composer began to exploit his country's own musical resources. When he turned to his native land for inspiration, Turina honored Falla's artistic aspiration in creating Spanish music "with vistas towards Europe." The three piano trios speak of Spain, but in an international language.

Trio No. 1 for Piano, Violin, and Cello, Op. 35 (1926)
The opening Prélude et fugue juxtaposes searing chromatic interplay between the two string instruments with the rhythmic dignity of French-overture dotted figures in the piano part. Turina's employ of such traditional gestures seems void of self-conscious parody: the drama is uniquely Iberian. The Prélude also serves as a thematic repository for the subsequent Fugue, presenting at first in the cello part the theme of a major episode. Turina labels his fugue "à l'inverse," no doubt an allusion to his reversal of the form's conventional unfolding. Whereas fugues are "supposed to" commence with a clear and complete statement of the subject in each part and reserve the piling-up of overlapping statements known as stretti for the end, Turina's essay wrecks havoc with these major structural signposts. Moreover, in its use of contrasting episodes and key scheme, the movement is as much a sonata form as it is a fugue. Still, after the Prélude's emotional intensity and flexibility, the gradual flowering of the Fugue's expanse from so simple a melodic germ affirms the rectitude of Turina's title.
Thème et variations is another traditional form employed here with considerable licence. The movement is in reality a picture-postcard tour of Spain, featuring folk music from diverse regions in each variation.
Brooding with intimations of Andalusian cante jondo, the theme itself frames the entire movement. The first variation visits the northwestern region of Galicia with a sprightly muiñeira (miller's dance). Madrid is the next stop for a taste of zarzuela represented by the chotis dance. Next, the piano takes center stage for a tour of Basque country in the unmistakable 5/8 dotted rhythm of a zortziko. In the fourth variation, violin and cello alternate pizzicato and arco techniques to evoke traditional plucked accompaniment of the Aragonese jota. Finally, Turina returns to his native Andalusia for the fifth variation with its intimations of a mournful soleá punctuated by guitar-like falsetas in the piano part.
The concluding Sonate is true to the eponymous form, although Turina cannot resist recycling themes from the earlier two movements in the development and coda. Particularly Iberian is the secondary theme, with its alternations of 3/4 and 6/8 rhythms; the concluding apotheosis, a grandiose transformation of the first movement's fugal subject, seems more rooted in neo-Franckian piety.

Trio No. 2 for Piano, Violin, and Cello, Op. 76 (1933)
Somewhat more concise than the first trio, Turina's second essay in this form is another three-movement work that reconciles traditional musical forms with Spanish folk idioms. After a three-bar introduction, the first movement pursues a theme of Brahmsian heft, symmetry, and rhythm. The earnestness of this opening gesture is balanced by a more relaxed second theme group, that conveys an aura of carefree improvisation above an harmonically static accompaniment.
Written in the 5/8 of a Castilian rueda, the second movement functions as a sort of scherzo. Above the meter's relentless bustle, Turina floats Flamenco-like flourishes as well as more sustained lyrical lines.
The last movement's form is less clearly discernible, although the presence of two contrasting theme groups and the return of the first in the home key at the end incline towards sonata form. An intensely expressive introduction on shifty chromatic ground yields to the first of these principal themes, stated initially by the piano. Its stark parallelisms are gradually mollified with each successive statement, as Turina furnishes increasingly elaborate counterpoints and accompaniments. As if to balance the first theme's aura of solemn ritual, the secondary material bursts upon the scene with dance hall garishness and irresistible syncopation. The movement makes an obligatory nod at cyclical form as well, briefly alluding to the first movement's main themes, before its ultimate climax and heroic transformation of the primary idea.

Círculo: Fantasía para piano, violín y violoncello, Op. 91 (1936)
In his final essay for piano trio, Turina seems to have hit upon a program tailor-made to his penchant for cyclical forms: the progress of a single day, from dawn (Amanecer), through midday (Mediodía), to dusk (Crepúsculo). Círculo was Turina's final composition completed before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, although its elegiac mood almost willfully refutes the incertitude and menace of the contemporary political scene.
Depending on the subjectivity of one's perspective, Amanecer either evolves from lazy yawns and stretches to manic activity, or follows the rising sun from its first blushes to full-fledged radiance. In Mediodía Turina indulges in a bit of españolado ("Spanishism"). The swagger of a Flamenco cantaor accompanied by strummed guitars, the pomp and ceremony of the bullring - few Spanish stereotypes are spared in this lively depiction of popular culture. Still, the music has a magnetic appeal that lies in its garbo - a frequent interpretive directive in this movement implying both grace and self-assured charm. A brief flourish connects Mediodía to Crepúsculo.
Allegro vivace - Allegro - Allegro molto moderato - Andantino - Andante - Lento. A mere perusal of Crepúsculo's tempo indications reveals the ebbing energies conveyed in Turina's evocation of day's end.
Not only does the composer reverse the first section's dynamic organization, but - after developing several new ideas - he recapitulates the main themes of the second and ultimately first movements now attired in nocturnal garb.
Text by Adam Kent ©2000


updated: 8/11/2011