Tag: Basque music (page 1 of 6)

March 21, 1941: Birth of composer Sara Soto

Most of you reading this will be aware of the importance of music in Basque culture and we could quite easily dedicate an entire blog to Basque music alone. Today’s Flashback Friday story concerns an interesting figure in the world of Basque music that is sometimes overlooked in studies of the topic. Sara Soto Gabiola was born in Gorliz, Bizkaia, on March 21, 1941, although her family moved to Irun, Gipuzkoa, when she was very young.

Sara Soto Gabiola (1941-1999).

Sara Soto Gabiola (1941-1999).

She suffered from a muscular illness as a child, which limited her ability to move around easily, and she found an escape from the physical limitation imposed on her by developing a keen appreciation for the arts: she drew and painted and was an avid reader. But in was in music that she found her true métier. Although she did undertakle some formal studies of harmony, she was largeñy self-taught.

Her first compositions, influenced strongly by the Basque artistic collective Ez Dok Amairu and in particular Lourdes Iriondo and Xabier Lete (with whom she established a lasting friendship), she started composing songs for accompaniment by the guitar. Lete wrote the lyrics for several of her compositions, including the popular “Kanta Kanta,” recorded by Maria Ostiz in the late 1960s, and Iriondo recorded her song “Maitasun honek zugan dirudi” in the mid-1970s.

In the late 1970s the renowned sculptor, artist, and all-round Basque renaissance figure Nestor Basterretxea commissioned her to compose an accompanying soundtrack for what would become arguably his most famous work, the Serie Cosmogonica Vasca (Basque Cosmogonic Series), today housed in the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum.  The result was the choral work “Karraxis,” based on verses by Basterretxea, which premiered in 1979 in Donostia-San Sebastián with the Ametsa Choir from Irun and some members of the Orfeón Donostiarra choir as well. In the mid-1980s she worked with Basterretxea again to create the “Cripta,” a piece for the organ inspired by the artist’s murals for the crypt in the Sanctuary of Arantzazu.  Although these were her best known works, she composed many more choral and organ pieces and left a profound mark on Basque music. She died in Irun in June 1999.

February 3, 1922: Birth of legendary tambourine player Felisa Arribalzaga

Before the advent of the modern recording industry live music reigned in the popular imagination of people in the Basque Country. One of the great “stars” of this age was Felisa Arribalzaga, born in Muxika, Bizkaia, on February 3, 1922. To say that she was just a panderojole (Basque tambourine player) is to do her a tremendous disservice because she was also an accomplished dancer, singer, and irrintzilari (a performer of the irrintzi, the Basque yell).

Although born in Muxika, on marrying her husband, Eduardo Egiarte, she moved to his home town of Amorebieta-Etxano (also known as Zornotza). The couple had met as teenagers on Mount Bizkargi, between Muxika and Amorebieta, while they were tending their respective flocks of sheep. Egiarte was an accordion player and the couple began performing in Bizkaia under the name the Zornotzako trikitilariak (Zornotza two-row diatonic accordionists). During the Franco years, they continued to perform their Basque music, often clandestinely as it was banned by the regime.

Arribalzaga died in her adopted home town on June 30, 2015.

She remains a great example of how music and dance in traditional Basque culture, according to CBS author Sabin Bikandi, form in many ways a single entity, given that it is impossible to truly understand one without the other.  See Sabin Bikandi, Alejandro Aldekoa: Master of Pipe and Tabor Music in the Basque Country.

For anyone interested in practicing their Western Basque dialect, check out the following 1997 radio interview (with Spanish subtitles) with Egiarte and Arribalzaga:

Alan Griffin and the Alboka

Alan Griffin, an Irish musician, originally playing the flute and the tin whistle in traditional Irish fashion, did not think much of the alboka, the peculiar Basque, single-reed, woodwind instrument, when he first encountered it.  Griffin said that it seemed like “a kind of circus trick”.  Yet, three decades later, he became an influential part of the revitalization of the alboka and traditional Basque music.

Griffin started out playing at informal social gathering for Basque social dinners, and eventually met Txomin Artola while he was playing at a cider house with the music group Ganbara, which included the accordionist Joxan Goikoetxea and they began playing together in the group Folk Lore Sorta, which eventually evolved into the group Alboka along with Josean Martín Zarko.

Joxan Goikoetxea & Alan Griffin. Photo by: Ander Gillenea, uploaded by Aztarna via Wikimedia Commons

Joxan Goikoetxea & Alan Griffin. Photo by: Ander Gillenea, uploaded by Aztarna via Wikimedia Commons

There is so much more to the story of how Griffin, along with his alboka and the group of Alboka helped the revitalization of traditional Basque music, to learn more about the story and Griffin’s thoughts on his musical career, click the following link: https://bit.ly/2pAqCe0.

July 14, 1970: Death of popular Basque tenor Luis Mariano

On July 14, 1970, the popular Basque tenor Luis Mariano died in Paris. Although born in Hegolade, the Southern Basque Country, he became an idol of stage and screen in post-World War II France, where he was one of the biggest stars of operetta. Four months before his death in 1970, already ill for some time with what could have been an untreated case of hepatitis, he wrote: “I was born in a wonderful country that is called the Basque Country.” And his popularity both north and south of the Pyrenees in the country of his birth resounds to this day among many people.

Luis Mariano (1914-1970). Image by Karta24. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Mariano Eusebio González y García was born in Irun, Gipuzkoa, on August 13, 1914. On the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936, together with his parents, he fled north of the border. Settling initially in Baiona, Lapurdi, he joined the Basque exile folklore group Eresoinka, with whom he traveled and performed across Europe in the period 1937-1939. He was also accepted by the music school of Bordeaux, where he studied opera singing and also sang in cabarets by night. His talent was quickly spotted by Jeanne Lagiscarde, who ran the classical department of a Bordeaux record store, and she began to manage his career, relocating him to Paris in the process.

There he continued to perform in stage shows and also in a minor role in the first of several movies he would appear in throughout his career. These were the years of Nazi-occupied Paris, and in the period 1943-1945 he first came to prominence in the world of operetta, performing alongside the likes of Edith Piaf and Yves Montand. His career really took off after the war, however, as he performed in both operettas and movies. As the operetta genre waned in the 1960s, he moved into television performances, yet remained just as popular. In the late 1960s, though, he fell ill and was forced to cancel various shows on account of a nagging fatigue. This culminated in his death in July 1970.

Grave of Luis Mariano in Arrangoitze. Photo by Tibauk. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As per his express wishes, he was buried in the Basque Country, in Arrangoitze (Arcangues), Lapurdi, where he had owned a home for many years. In regard t the Basque Country, he is reported to have said: “I will come to rest forever in this land.”

January 27, 1806: Birth of composer Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga

On January 27, 1806 Juan Crisóstomo Jacobo Antonio de Arriaga y Balzola was born in Bilbao. A child musical prodigy and accomplished composer who died young, he was christened “the Spanish Mozart” after his death.

Juan Crisóstomo Arriagha (1806-1826). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Born in Bilbao into a musical family–his father Juan Simón had been the church organist in Berriatua, Bizkaia, although he later earned a living as a merchant in Bilbao–the young Arriaga showed a great aptitude for music at an early age.  Juan Crisóstomo was duly sent to study music in Paris at age fifteen, where he made an immediate impact. Indeed, his progress was such that he soon became a teaching assistant at the Paris Conservatory, where he was especially renowned for  a natural talent for musically sophisticated harmonies, counterpoint, and related techniques. Within four years he composed numerous works and was a well-known figure in the cultural world of Paris, the musical capital of the world at that time.  However, this intense activity would also take its toll on the young Basque, and he ten days short of his twentieth birthday he died, possibly due to a lung ailment like tuberculosis, or possibly even from sheer exhaustion.

“Perhaps,” argues Barbara Rosen (Arriaga, p. 33) , “Arriaga’s predilection for dramatic, austere, and somber laments for voice and orchestra (Medea, Agar, Erminia) can be traced to this characteristic of the songs originating in the Basque areas of northern Spain.”

Today, Bilbao’s principal theater, the Arriaga Theater, is named in his honor.

Check out Barbara Rosen, Arriaga, The Forgotten Genius: The Short Life Of A Basque Composer (Reno: Basque Studies Program,  University of Nevada, Reno, 1988).

And listen to one of his compositions, Quartet No. 2 in A major: III. Menuetto, below:

 

What’s in a Song? Agur Xiberoa

Agur Xiberoa (Farewell Xiberoa) is one of the canonical songs in the Basque songbook, simultaneously a lament to the impact of enforced displacement as well as a testament to the powerful connection between people and place.

It was written in 1946 by Pierre Bordazaharre, also known as Etxahun-Iruri (1908-1979), from Iruri in Xiberoa (today known as Zuberoa). During his compulsory schooling (through age 13) Etxahun-Iruri was a good student and displayed a special interest in literature, becoming an avid reader for the rest of his life. Opportunities for humble rural people, however, to develop such interests further beyond the end of their school years were few and far between at the time and having finished his formal education he carried on the family farming tradition.

This did not prevent him, though, from taking an active part in Basque culture: he was involved in both the maskaradak and pastoralak, two key expressions of Basque culture in Zuberoa. Additionally, he also authored and helped to revolutionize the pastorala in the twentieth century, introducing more specifically Basque themes into the art form; and he was an accomplished xirulari or pipe player, wrote poetry, and was a bertsolari or improvising oral poet.

Agur Xiberua is a lament, the story of the enforced displacement many inhabitants of the province were forced to undertake in search of work and better opportunities than their homeland could offer. It stands as a testament to the cultural importance of Basque exile more generally, although its cheery tune also serves to celebrate the memory of homeland, family, and friends.

The chorus captures all of this perfectly:

Agur Xiberoa                                                            Farewell Zuberoa,

bazter güzietako xokhorik eijerrena          the most beautiful place on earth;

agur sor lekhia                                                         farewell, native land,

zuri ditit ene ametsik goxuenak                    my sweetest dreams go to you

bihotzan erditik                                                      from the bottom of my heart;

bostetan elki deitadazüt hasperena          I have often heaved a sigh,

zü ützi geroztik                                                       since I left you;

bizi niz trixterik                                                       I live in sorrow,

abandonatürik                                                         abandoned,

ez beita herririk                                                      for there is no city,

Parisez besterik,                                                    except Paris,

zü bezalakorik.                                                       which is your equal.

Some of the themes mentioned here, such as the new emphasis on Basque instead of more generically religious or French themes in the cultural expression of the pastorala as well as the impact of emigration from Zuberoa, are discussed in detail by Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga in The Transformation of National Identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006.

*Information sourced for this post from Orhipean, The Country of Basque.

July 13, 1955: Birth of pilotari Panpi Ladutxe

On July 13, 1955, one of the great characters in the modern age of pilota (also spelled pelota) was born in Azkaine, Lapurdi: Panpi Ladutxe (also spelled Pampi Laduche). The son of another famous pilotari or Basque handball player, Joseph Ladutxe, he began his career in the four-walled trinkete (closed court) version of the sport more common in Iparralde or the Northern Basque Country, where he was from, becoming world champion in this version at the tender age of 19. He later switched to the three-walled (open court) fronton variety more common in Hegoalde or the Southern Basque Country in his mid-20s, winning two doubles titles in 1987 and 1989, partnered by Joxean Tolosa.

Ladutxe stood out in many ways, being the first player from Iparralde to gain success in Hegoalde in the modern age. After retirement he went on to promote and develop the sport in and train fellow players from Iparralde, two of whom in particular–Sebastien Gonzalez and Yves Salaberri or “Xala”–went on to enjoy great success, following in his footsteps. He has also been a great showman away from the court, enjoying some success as a singer of traditional Basque songs both live and in the release of two records: Aitari (1995) and Chansons du Pays Basque (2002).

Highlights from the 54th National Basque Festival

Just in case anyone out there hasn’t seen this, we’re posting this charming video showcasing the music and dance of the 54th National Basque Festival that took place recently, June 30-July 2, in Elko. As you’ll see, a good time was evidently had by all!

May 31, 1910: Premiere of opera Mirentxu

On May 31, 1910 the Basque-themed opera Mirentxu, with music by Jesús Guridi and libretto by Alredo Echave, premiered in the Teatro Campos Elíseos in Bilbao. It actually premiered as a zarzuela, but was transfomred into an opera in two acts and an epilogue in 1912.

It’s an intense Romantic tale of a love triangle involving three principal characters, Mirentxu,  Raimundo, and Presen,  with Mirentxu ultimately representing the tragic heroine of the piece.

See Natalie Morel Botrora, “Mirentxu, idylle lyrique basque en deux actes” (in French).

A video journey to the heart of the Basque Country

Check out these great introductory videos charting a recent journey to the heart of the Basque Country, Xiberoa, from our friends at About Basque Country:

According to the blog, this was in part a journey made by Basques from the South in order to connect with their cousins in the North, a trip through the Basque Country and the variety of cultures, dialects, and landscapes that make up these distinct parts of Euskal Herria.

 

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