Tag: Music

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:

 

Basque to conduct inaugural concert at the Olympics of wind music

The Diario Vasco published an interesting report about 36-year-old Txemi Etxebarria, from Bergara, Gipuzkoa, who has been selected to conduct the inaugural concert at the upcoming  WMC Kerkrade,  the world’s most famous international festival of wind music: the World Music Contest. Over three weeks in July the festival will play host to more than 20,000 musicians and 250 bands.

Etxebarria got his musical start in Bergara and Bilbao, but later relocated to the Netherlands and Belgium to pursue a career as a professional conductor. Currently, as well as serving as conductor for the municipal band of Maastricht, in the Netherlands, he is also the musical director of the opera chorus in the same city.

The inaugural concert for the festival takes place on July 6, and Etxebarria will be conducting for one of the most important bands in the Netherlands, the Philarmonie Zuidnederland.

For more information on WMC Kerkrade click here.

To read the original report (in Spanish) click here.

Baiona renames street in honor of Estitxu Robles-Aranguiz

Estitxu Robles-Aranguiz in 1970. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In conjunction with International Women’s Day, the City of Baiona yesterday unveiled a plaque commemorating the life and work of singer Estitxu Robles-Aranguiz Bernaola, known simply as Estitxu or “Beskoitzeko urretxindorra” (the nightingale of Beskoitze), and in doing so named a street in her honor in the city.

She was born in Beskoitze (Briscous), Lapurdi, in 1944 to a family of political refugees from Bizkaia fleeing the Franco dictatorship. Her father, Manu Robles-Aranguiz, was one of the founders of the Basque nationalist labor union ELA, and had himself already been forced into exile during the previous Spanish dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera in the 1920s. Born into a naturally musical family made up of ten siblings, she studied classical guitar and at an early age Estitxu formed the Ainarak (The Swallows) group together with her sisters Edurne, Garbiñe, Gizane, and Maitane; while four of their brothers–Alatz, Irkus, Ugutz, and Iker–created the Soroak quartet. In 1967, at the age of twenty-three she began appearing solo in festivals, performing for the first time in public in Bilbao. A year later she released her first single, and this in turn led to more public performances in Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, and Iparralde, with her rendering of American spiritual, gospel, country, and folk-inspired music in Basque. This early success as a pioneer of the New Basque Folk movement even led to an overseas tour in 1969 when, at the invitation of exiled Basque communities in Latin America, she performed in Mexico and Venezuela. Indeed, her first album was produced in Caracas, and went by the title Una voz increíble (Promus, 1970).

All of this coincided with the waning years of the Franco regime, and her performances in Basque were on more than one occasion subject to strict censorship controls. Still, in the 1970s her recording career really took off as she released a number of singles, albums, and children’s music collections. In the late 1970s and early 1980s she moved away from Basque reworkings of American Folk music toward more traditional Basque music, performing in the United States in 1983. After recording the album Zortzikoak (Xoxoa, 1986), however, she fell ill and was unable to perform for several years. She reappeared in public in 1993, performing a concert in Irun, Gipuzkoa, and signing off by saying “Laster artio, Euskal Herria!” (See you soon, Basque Country!), but three weeks later she was taken ill with cancer once more an died in a Bilbao hospital. A tribute album titled simply Estitxu (Agorila, 1994) was subsequently released in her memory.

January 9, 1844: Opera singer Julián Gayarre born

Julián Gayarre (1844-1890), the great Basque tenor. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On January 9, 1844 Sebastián Julián Gayarre Garjón, known more popularly as just Julián Gayarre, was born into a humble family in Erronkari (Roncal), the principal nucleus of the remote valley of the same name in the far northeast of Navarre. From these humble beginnings he would go on to a have a successful career as an opera singer, gaining international renown as the greatest Italianate tenor of his generation and one of the most famous tenors of all time in the history of opera.

Leaving school at 13 he was immediately put to work as a shepherd, one of the principal means of earning a living in his natal Pyrenean surroundings. A couple of year’s later his father found him work in a notions store in Pamplona-Iruñea. It was in the capital city of Navarre that he first came across professional musicians, and he was even fired from his job for leaving the store one day to follow a band parading in the street outside. He then moved back to his native Erronkari Valley to work in a blacksmith shop in Irunberri (Urunberri in the Eastern Navarrese dialect of Basque,  Lumbier in Spanish). Sticking with the blacksmith trade he found work once more in Pamplona-Iruñea, where he relocated in 1863. Hearing him singing one day, a coworker encouraged him to apply to join the newly founded Orfeón Pamplonés, the city choir, a decision that changed his life.

His rise to fame was in many ways meteoric. Making an immediate impact on the city’s musical elite with the beautiful natural timbre of his voice, a scholarship was arranged to send him to Madrid Royal Conservatory and train properly for a career in professional music. He finished his studies in Madrid in 1868 and was awarded a grant by the Provincial Council of Navarre to continue studying his craft in Milan. Shortly after beginning his studies in Milan, he made his operatic debut in 1869 and thrilled critics with both his voice and commanding stage presence. As a result of his performances throughout Italy in the 1870s he was soon in demand in the great opera capitals of Europe, Paris and London, traveling widely across the continent as a whole as well as to Brazil and Argentina, although his home stage remained the legendary La Scala opera house in Milan.

Gayarre on his debut performance at La Scala, Milan, in 1876. Image from Mundo Gráfico 38 (July 17, 1912), page 5. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Gayarre continued to enthrall audiences across Europe with his wide repertoire, ranging from bel canto works to Wagner’s earlier music-dramas. In the words of Karlos Sánchez Ekiza, in his Basque Classical Music (free to download here): “He was noted for his intense recitals, with a voice capable of incredible range in colour and intensity, all in a clarity of textual performance and perfect diction.” Between the mid-1870s and mid-1880s he consolidated his reputation as the greatest tenor of the age., but thereafter he began to suffer a serious respiratory illness that caused his voice to deteriorate. At what would turn out to be his final performance, at the Royal Theater in Madrid on December 8, 1889, he broke down mid-performance, retiring from the stage claiming he could sing no more. Just a few weeks later, on January 2, 1890, he died in Madrid. His body was thereafter taken back to his beloved Erronkari, to be buried near the very house in which he was born.

Today the principal theater in Pamplona-Iruñea, the Gayarre Theater, bears his name, as does a prestigious biennial international competition in the city, the Julián Gayarre Singing Competition. Moreover, the house where he was born is now the Julián Gayarre Museum-House, and well worth a visit to this beautiful part of Navarre.

Just an additional point of interest to the short but intense life of Julián Gayarre, it is worth underscoring the fact that his first language was Basque, and specifically the Eastern Navarrese dialect of Basque (a dialect that was sadly lost in the twentieth century but for which efforts are being made to revive). Gayarre is reputed to have often closed his solo performances, whether in Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, or any of the numerous Italian cities he toured in, with a performance of the great Basque anthem “Gernikako arbola” (The Tree of Gernika), on which see previous post here and here. Interestingly, too, from his global travels he would write home to his family in Basque, in the Eastern Navarrese dialect, and his letters are preserved to this day as an eloquent testimony to this beautiful, but lost, dialect. The following (somewhat rakish in places) letter, written in 1884, is one such example:

Barcelona 19 Diciembre 1884

        Ene tia Juana maitia

        Eugenia sin da [etorri da] arro[nt] ongui. Quemen gaude anisco ongui guciac eta ori [berori] nola dago?

        Nain din [nahi dun] sin [rin, jin, etorri] [xin]cona [honat, hona] ichasoaren ecustra? Anisco andia da, tia Juana.

        Nai badu nic dud anisco deiru orentaco vidagearen pagateco quemengo ostatiaren pagateco. Eztu eguiten quemen ozic batrere, chaten [xaten, jaten] dugu quemen anisco ongui eta güero artan [artzen, hartzen] dugu iror nescache postretaco eta gazte eta pollit.

        Ha cer vizia! tia Juana maitia, amar urte chiquiago bagunu…

        Gorainzi guzientaco eta piyco bat nescachi pollit erroncarico guziat.

Julian.

In English:

Barcelona, December 19, 1884

My dear aunt Juana,

Eugenia arrived safely. We’re all well here, and you?

Would you like to come and see the sea? It’s enormous, aunt Juana.

If you like, I have enough money to pay for your journey and pay for your hotel here. It’s not cold at all here, we eat very well and three pretty young girls for dessert.

Heavens, what a life!  Dear aunt Juana, if we were ten years younger…

Regards to everyone and a pinch for all the pretty Erronkari girls.

Julian

For more information check out the foundation in his name here.

January 6, 1899: Premiere of first ever opera in Basque

txanton-1

On January 6, 1899, the 3-act opera Chanton Piperri (also spelled Txanton Piperri) was performed for the first time in Donostia-San Sebastián.  It was the first ever full opera in the Basque language, with words by the renowned poet Toribio Altzaga (1861-1941) and music by Buenaventura Zapirain (1873-1937).

Reflecting the Romanticist tendencies celebrating nations that were sweeping Europe at the time, the Basque Country is itself front and center in the opera. The story concerns the damaging effects of the bloody medieval “clan wars” on the country, which only achieves a lasting peace at the dawn of the Renaissance following a miraculous appearance of the Virgin of Arantzazu.

As in other Romanticist operas, the chorus takes on the role of the “people,” in the case the Basque people, driving the dramatic narrative of the plot. Besides this, with three tenors, two baritones, and one bass among the principal singers, there is a marked presence of male voices. In contrast, only one soprano, in the figure of Maricho, takes center stage. That said, the character of Maricho is supported by other female voices in her major appearances: her entrance during the first act, at the end of the second act, and during the grand finale.

Information taken from Patricio Urquizu Sarasua, Teatro Vasco. Historia, reseñas y entrevistas, anotología bilingüe, catálogo e ilustraciones (Madrid: Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, 2010), pp. 158-59.

The music from the opera was performed during the opening ceremony to welcome in the awarding of the European City of Culture title to Donostia-San Sebastián in May 2016. See the full program for that event, with the music and scores (which can be downloaded) here.

If you’re interested in classical music, be sure to check out Basque Classical Music by Karlos Sánchez Ekiza, published by the Etxepare Basque Institute. It’s free to download here.

 

EMUSIK, the European Music School Festival, comes to Donostia

EMUSIK, the European Music School Festival came to Donostia and surrounding towns this past May 4-7. The festival, involving 8,500 pupils of music schools from all over Europe and 120 concerts, was part of the ongoing series of events associated with Donostia’s position as European Capital of Culture 2016.

The city was transformed for a few days into a lively hubbub of sound and color from all corners of Europe.

 

Flashback Friday: A Red Winter’s Night

On September 4, 1991, the Basque rock band Negu Gorriak (“Red Winters”) gave a surprise concert at the main young people’s squat –or Gaztetxea– in Bilbao (Bizkaia). Negu Gorriak was a Basque rock band formed in Gipuzkoa, in 1990. Band members included: Fermin Muguruza, lead singer; Iñigo Muguruza, guitar; Kaki Arkarazo, guitar; Mikel Kazalis, on bass; and Mikel Abrego, on drums. They merged together rock, punk, hip hop, and reggae music. In June 1991, the band released its second album entitled Gure Jarrera (“Our Attitude”), to popular aclaim. Negu Gorriak is considered one of the most influential rock bands in the Basque Country. The band dissolved in 1996.

negu gorriak 1

Promotional portrait of Negu Gorriak, 1991. From left, Mikel Kazalis, Kaki Arkarazo, Mikel Abrego, Fermin Muguruza, and Iñigo Muguruza

negu gorriak

From left, Iñigo Muguruza, Kaki Arkarazo, and Fermin Muguruza of Negu Gorriak


Every Friday we look into our Basque archives for interesting historic events that happened on the same day

It is never too late to travel to the melodies of the Basque Country. When the  lyrics of the Old Country invade your brain…just click on  “Area 33 1/3: Digitized Vinyl from the University of Nevada, Reno,” an eclectic selection of LP tracks converted for streaming from the Library website. In this collection there are sixteen digitized vinyl recordings by Basque groups:

– Euskal Herri Dantzak

-Daikiris

– Errobi. Gure lekukotasuna

– Elgarrekin

– Mai Larralde Etxemendi

– Badok hamahiru:13

-…

The physical albums, stored in the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, were selected for digitization by the UNR Music Faculty. The albums represented in this collection were chosen for their uniqueness, availability, and diversity.

Entzun eta gozatu!

Photos courtesy of the Knowledge Center UNR.

 

“Bertshow,” the Gipuzkoan reconquest of the United States

Get prepared euskaldunak, for an eventful Summer 2015! Incredibly cool events are taking shape to save us from the summer heat. The Atlantic Ocean is going to become the bridge between the Basque Country and the United States. The Basque “exodus” is about to start… Are you ready?

“Bertshow,” the Gipuzkoan reconquest of the United States, consists of a nine-member delegation that will be performing in American Basque Centers during July and August.  This will be a very interesting transcultural experience based on the Basque oral tradition of Bertsos.

The main goal of this project is to bring Basque culture to the diaspora. The project consists of:  music, bertsolaritza, and Basque knowledge transmission. The group is going to speak about topics that should be of great interest to the Basque diaspora.

Bertshow will be a truly unique two-part performance aimed at building a cross-cultural bridge.  The first part will be a review of Basque music, the famous songs that are part of the Basque history, incorporating a performance made up of both singing and speech. The second part, meanwhile, will consist of the traditional bertso-saio musikatua (bertsos set to music) combined with familiar melodies to an American audience from songs such as “Let it Be,” “Blowing in the Wind,” and others in order to create a unique transcultural experience.

After its trip to the American Wild West, the group will compile their experiences in order to tour the Basque Country and share their new found perspective of the Basque diaspora.

They are going to be here, in Reno,  between the August 3 and 6.  

Basic concepts to understand the goals of this team.

1. Bertsoalaritza.

National sport of words.

2. Musika

Music is a universal language able to demolish the boundaries between cultures. A feature connected with Basque identity is knowledge of oral popular songs.  They want to get to know the Basque heritage in the United States. Combining Basque classical music with its newer counterparts.

  • Maite ditut maite (Mikel Laboa)
  • Eperra (Herrikoia -Zuberoa-)
  • Maiteak galde egin zautan (Imanol Larzabal)
  • Nire herriko neskatxa maite (Benito Lertxundi)
  • Martin larralde (Ruper Ordorika)
  • Lau teilatu (Itoiz)
  • Marinelaren zai (Sorotan Bele)
  • Mendigoxaliarena (Ken 7 –Lauaxeta-)
  • Betazalak erauztean (Katamalo)
  • Txoria txori (Mikel Laboa)
  • Xalbadorren heriotzean (Xabier Lete)
  • Izarren hautsa (Mikel Laboa)

3. Talks

The talks are going to be in Basque, with a simultaneous translation to English.  The talk is going to be divided into three topics: culture (what bertsolaritza is, the history of bertsolaritza from Profazadora’s until Maialen Lujanbio, and the tools needed  to create a bertso); the Basque language (The transmission of Basque and bertsolaritza in diglosic areas and the state of the Basque language over the course of the last two centuries); and finally music (the different melodies used in bertsos, a little history about Basque music).

The Bertsolaris:

Jon Martin

Inigo Mantzisidor ‘Mantxi’

Arkaitz Oiartzabal ‘Xamoa’

Jokin Labayen

Manex Mujika

Trasnlator:

Haritz Casabal

Musicians:

Ixak Arruti

Urtzi Olaziregi

Eneko Sierra

Functions:

Boise, Reno, San Francisco, Bakersfield, Las Vegas, San Diego, Los Angeles, New York, and Boston.

Anyone interested in bertsolaritza should check out Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika. This is a collection of essays on both bertsolaritza and other oral traditions from all over the world. These articles include chapters on how bertsos are created, bertsolaris in the American West, and the musical foundations of bertsolaritza. The book is available free to download here.