Castles of Spain

by Thomas Stiegler

Federico Moreno Torroba [1] always reminds me a little of Richard Strauss. Neither were musical innovators, both focused on composing symphonic music, and both saw solid craftsmanship as the best means of turning their dreams and thoughts into fully-fledged works of art.

And there is one more thing they have in common: Both were firmly rooted in the musical tradition of their homeland. While for Richard Strauss it was German symphonic music to which he remained attached throughout his life and which he consistently developed further, for Moreno Torroba it was traditional Spanish music in whose idiom he thought and in whose wake he wrote his masterpieces.

He was not alone in this, by the way, because many of his contemporaries were also striving to create typically Spanish music, such as Manuel de Falla or Joaquin Rodrigo. For this reason, in addition to symphonic works and operas, they also composed numerous works for the guitar, because they were aware of the importance of this instrument for the national musical tradition of Spain. Moreno Torroba’s works are certainly not the best known among them (this place belongs to compositions such as the ballet »The Tricorn« [2] or the »Concierto de Aranjuez«[3]), but their special richness of melodies, colours, and lively rhythms rightly identify Torroba as one of the most important guitar composers of the 20th century.

It is also interesting that Moreno Torroba and his contemporaries had a specific approach to Spanish art and culture, for which there is even a word of its own: Casticismo [4]. In music, this term refers to the combination of folkloristic elements based on Iberian traditions with an impressionistic habitus in order to pay homage to certain places or to represent different moods. This is already recognisable in titles such as »Las Puertas de Madrid« [5] or »Aires de la Mancha« [6], but also in individual movement designations such as: »Dancing a peasant fandango – Dam water – Harvest – Festival in the village – Daybreak – Wedding – Mill path – Childish games.« [7]

This compositional principle is also clearly recognisable in the seven pieces that Torroba compiled in his first volume of »Castles from Spain«. For they are not only a homage to the castles and fortifications of his homeland but also remind us of Spain’s glorious past and speak in a very small space of the pride and longing of the Romans, of their passion, sadness, and the world-weariness known in Portugal as saudade [8].

Turegano

When we think of the Catholic Church today, we usually associate it with things like seriousness, dignity, or boredom. But that was not always the case! In the past, when the Church was much more deeply rooted in the people, it represented a much broader strata of the population. As a result, there was also a much wider range of possibilities for living out one’s faith: from the strict ascetic who, secluded from the world, lived only for himself and God, to the splendour-loving, worldly politicking church prince who let God be a good man and otherwise cared quite little for the welfare of his own soul and that of his fellow human beings.

Perhaps the fortified bishop’s seat »Turegano« reminded Torroba of this latter aspect of church history. For his rondo fantasy radiates a noble cheerfulness, a spirited yes to life, without ever slipping into vulgarity, as we know it from the life stories of the most important (at the same time spiritually and secularly rooted) princes of the church.

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Manzanares el Real

Am I the only one who thinks of Don Quixote when I think of this play? And of his faithful friend Sancho Panza? Maybe it’s just the story behind the composition that conjures up this image for me. The knight of the sad shape who, full of joy and courage, rushes towards a castle without the slightest hope of ever reaching it. Because Manzanares el Real was also supposed to remain out of reach for everyone, not only for the knight of the sad shape, since it was one of the most powerful and imposing buildings of the Spanish Empire. This is why it played such an important role in the power structure of the Spanish kings as Madrid’s last bulwark against attacks from the north, whereby the imposing sight of the castle was usually enough to intimidate enemies and force them to retreat.

In the music, we hear a few chords that from afar remind us of fanfares. This is followed by a graceful theme that evokes memories of the stride of a knightly steed. Perhaps this is supposed to be a lonely knight looking down on the castle from the hill? Dreaming of glorious deeds, in a patched doublet, a broken lance in his hand, standing by the side of his faithful friend Sancho Panza? Hopeless, but full of joy for life?

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Alcaniz

One of the most important bases of the Order of Calatrava [9] was the Castillo de Alcañiz, built around 1200. Since the members of the order were not only simple knights but also monks and scholars, the castle was equipped with a cloister and a church. In the 14th century, by which time the castle was the seat of the Grand Master of Aragón [10], the great residential tower was built above the church porch, and in the 18th century, the Baroque palace of the Master of the Order was built, creating this imposing sight we know today.

Torroba’s composition reminds us that the members of this order were not bearish swashbucklers, nor were they bitter homebodies who were only too happy to swap their swords for pens. Rather, he shows us a completely different picture of them: his dance in triple time is written in a mood of cheerfulness and glee that is much more reminiscent of happy celebrations in convivial company than of war and suffering. And that is right, because perhaps what a wise man once told me is true: only the greatest warriors can savour the days of peace to their fullest.

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“The guitar is a small orchestra.” (A. Segovia)

Sigüenza

In Sigüenza Cathedral lies the tomb of Don Martin Vazquez of Arce [12], one of the most wonderful funerary monuments in Spain. This Don Martin fought alongside the Catholic monarchs Isabella I and Ferdinand V at a young age and fell in the siege of Granada in 1486. In memory, his parents had this structure built, which soon became popularly known as »El Doncel« and of which the philosopher and essayist José Ortega y Gasset was once to say that it was »the most beautiful statue of mourning in Spain.«

I do not know whether Torroba knew the tomb of »El Doncel«, but it seems credible to me, because this fine lullaby, accompanied by almost elegant-sounding chords, fits the mood of this site perfectly. And the subtitle, »The Sleeping Princess«, also speaks for this. This statue has gone down in the history of the common people (due to its soft features and the lovely expression of its face) not as a knight but as a maiden.

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Alba de Tormes

In Alba de Tormes, a small Spanish town and place of origin of the House of Álvarez de Toledo [13], lies the tomb of Saint Teresa de Ávila [14], venerated in the Catholic Church both as a saint and as a Doctor of the Church. Throughout her life, even in her worst moments, she sought to cultivate an intense friendship with God in humility. Probably in memory of her, Moreno Torroba wrote one of his kindest works, a gently flowing banter between bass and treble that runs through the whole piece and never breaks the frame of a quiet modesty.

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Torija

A play about hope. A play that perhaps shows how something new can emerge from ruin and suffering. A play about the history of Torija Castle. Built in the 11th century by the Knights Templar and having risen in numerous wars to become one of their most important fortresses, it was occupied and completely destroyed by the French in the 19th century only to be rebuilt after the withdrawal of the armies of the great Corsican, more beautiful and larger than before.

The music also ties in with this. It begins with a melody that makes us dream. Then we experience a tone of unrest coming from afar, reminding us of the history of this place, only to return to the beauty of the beginning. The repetition is then only like a delicate dream.

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Montemayor

The castle of Montemayor overlooks the plain of Munda, where the armies of Julius Caesar and his adversaries faced off in 45 BC (in the final battle of the Roman Civil War). After his victory in the battle, Caesar gloriously returned to Rome to rule as sole ruler from then on – even if only for a year, because the conspirators were already standing by and seeking his life. But even this murder did not change the fact that the Roman Republic had long since been laid to rest.

Torroba’s tone poem speaks of this event with sadness. Sadness not only about the downfall of the old Republic and the baseness of the people, but above all about the many senseless dead who always have to pay the blood toll for the game of the powerful and over whose empty graves only the cold wind plays its song.

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Source

1 … 1891-1982, Spanish composer

2 … »El sombrero de tres picos«, Manuel de Falla

3 … Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra, Joaquín Rodrigo

4 … Developed in the 18th century as a reactionary counter-movement to the French Enlightenment. It was about defending the Spanish national character in all its expressions (language, culture, religion, etc.).

5 … The city gates of Madrid

6 … The air of La Mancha

7 … From: Moreno-Torroba, »Estampas«

8 … Also known as the Portuguese form of world-weariness, although it can be described more as wistfulness or gentle melancholy than as real pain. It certainly finds its most beautiful form in fado, the Portuguese chanson.

9 … Founded in 1158, it was the first of the great Spanish orders of chivalry.

10 … Palacio de los Comendadores

11 … Subtitled »La Infanta Duerme« (The Sleeping Princess).

12 … 1461-1486, Castilian nobleman and soldier.

13 … The famous Dukes of Alba descended from this line.

14 … Revered in the Roman Catholic Church as a saint and church teacher.

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