Castles of Spain
by Thomas Stiegler
Federico Moreno Torroba always reminds me a little of Richard Strauss. Neither were they musical innovators, both concentrated on the composition of symphonic music and both saw in a solid craft the best means to create fully-fledged works of art.
But while with R. Strauß it was German symphonic music that he consistently developed further, with 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 also strove to create typically Spanish music, such as M. de Falla or J. Rodrigo. And so, in addition to symphonic works and operas, they all composed numerous works for the guitar, because they were aware of the importance of this instrument for the national musical tradition of Spain.
For its access to Spanish art and culture there is even a word of its own: Castizo.
This is already recognizable by titles like “Puertos de Madrid” or “Aires de la Mancha”, but also by single sentence titles like: “Dancing a peasant fandango – backwater – harvest – festival in the village – daybreak – wedding – mill road – childish games”. (Moreno-Torroba, “Estampas”)
This compositional principle is also clearly recognizable in the seven pieces Torroba summarized in his work “Castles from Spain”.
For they are not only a homage to the castles and fortifications of his homeland, but they also remind us of Spain’s glorious past and speak in a very small space of the pride and longing of the novels, their passions and the world-weariness known in Portugal as Saudade.
When we think of the Catholic Church today, we usually associate it with things like seriousness, dignity or boredom.
But it used to be different. There was a much wider range of ways to live faith, from the strict ascetic who lived alone in his hermitage, to the glorious, worldly political church prince who let God be a good man and otherwise cared little for the welfare of his soul.
Perhaps Turegano, the fortified bishop’s seat in the province of Segovia, reminded Torroba of this fact, because his Rondo fantasy radiates a noble cheerfulness, a courageous yes to life, without ever slipping into the vulgar, as we know it from the lives of the most important church princes.
Manzanares el Real
Am I the only one who thinks of Don Quixote on this piece? And his faithful friend Sancho Panza?
Maybe it’s just the story behind the composition that gives me this picture. The knight of the sad figure, who storms into a castle full of joy and courage, without the slightest hope of ever storming it.
Because this castle was one of the most powerful and imposing buildings the Spanish Empire has ever seen.
In the power structure of the Spanish kings, it had an outstanding significance, because it was the last bulwark of Madrid against attacks from the north. In most cases, the imposing appearance of the complex was enough to intimidate enemies and cause them to retreat.
In the music we hear a short chordal introduction that reminds of fanfares from afar. Then we hear a graceful theme that reminds me of the trot of a knightly horse.
Maybe a lonely knight looking at the castle from afar? Dreaming of glorious deeds, in his mended doublet, a broken lance in his hand and at his side his noble mare Rosinante.
Fervent prayer, devotion to Scripture and hard work. The brothers and sisters of the Cistercian Order, whose founder Raimondo Seerat also created the first order of knights in Spain, committed themselves to this.
One of the most important bases of the Order of Calatrava was the Castillo de Alcañiz, built around 1200. Since its members were not only simple knights, but also monks and scholars, the castle was equipped with a cloister and a church.
In the 14th century, the castle was now the seat of the Grand Master of Aragón, the great residential tower was built over the porch of the church, and in the 18th century the baroque Palacio de los Comendadores (Palace of the Master of the Order) with its façade flanked by two square corner towers was built.
Perhaps we should not think of the members of this order as bear-faced daredevil. Also not as bitter homebodies, who only too gladly exchanged the sword for the feather.
Torroba’s composition shows us a completely different picture of them. His dance in three-eighth time is written in an atmosphere of time-honored liveliness, which is much more reminiscent of joyful celebrations in a convivial circle than of war and suffering.
And perhaps it is as a wise man once told me: Only veteran warriors can savour the days of peace to their last.
The Sigüenza Cathedral houses the tomb of Don Martín Vásquez de Arce, one of Spain’s most beautiful monuments. It is dedicated to “El Doncel” (The Junker), who was killed in the Battle of Granada in 1486 and whose parents had this building erected in mourning.
The philosopher and essayist José Ortega y Gasset called it “the most beautiful mourning statue in Spain“.
I don’t know if Torroba knew the tomb of “El Doncel”. It seems credible to me, because this delicate lullaby, carried by elegant harmonies, fits perfectly to the mood of this place.
And also the subtitle, “The Sleeping Princess”, speaks for it. For in the faith of the people the statue has entered by its soft features and the lovely expression as a virgin.
Alba de Tormes
The ducal seat of Alba de Tormes near Salamanca is the burial place of Saint Teresa de Avila, who is venerated in the Catholic Church as both a saint and a church teacher.
Throughout her life, even in her worst moments, she humbly seeks to cultivate an intense friendship with God.
Probably in memory of her, Moreno Torroba wrote one of his friendliest works. The treble responds in chords to a bass line, creating a dialogue that, as in an improvisation, delicately moves away from the keynote and gently returns to it.
A piece about hope. A piece that perhaps shows how something new can emerge from doom and suffering.
A piece about the history of the castle of Torija.
Built in the 11th century by the Knights Templar and became one of their important fortresses in numerous wars, it was occupied by the French in the 19th century and completely destroyed. Only to be rebuilt more beautiful and larger after the departure of the armies of the Great Corsican.
The music also follows on from this.
We hear a melody that makes us dream. Then we experience from afar the restlessness that the story has brought about this place, only to dive back into the beauty of the beginning.
The repetition is then only like a tender dream.
Montemayor, south of Córdoba, overlooks the vast plains where the armies of Julius Caesar and Pompeius once faced each other.
After his victory in battle, Caesar returned to Rome to rule from then on as the sole ruler. Even if only for one year, because the conspirators were already standing by and were trying to kill him.
But even this murder did not change the fact that the Roman Republic was buried by the work of a single man.
Torroba’s tone poem speaks of this event with sadness.
Of grief not only over the downfall of the old republic and the infamy of the people, but above all over the many senseless dead, who again and again have to pay the toll of blood for the game of the powerful and whose empty graves only the cold wind remembers.