PRO-1066: Soler: 14 Sonatas for Harpsichord
Antonio Francisco Javier José Soler Ramos was born in 1729 in Catalonia, Spain. His father, a military musician, quickly recognized his son's musical talent and sent him, at the age of six, to the monastery at Montserrat where the escolanía, established in the twelfth century, was the most prestigious choir school in the eighteenth century and a meeting place for scholars and composers of the day. There, Soler studied organ and voice, soon earning recognition for his special talents.
After deciding to spend his life in solitude and composing, Soler took religious vows at El Escorial in 1752, becoming chapel master there five years later. Since El Escorial was not only a monastery but also a royal palace and an important cultural center for all of Europe, the musicians were obliged to take part in the world of secular music and courtly entertainment as well. Monks were sent to Madrid to round out their musical education, affording Soler the opportunity to study with José de Nebra and Domenico Scarlatti. His duties at El Escorial included teaching the Infante don Gabriel whenever the court assembled, and composing ecclesiastic music for the annual theatrical performances staged by the students of the monastery. For this, Soler received a pension of one hundred ducats yearly. He remained at El Escorial for the remainder of his life.
In 1762, he published the Llave de la modulación, a treatise on modulation that was to engender years of critical exchanges between Soler and other composers and theoreticians. He also began a six-volume work (now lost) on the history of church music and completed a book on Castilian and Catalonian currency exchange rates, which was published in 1771. His prolific output is amazing when one considers that this composer spent the greater part of the day in prayer and fulfilling his duties as chapel master. Soler died at El Escorial on December 20, 1783. He left a legacy of nine masses, five requiems, more than sixty psalms and villancicos, and over one hundred and fifty keyboard works.
The sonatas, edited by Father Samuel Rubio, were published in nearly their entirety by the Union Musical Española in Madrid between 1952 and 1972. They fall into two distinct categories: Those that were conceived with the harpsichord in mind; and the wide-leaped, broken-chorded works with short melodic sequences and Alberti bass-note figures, which call for subtle dynamic changes more characteristic of pianoforte writing. This recording includes fourteen sonatas suited to the harpsichord that show Soler's diversity of style and use of folk elements.
The Iberian Peninsula was rich in folklore; Moorish and Gypsy influences had left a strong musical imprint since the mid-1400s. The "Spanish idiom" that permeated the work of both Soler and Scarlatti was the collective musical tradition of provinces such as Andalusia, Castile, Aragon, and Soler's native Catalonia, which had its own musical culture. Soler uses the bright bolero rhythms and fanfares, and depicts the tapping of heels. Sonata R8 incorporates the rhythms of the polo, with alternations between 3/8 and 3/4 time. Sonata R45 pulses with the driving beat of the jota, and Sonata R21 displays the complex rhythms of the charrada. At all times Soler pays careful attention to proper voice-leading and modulation, according to the principles set forth in his Llave de la modulación.
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