Joaquín Gaztambide

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Joaquín Gaztambide

(1822 - 1870)

Joaquín Romualdo Gaztambide y Garbayo was born in Tudela (Navarra) on 7th February 1822. He studied in his home town, and later in Pamplona - where he also played double bass in the theatre orchestra - with José Guelbenzu and his assistant Mariano García. From 1842 he attended the Madrid Conservatoire, studying piano with Pedro Albéniz, and composition with Ramón Carnicer. Although his pianistic skills led to some solo engagements, he made his living playing double bass at several theatres - notably the Teatro de la Cruz, where he was promoted to Chorus Master in 1846 with the support of his great friend the comic bass Francisco de Salas. He conducted a run of performances featuring Spanish singers and dancers in Paris the following year, visiting London with a similar group 10 years later.

In 1849 he became director of music at Madrid's Teatro Español, and although he also wrote piano and orchestral music, including ballets and a symphony, Gaztambide's main energies from that time were devoted to the movement to revive a native operatic tradition. Later in 1849 he produced his first successful zarzuela, the two-act La mensajera. When the Teatro Real opened in 1851 Italian Opera abandoned the Teatro del Circo, and a group of writers and composers including Barbieri, Oudrid, Hernando and Inzenga together with Gaztambide formed a plan to produce zarzuela at the empty theatre. His El amenacer was swiftly followed by ¡Tribulaciones! (both 1851); but together with his four colleagues he went on to compose the much more successful Por seguir a una mujer (1851), a French play adapted into Spanish by Luis de Olona, President of the Group and a frequent collaborator. This same play had also been set by the young Verdi, as Un Giorno di Regno.

His music for the Teatro del Circo included El sueño de una noche de verano (1852, based on Shakespeare), El valle De Andorra (1852), Catalina (1854) and Los comuneros (1855) as well as collaborative pieces with Barbieri, Oudrid and Inzenga. After 1856 he was active at the purpose-built Teatro de la Zarzuela, where Los magyares (1857), El juramento (1858) and Una vieja (1860) proved amongst his popular successes. His later work included the directorship of the orchestral Sociedad de Conciertos, to which he introduced scores by Wagner for the first time, and an adventurous trip to Cuba with a zarzuela company in 1868. A major revolt led to their flight to Mexico, where Gaztambide's health and finances declined rapidly. Returning to Spain for an operation, he died in Madrid on 18th March 1870.

Gaztambide's contribution to the revival of zarzuela was highly significant, but over the last century his own works have almost completely disappeared from the stage. Although La vieja has been revived occasionally, the Madrid production of El juramento in 2000 provided a real opportunity for a broad revaluation of his music. Tastefully Italianate in the manner of Donizetti, Gaztambide nevertheless makes use of Spanish rhythms and popular songs, and had his career been longer it is very possible he could have developed along the same lines as his great contemporary, Barbieri.

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