This page is © Christopher Webber, Blackheath, London, UK. Last updated May 11th 2005
The Basque Jesús Guridi has a national significance beyond his fame as the composer of El caserío. Indeed, his Diez melodías vascas ("Ten Basque Songs") is something like the Basquais equivalent of Elgar's Enigma Variations. Born in Vitoria, September 25th 1886, Guridi's talent was recognised early. His musical family sent him to study at the Conservatory in Madrid, and at sixteen he received a bursary from the Count of Zubiria which enabled him to spend two years at the Schola Cantorum in Paris - where he worked under Vincent d'Indy, whose influence is apparent in much of his music. He later went to Joseph Jongen in Brussels, and studied instrumentation with Otto Neitzel in Cologne (1908) before returning home to teach organ at the Bilbao Academy of Music. He also took on the direction of the Sociedad coral, and taught organ and composition at the newly founded Biscay Conservatory.
In 1914 he began teaching organ in Madrid, finally moving there to live in 1939, as Professor of Theory at the Conservatory and director of the Ufisa Film Corporation. Various honours came his way, and in 1956 he was finally appointed Director of the Conservatory. Though he died on 7th April, 1961 in Madrid, he never lost touch with his regional roots and by the time of his death had become virtually the Basque National Composer. His son Ignacio wrote: "My father was an upright Basque, filled with the spirit and vitality of his people ... capturing the sounds of a flowing river, the majesty of a mountain, the rustling of trees, or of a wandering txistu flute."
Guridi's place in Spanish music goes way beyond his influence as an academic. Aside from quantities of film music, his orchestral compositions range from the d'Indyesque symphonic poem Una aventura de Don Quijote (1915), through the famous Diez melodías vascas (1941) to the remarkable Homenaje a Walt Disney for piano and orchestra (1956) and - possibly his orchestral chef d'oeuvre - the Sinfonía pirenaica (1945). His organ works, notably the Triptico del Buen Pastor, have been played and recorded throughout Europe. His many songs, piano and chamber works such as the two String Quartets have not. His choral works - pre-eminently the thrilling Euzko Irudiak ("Basque Scenes") of 1922 - are highly effective, though lack of familiarity with the Basque language abroad has mitigated against their wider exposure.
His Basque-language stage works include the "symphonic idyll" Mirentxu (1910) and three-act opera Amaya (1920), as well as a sequence of popular Spanish language zarzuelas concerned with Basque country and maritime life. El caserío (1926), to a finely crafted libretto by Romero and Fernández Shaw, is an acknowledged classic - though La Meiga (1928), La Cautiva (1931) and Mari-Eli (1936) are not far behind it in quality.
Guridi's language is rooted in the musical forms and rhythms of his homeland. French rather than Spanish composers provided his stylistic models, though its distinctive nationalist flavour makes his music sound closer to central than southern Europe. His style - despite weird echoes of Messiaen's Turangalila in the late Walt Disney Homenaje - is generally conservative, and his brilliance as an orchestrator in works like the Diez melodías makes it tempting to think of him as the Spanish Respighi. On closer acquaintance, though, his music reveals a quiet depth of feeling all its own, as anyone who has come to know El caserío will appreciate well enough.
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