This page is © Christopher Webber, Blackheath, London, UK. Last updated September 2nd 2000
Pablo Luna, born on 21st May 1879 in Alhama de Aragón, began his studies at the School of Music in Zaragoza, where the family moved soon after his birth. He studied harmony and composition with Miguel Arnaudas, and violin with Teodoro Ballo, showing enough promise as a player to graduate with the school's First Prize. He had little difficulty finding work as a violinist in a succession of theatre orchestras, becoming Leader at the Teatro Circo at twenty one, expanding at the same time his practical knowledge of chamber music. He had already begun conducting by the time Ruperto Chapí asked him to lead the second violins at the Teatro de la Zarzuela in 1905.
Luna had produced his first zarzuelas in Zaragoza - starting with Lolilla, la Petenera (1903) to a libretto by Rogelio Maestro - but work under Chapí enabled him to develop both his musical technique and theatrical instinct. In 1908 came his first Madrid success - Musetta, to a libretto by J. P. Frutos, at the Teatro Ideal Polistilo. Nonetheless, though he continued to work hard as violinist (and later conductor) at the Teatro de la Zarzuela for some years, many of his greatest successes were written for other theatres, away from the capital.
In 1910 Molinos de viento ("Windmills",) premiered in Seville, took the whole of Spain by storm. With its foreign setting - Holland - and stylistic debt to Viennese operetta, it set the pattern for many of Luna's most successful works. Equally, it marked a decisive shift in taste, away from the realistic comedy and satire of the sainete madrileño towards the blander romanticism of light opera. A host of long-running triumphs followed, including the 'Ruritanian' Los cadetes de la reina (1913), El niño judío and Los calabreses (both 1918).
A particular favourite of many aficionados was - and is - El asombro de Damasco (1916), which enjoyed the distinction of a run at the Oxford Theatre in London's West End eight years later. Benamor (1923) was its highly successful sequel, capitalising on the 1001 Nights setting and musical atmosphere of the earlier work.
After the London ventures, Luna turned decisively back to his musical roots in collaborative works such as La pastorela (1926, with Torroba) and La chula de Pontevedra (1928, with Bru), though his most important work in this later style was written without assistance - La pícara molinera, produced significantly for his theatrical alma mater, the Teatro Circo of Zaragoza in 1928. A successful symphonic poem Una noche en Calatayud (1925) also dates from this 'Spanish' period.
With the rise of the 'talkie' Luna turned his talents increasingly towards the new medium. Theatre work was also interrupted by the Civil War, and his later zarzuelas lack the fire of Luna's best work, though some - such as Los inseperables (1934) - were successful enough. He died in Madrid on 28th January 1942, leaving his last zarzuela El Pilar de la Victoria unfinished, to be completed by Julio Gómez and produced in Luna's beloved home city of Zaragoza two years later.
Luna's output was prodigious. If a sense of the production line is never wholly absent, this should not blind us to the real quality of his finest scores. Tastes change, and ironically for a composer whose reputation was largely made with zarzuelas in exotic settings and operetta style, Luna is at his strongest given solidly hispanic musico-dramatic material. Of all his works perhaps La picara molinera has most consistently stood the test of time - but the best melodies of El asombro de Damasco, Molinos de viento and El niño judío are as ravishing now as ever, buoyed up by Pablo Luna's piquant harmonies and sophisticated orchestral palette.
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