Federico Moreno Torroba

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Federico Moreno Torroba

Moreno Torroba
(1891 - 1982)

The long career of Moreno Torroba, with that of his equally long-lived contemporary Sorozábal, embodies the latest flowering of the zarzuela. Born in Madrid (3rd March 1891) the son of a well-known organist and pupil of the ubiquitous father-figure of musical nationalism Felipe Pedrell, Torroba divided his talents between composing, conducting and impresario work, writing a great deal of symphonic and instrumental music. The compositions for the concert hall, including a Capricho romántico and a Suite castellana have become neglected - with the exception of the long series of works for guitar (with and without orchestra) made popular by Andrés Segovia, notably the Sonatina, Concierto ibérico and Concierto flamenco. He was prolific as an opera and ballet composer before succeeding in zarzuela with La mesonera de Tordesillas (1925.) Later he held academic posts and became president of the Sociedad General de Autores de España (SGAE) in 1975, dying in Madrid on September 12th 1982 in his ninety-second year.

At one time he was the manager of no less than three opera companies, giving important premieres of works by Sorozábal, Giménez and Guerrero in addition to his own. In particular, his great touring company continued to bring the zarzuela tradition to the international stage (especially the USA and Spanish Central America) throughout the 30's and 40's. Many great zarzuelists performed under his direction, not least the parents of Plácido Domingo, who were encouraged by Torroba's success to form an offshoot company in Mexico, where the great tenor was brought up.

His greatest successes date from the 1930's, and his reputation nowadays rests squarely on just two zarzuelas grandes, La chulapona (1934) and Luisa Fernanda (1932), rather than his larger-scale operatic output. Amongst his many other zarzuelas from before the Spanish Civil War La marchenera (1928), Azabache (1932), and Xuanón (1933) stand out. His major stage works from the Franco era exhibit claustrophobic religiose tendencies which have dated them, although his scores for Monte Carmelo (1939), La caramba (1942) and María Manuela (1957) have their share of enjoyable pages. El duende azul (1946, in collaboration with Rodrigo) and Baile en Capitanía (1960) also stand out. The operas include La Virgen de Mayo (1925) and the late El Poeta (1980), in which Plácido Domingo himself sang the title role.

La chulapona stands as a compendium of the Madrid zarzuela, owing something to Vives' great Doña Francisquita. After its premiere in 1934 Torroba was elected a full member of the Real Academia de Belles Artes de San Fernando, and he chose the opportunity of his acceptance speech to deliver a musical creed, El casticismo en la música ("authenticity in music.") For Torroba, this authenticity came from the power of a tried and tested tradition, the "popular nationalism" of Spanish folk music, a natural process which informs his own musical world as much, for example, as it does that of one-time collaborator Rodrigo and the famous Concierto de Aranjuez.

The earlier of the two zarzuelas is one of best-loved examples of that tradition: Luisa Fernanda may have owed something to Vives in its subtle orchestration and arresting characterisation; but its combination of lively action, abundant melodic grace and uniquely acerbic melancholy made for an enormous success which has lasted down to our own time. If Torroba never quite had the luck - or time - to develop the personality of his own music in accordance with his theories, the two great stage works remain cornerstones of that tradition in which he believed so strongly, and for which he worked so hard.

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