Pedro Calderón de la
(1600 - 1681)
into a wealthy Madrid family on 17th January 1600, Calderón
studied with the Jesuits before moving on to the Universities of Alcalá
de Henares and Salamanca. He wrote his first comedy at the age of 23. Although
much of his huge output of dramatic and sacred works has been lost, the best
known plays take high rank amongst the acknowledged classics of Western
theatre. They include El alcalde de Zalamea; La vida es
sueño; El gran teatro del mundo; and La cena del rey
His earlier plays are heavily influenced by the
realistic, fertile style of his master Lope de Vega, but from the age of
40 his plays show an increasing theological preoccupation, along with
refinement of detail and a reliance on complex Baroque language and structure.
Many feel that as he perfected his work, a certain freshness and natural
quality was lost.
Of the 120 or so plays which survive, about half
were written in collaboration with leading composers of the day. Many of these
date from his later life, and take the form of one-act sacred verse dramas,
with allegorical characters and spiritual debates. Much of the music has been
lost - it seems that the artists of the time did not set much store in
preserving it for posterity.
The first play with music written for the
Palace of La Zarzuela was in fact El jardín de Falerina of
1648, a work considered by some writers to be the first zarzuela, although the
name was not used to describe such musical entertainments until the late
1650's. Most would agree that El golfo de las Sirenas (1657, music
anonymous) and El laurel de Apolo (1657/8) with music reputedly by
Juan de Hidalgo, were the earliest to bear the description from the
start. Later proven collaborations with Hidalgo, such as La púrpura
de la rosa (1659/60) and Celos aún del aire matan (1660),
enjoyed equal success - the former, indeed, even in the New World with a new
score by Torrejón y Velasca (Peru, 1701).
like the later El hijo del sol, Faetón (1661), Eco y
Narciso (1661) and Ni amor se libra de amor (1662) employed
mythological subjects from Classic literature, with comic intermedios
(intermezzos) of a popular nature.
After the death of Lope de Vega in
1635 Philip IV entrusted Calderón with the management of the
Royal Theatre. He fought in the military campaign in Cataluña in
his early fifties, was ordained a priest and withdrew to Toledo. Later he was
recalled to Madrid by the King as an Honorary Chaplain, living to the age of
81, and dying in the capital on 25th May 1681.
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