This page is © Christopher Webber, Blackheath, London, UK. Last updated August 3rd 2000
Born at Collbató, near Montserrat, on November 18th 1871, Amadeo¹ Vives was an early pupil of Felipe Pedrell, the father figure of 20th Century Spanish music. Whilst studying in Barcelona with composer José Ribera, he helped found the influential Orféo Catalá (1891), a key element in Catalunya's musical renaissance. Madrid soon beckoned, and he lived the rest of his life there, first publishing a series of concert works, solo and much-loved choral songs - notably L'emigrant (1894), which became a rallying cry for Catalan exiles around the globe - before turning to the zarzuelas on which his reputation rests.
Vives' interests extended beyond zarzuela. He wrote a successful stage play Jo no sabia que el món era així (1929) as well as several unsuccessful operas, though his dream was to become an orchestral and symphonic composer. Isaac Albéniz once said that if Vives had wished to compose Spanish music with a universal accent, he could have undoubtedly have been a major international figure. Perhaps he simply lacked the confidence to try. His autobiographical book Sofía (1923) paints a revealing picture of a nervous figure, suffering from bouts of semi-paralysis as a result of a fall in early life, never entirely satisfied with being 'just' the leading zarzuelero of his day. Be that as it may, by the time of his death on December 1st 1932 he was a revered figure - a Parliamentary session was postponed for members to attend his funeral - and his music is still dear to many Spaniards today.
Vives' output of over a hundred stage works began with the ambitious four-act opera Artús (1897, Barcelona, based on Walter Scott). His first zarzuela, the one-act La primera del barrio, was produced at the Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid a year later. A host of first nights followed, but despite some critical esteem - particularly for Don Lucas del Cigarral (1899) and La balada de la luz (1900) - the real breakthrough came with the one-act Bohemios in 1904, boldly based on the same literary source as Puccini's masterpiece. French rather than Italian influences are apparent on the score, which nevertheless shows Vives' growing individuality. The operatic version of Bohemios patched together by Conrado del Campo in 1920 diluted the original and did not displace it.
Two works written soon after with Gerónimo Giménez are still heard - El húsar de la guardia (1904) and La gatita blanca (1905), both in one act - but other once-popular works, such as Los viajes de Gulliver (1911), have faded. Not so the operetta La Generala (1912, set in "Oxford and Cambridge"); the pastoral opera Maruxa (1914, through-sung); Doña Francisquita (1923), perhaps the finest of all three-act género grande zarzuelas; and La villana (1927). His last works, the two-act zarzuelas Los Flamencos (1928) and Noche de verbena (1929) have not proved so durable; and the comedia lírica Talismán(1932) was only respectfully received.
¹ 'Amadeu' in his native Catalan.
[Back to top of page]