Joaquin Turina

1882 1949

Joaquin Turina

Composer

Biography

Joaquin Turina was one of the four great Spanish composers of the 20th century. His mature works are defined by rather conventional forms, with a unique use of various Spanish dance rhythms, including those from Seville, Andalucía, Catalonia, and the Basque Country. Turina, remembered as a kind man, was inspired by literary and visual ideas and loved simplicity and beauty. He was honoured many times with awards and recognitions throughout his life.

Joaquin Turina was born in 1882 to a well-off family. Turina’s musical talent was discovered at the age of 4, when he was heard improvising on an accordion given to him by a maid. His family encouraged him to study music, but instead he began to study medicine. After realizing that music was, after all, his passion, he quit the study and pursued music seriously. He began studying piano with Enrique Rodrigues and composition with Evaristo Garcia Torres, the choirmaster at the Seville Cathedral.

Turina became well known in Seville, first as a composer, and later as a pianist. With his teacher’s encouragement, he moved to Madrid where he studied piano with José Tragó, but never found a suitable composition teacher. He came to Madrid with the idea that he would have his opera,La Sulamita performed at the Teatro Real – an ambitious, yet unrealistic goal for such an unknown artist. The opera was biblical in subject, and traditional in style. Later in life, he was relieved that the opera was never premiered.

Gradually, Turina became a recognized composer in Madrid. It was also in Madrid that he met and became friends with Manuel de Falla, who influenced Turina with his concepts of Spanish music. As a young composer, Turina longed to create grand Spanish operas and symphonies. He had even tried his hand at zarzuelas, but was discouraged by several failed attempts. In Madrid, however, Turina was far more impressed and influenced by the regular orchestra concerts than the operas, recitals and zarzuela.  

In 1905, Turina moved to Paris, where he studied piano with Moritz Moszkowski and composition at the Schola Cantorum with Vincent d’Indy. He found it hard to escape the influence of the antagonists of the Schola Cantorum, such as Debussy. While in Paris, he became a member of the Société Musicale Indépendante, along withManuel de Falla. He played piano and composed for the group, Parent Quartet, which premiered his Piano Quintet op. 1 (1907). This quintet was directly influenced by the Schola.

He received an award for the quintet at Salon de Ontoño, where he had the opportunity to converse with Albéniz and Falla, who once again encouraged him to pursue Spanish music. The two composers drastically changed Turina’s aesthetic ideas. Turina regarded this evening as “the most complete metamorphosis of his life.” In exchange for promising never again to compose music with a French influence, Albéniz edited Turina’s quintet. After heeding this advice to compose in a style characteristic of Spanish popular songs, Turina’s works moved slowly away from the style of the Schola and he composed several well-received pieces, such as his famous short opera,Margot (1914). He graduated from the Schola in 1913 and proceeded to premiere hisLa procesión del Rocío (1912) in Madrid with the Madrid Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Arbós; the piece was performed again in Paris. Turina was then honoured at the Madrid Anthenaem as a “highly regarded Spanish composer.”

Of the four major Spanish composers, Albéniz, Granados, Falla, and himself, Turina was the only one to write a symphony,Sinfonia sevillana (1920), though it resembles more a symphonic poem due to its three-movement form. He is usually grouped with Falla, but their similarities are only superficial at best. Turina never wrote in the sometimes tragic style of Falla. Similarites between Turina and Granados can be seen in the use of poetry. Turina’s use of the grand scale is also very common among Spanish composers composing in the German traditions, such as Conrado del Campo, with whom Falla had a long friendship. Turina wrote for many different settings, including the opera, orchestra, songs, and for solo instruments. His works for guitar are particularly remarkable, as they call for the instrument’s full capabilities.

Turina’s conducting career also took off, and he had the opportunity to conduct the Ballets Russes on their tour through Spain. He premiered one of his most famous works,Jardín de Oriente (1922-23), while working as the choirmaster at the Teatro Real, where he worked until its unfortunate closure. He also had the opportunity to premiere works such asDanzas fantásicas (1919) and Sinfonia Sevilla(1920). Compositions from this time period include his Canto a Sevilla  (1925-26), La Oración del Torero (1925), and his Sinfonia sevillana, Op. 23 (1920). Turina won yet another prize in 1926, this time for his Piano Trio op. 35 (1926). This work won the National Music Prize.

In 1930, Turina’s career took him in the direction of teaching when he was appointed the professor of composition at the Madrid Conservatory. The following years were difficult: he was persecuted during the civil war by the republicans and his family was not in a good standpoint. However, after the war, his reputation rose again and he was elected to the Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando and appointed the general commissioner of music. He also received the honour of the Grand Cross of Alfonso the Wise and a national tribute. During this time, he also tried, unsuccessfully, to rebuild the Teatro Real.

Turina spent time as a music critic for several publications, including El Debate from 1926 to 1936 and then finally the weekly publication DÍgame. He was also interested in teaching composition. In addition to teaching at the Madrid Conservatory, he attended conferences and gave masterclasses in Spain and abroad. Towards the end of his life, he was writing a treaty of musical composition, but was unable to finish.

After a long and painful illness, and only being able to compose 13 pieces in the final nine years of his life, Turina died in Madrid on 14 January, 1949.

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