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Eduard Toldrà (1895-1962), composer

Toldrà was born in Vilanova i la Geltrú and became a forefront figure of Catalan music and a complete artist: composer, violinist and conductor. Main representative of the Catalan Noucentisme, he is represented on this recoding by his emblematic work Vistes al mar (Poetic evocations on texts by Joan Maragall), which was the winner of the Fundació Rabell prize in 1921. A noteworthy feature of the work is the transparent luminosity of the outer movements and the comtemplative nocturne second movement which depicts a warm, calm atmosphere, and must be one of the high points of this composer's output.

Toldrà became known as a violinist when very young and soon after as a composer. His emerging creative capacity made him one of the central figures of noucentisme (1). After the war he became the first Director of L¹Orquestra Municipal de Barcelona, (the current OBC) and he helped revitalise the musical and artistic life of Catalonia from its parlous state. From his work as a composer, it is worth noting symphonic works such as Suite en mi Major (1919), the sardana for concert Empúries (1926), La filla del marxant (1934), chamber works such as Quartet de corda en do menor (1914), Vistes al Mar for string quartet (1920), Sis sonets for violin and piano (1922), and the opera El Giravolt de maig (1928) with text by Josep Carner. Toldrà also wrote many sardanes (2) and song cycles.

Sis sonets (1922). This masterpiece was written for violin and piano, it was inspired by Toldra¹s decision to enter the 3rd edition of the Patxot i Llagustera Prize (III Convocatòria dels Premis ³Patxot i Llagustera²) which required six pieces for violin and piano. Toldrà had a literary background and a deep knowledge of the subject. On many occasions contact with a work of literature acted as a catalyst for his musical creativity. There is no need for us to seek descriptive references or direct mentions in the world of sonnets. Toldrà used them as a trigger or detonator for the music to stand, alone and abstract, and start its journey. The keen reader should try and follow a similar path by reading the sonnets (reproduced at the end of this article) while listening to the music they inspired in Toldrà.

Some coincidences: the jury which awarded the prize to Toldrà (for he won it) was made up of Lluís Millet, Joan Lamote de Grignon and Joan Manén. He coincides with the latter again on this disc. The prize was awarded and the work premiered in 1922, the year in which Manuel Oltra was born in València. Coincidences.

Today we can hear the six sonnets adapted for piano and flute. The work was transcribed by Joaquim Zamacois to provide material for his students when he was Director of the Conservatory of Barcelona. Zamacois¹ transcription was probably revised by Eduard Toldrà. I would like to make some observations about two of the pieces. Firstly, Zamacois did not do a transcription of Les Birbadores because the violin version has double strings. Nonetheless, the duo of Bernat Castillejo and Adolf Pla interpret it by moving those notes that the flute cannot produce; for obvious reasons, to the piano. The second observation concerns the piece which covers the fifth of the sonnets, Dels quatre vents. Toldrà wrote this to be performed on just the fourth string of the violin. In Castillejo and Pla¹s version the flautist, using an alto flute, is able to reproduce the style of the original violin. In addition Castillejo and Pla have varied the overall dynamic of the work by not overstating the piano¹s sonority at the expense of the flute. This benefits the balance of the whole and the character of the sonnet which is profound, serious and spiritual. A wise decision for which Castillejo and Pla deserve credit. This is the first recording of Sis sonets adapted for piano and flute.

Sardana for piano and flute (1912) is the first work that Toldrà is known to have composed. He wrote it at the age of seventeen. When you first listen to the work it is immediately apparent that nothing is missing and nothing is superfluous. It is elegant, serene and precise.... a real gem. An illustration of the extraordinary musical capacity which was soon to become manifest. All this produced in a social and political climate which refused to recognise many composers and was hostile to the diffusion of their work. (The cases of Manuel Blancafort and Ricard Lamote de Grignon).

(1)Artisic movement from the early years of the Twentieth Century characterised by its adherence to classical and structured forms of art and rejection of modernity and spontaneity.

(2) Traditional Catalan music and dance.

(3) Group that performs sardanes.