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Prolific in every musical genre, and arguably more active on the international contemporary music scene than any other Spanish musician, Luis de Pablo (born Bilbao, 1930) is a multi-linguist of extraordinary culture. He has pursued interest in the most diverse subjects outside music and his artistic and literary influences range widely. An Anglophile with a special affection for English literature, de Pablo's music has been featured at London's Almeida Festivals and recently at the 1998 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. His is however by no means a household name in UK, partly perhaps because he is published in Italy (Suvini Zerboni, Milan) and is not given to self-promotion.
Luís de Pablo and Cristobal Halffter were the key members of the group of composers often known as the 'Generation of '51'. These young musicians finished their studies and began their professional careers around 1951, with a mission after the Civil War to help Spain catch up with European musical developments. De Pablo's own explorations helped to accelerate that process of development. He quickly assimilated atonalism and serialism, aleatory forms, graphic experiments and electronic techniques. He was one of the founders of Grupo Nueva Musica in 1958, and founded Tiempo y Musica the following year. He has held university teaching appointments in USA and Canada and taught many of Spain's younger composers.
Tomas Marco considers Luís de Pablo to be 'the moving spirit of an entire era of Spain's musical history'. He has traversed most of the dominating trends, decade by decade, but always putting a personal stamp upon them. He turned swiftly from serialism to aleatorics. He investigated timbre, and as early as 1961 in Libro para el pianista was exploring 'new possibilities for an old instrument'. He developed 'modules', units to be combined in fixed or mobile structures. He integrated quotations from works by earlier composers into complex structures. Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht is played as a background to his orchestral Quasi una fantasia, the four Elephants ivres are based upon a motet by Victoria, Vielleicht for percussion upon a Beethoven bagatelle. Dibujos (1979) is derived from parts of Affetuoso, a kit of separate pages for piano, one of them a joke recomposition of the scherzo from Beethoven's'Hammerklavier' Sonata, Op. 106. All of de Pablo's music tends to grow from a few ideas which are variously presented to show different sides of the same material. Without compromising himself he has regularly recomposed and radically redesigned major works for different, often smaller, forces.
There are attractive and important solo and chamber works for a wide variety of instruments, including four string quartets, a fine piano trio and a delectable recent clarinet quintet. The hauntingly beautiful second quartet Caligrafia Serena is characteristic of de Pablo's mercurial style, music of a quick, nervously active thinker, nonetheless capable of charm and serenity. Premiered by the Arditti Quartet, it combines four strikingly contrasted ideas, arriving eventually at total homogeneity.
De Pablo's substantial body of orchestral commissions, premiered around the world, has not yet been heard in UK. It encompasses within an unmistakable personal idiom enormous variety of mood, dazzlingly beautiful and sensuous, often dark and, in some of his operas, dark and disturbing. Many works involve singers, including Tarde de Poetas (1986), given soon after its completion at the Union Chapel in Islington. This whole evening of music, set to the most varied texts, reflects d Pablo's voracious reading, and summarises his concept of the relationship between music and poetry from all times and culture. His four operas include the frightening Kiu (1979-82), which might excite and even terrify audiences, whilst the black comedy La madre invita a comer (Venice, 1993) was scheduled for production at Sadler's Wells, abandoned at the last because of financial difficulties (recordings and librettos with translations of both are available).
Segundo Lectura (1992) is a powerful distillation and concentration of the music of Senderos del aire (Tokyo, 1987) for large orchestra including saxophone and steel drums, and described by de Pablo as "a continuous metaphysical question mark, a stormy sonorous adventure based on the image of a grim, threatening, wind, swept landscape". Comparison of the two versions, both available on CD, demonstrates the composer's keen ear and sure command of instrumental and orchestral timbres. Libero de imagines (Book of Mirrors) played by London Sinfonietta at Huddersfield last year, and broadcast on R3, is a picturesque homage to classical Spanish theatre in five vividly contrasted movements, notable for its piquant instrumentation.
Luis de Pablo is a delightful raconteur and assiduous correspondent, whose long letters from all over the world, written on the backs of carefully chosen picture postcards are treasurable. At sixty-nine, living on 'borrowed time' since a heart attack, he is a happy workaholic who cannot stop composing, touring and teaching, whatever his doctors may have advised. Although based in Madrid, he enjoys regular summer working holidays at his retreat in the Basque country, "I need a quiet spot to put my order and disorder into sounds". It is to be hoped that de Pablo's 70th birthday, in January 2000, will not be overlooked in this country.
Louis de Pablo (left) with Peter Grahame Woolf (1999)
Spanish music in the twentieth century by Tornas Marco (published Harvard)
Encounters with Luis de Pablo by Piet de Volder (in Spanish, English version in preparation)
Selected CD discography: .
Libro de imagines, Segunda Lectura, Metaforas - Stradivarius STR 33329
Senderos del aire and works for flute - col legno AV 31-820
Dibujos, Fragments from Kiu, Chamber Concerto etc. - ADDA 581260
Tarde de Poetas - Harmonia Mundi HMC 901568
Piano Trio - Ermitage ERM 413
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