Federico Moreno Torroba: A Musical Life in Three Acts

By Kuntz, Danielle M. | Notes, March 2015 | Go to article overview

Federico Moreno Torroba: A Musical Life in Three Acts


Kuntz, Danielle M., Notes


Federico Moreno Torroba: A Musical Life in Three Acts. By Walter Aaron Clark and William Craig Krause. (Currents in Latin American and Iberian Music.) New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. [xx, 356 p. ISBN 9780195313703 (hardcover), $45; (e-book), various.] Music examples, illustrations, companion Web site, chronology, works lists, appendices, bibliography, index.

Walter Aaron Clark and William Craig Krause's biography Federico Moreno Torroba: A Musical Life in Three Acts is the first full-length scholarly text to examine the life and works of the twentieth-century Spanish composer, conductor, and impresario. It is not difficult to understand why Federico Moreno Torroba (1891-1982) has yet to find a significant place in the narrative of Spanish twentieth-century music. Musicological interest, both in Spain and abroad, has centered on examining the relationship of Spanish national identity to the broader European trends of musical modernism in the early twentieth century. The works of more enigmatic and broadly influential composers, such as Torroba's exact contemporary Manuel de Falla (1876-1946), have taken center stage. Falla, for instance, developed a diverse Spanish nationalism, eventually leaving his native country and exploring new tonal practices, especially in France. His work has received numerous book-length studies to date (see, for instance, Carol Hess, Manuel de Falla and Modernism in Spain, 1898-1936 [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001]). Torroba, however, clung strongly to the musical legacy of the late romantic, and he enjoyed a long, prolific, and successful career almost entirely within Spain. Moreover, he is known today for a limited corpus of guitar works and zarzuelas (a form of Spanish popular musical theater)--genres that have not elicited much serious scholarly investigation.

In their biography, Clark and Krause shine the spotlight directly on Torroba, however, and they illuminate his immense contributions to twentieth-century Spanish music, in spite of his resistance to modernism. Torroba wrote hundreds of highly successful works in the style of the late romantic era, even into the 1980s, and his openly nationalistic and conservative artistic vision sought inspiration in his country's heritage. Clark and Krause also seek to elucidate the more complicated aspects of Torroba's relationship to the political milieu in which he worked. His apparently amenable relationship to both the Primo de Rivera and Franco regimes admittedly raises many questions about the composer's political affinities.

Emulating the genre in which Torroba enjoyed most of his success, Clark and Krause arrange their text in the form of a zarzuela grande--that is, leaving aside parts and chapters, the biography unfolds in three "acts," each comprising three "scenes." After an introduction (that, like any good overture, conveys the scope, shape, and tone of the work), act 1 encompasses the period of Torroba's birth through the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Acts 2 and 3 examine the periods 1932-60 (comprising the Spanish Civil War and Franco's regime) and 1960-82 (the end of Franco's regime to Torroba's death), respectively. While framing their writing in terms of a biography, the authors accomplish much more than a chronological birth-to-death narrative of Torroba's career through this structure. Within each act, the first scene presents large-scale historical and musical background, the second examines Torroba's biographical development against that background, and the third provides analyses of musical works composed by Torroba in that same period. The structure, which Clark and Krause caution may at first feel like a gimmick (although it is nothing of the sort), allows the authors to leave aside the progression of a standard biography to give near equal emphasis to side-by-side historical, biographical, and music analyses in a given time frame. It also helps to underscore effectively the role that Spanish politics played in articulating distinct phases in Torroba's career. …

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