A Short History of the Music of Catalonia

By Adam Kent

Read article on Catalan music from the ENCICLOPÈDIA CATALANA

For a brief outline of the History of Jazz in Catalonia, click here.

Music of Early Inhabitants

Iconographic evidence in the form of cliff and cave paintings as well as antique vases attests to a lively musical culture among the ancient inhabitants of Catalonia. Other relics suggest the later assimilation of Greek and Roman musical practices in the region. In the first centuries of the Christian era, Roman and other Pagan modes of musical expression coexisted with the evolving Hispanic liturgy, and various contemporary documents speak to tensions between the church’s central authority and the persistence of local customs.1

The early Christian liturgy of Catalonia reflected an adherence to the so-called Visigothic-Mozarabic rite, with the region’s bishops following the directives of Toledo, capital of the Visigothic kingdom from the middle of the sixth century. The celebrated Veronensis Codex containing the Libellus Orationem was copied out at Tarragona in the late seventh or early eighth century, and several works contained therein are thought to have been composed at the erstwhile Roman stronghold. The codex provides the earliest record of the Visigothic-Mozarabic rite, preserving the ancient psalmody in alternation with antiphons and responsories. Fragments of Visigothic notation abound in the margins of the manuscript.

Music and the Moorish Occupation

The political events of the eighth century destroyed much evidence of Catalonia’s original Christian liturgy and led eventually to the adoption of the more standard Gregorian practice. First of all came the Saracen invasion, beginning with the defeat of Roderic in 711 and the eventual Moorish occupation of the entire peninsula. All of Catalonia was under Moorish control by 718, and the northern expansion of the Islamic nation was halted only by the military might of Charles Martell at Poitiers in 732. In the latter half of the eighth century the Franks succeeded gradually in liberating areas of present-day Provence known as the Septimania, in an effort to create a buffer zone of the Pyrenean foot hills. Charlemagne attempted to occupy Spain as far south as the Ebro river, but only enjoyed a partial success. In fact, the celebrated Chanson de Roland commemorates the defeat of the Frankish armies by the Saracens at Roncesvalles in 778 in a doomed attempt to liberate Zaragoza from the Moors.2

The areas freed by Charlemagne and his son Louis the Pious agreed to submit to Frankish protection and came to be known eventually as “Catalunya Vella” (“Old Catalonia”). For the first time, a sense of national identity and unity characterized the region, separating it in many ways from the rest of the peninsula, and binding it to its northern European neighbors. Indeed, Catalonia was quick to comply with Charlemagne’s promulgation of Gregorian Chant and assimilated the new idiom into its liturgy long before the rest of Spain and with far less resistance.

Catalan Music in the Middle Ages

The monastery at Ripoll, founded in 869 by Count Guifré el Pelós (Wilfred the Hairy), became the region’s primary cultural center and a hotbed of uniquely Catalan musical development. In the words of Josep Roda Batlle, “it was to Catalonia what Moissac, Saint Martial de Limoges and Metz were to France, St. Gall to Switzerland and Reichenau for Germany.”3 The monastery’s scriptorium became one of Europe’s finest libraries of the time, particularly where its collection of musical treatises was concerned.

The monks of Ripoll developed a sort of musical notation unique to the region, known as “notació catalana.” The system was cultivated as late as the 18th century and combined elements of neumatic Visigothic notation with diastematic Aquitaine notation. Among the chief surviving examples of “notació catalana” are the Antifonari Matutinari and the Tonarium, both tenth-century works.

Beyond the official Roman liturgy, other modes of late Medieval musical expression flourished as well in Catalonia. Presentations of liturgical dramas were quite common in the area, and numerous copies of the “Quem quaeritis?” Easter trope are preserved in Catalan codices, along with a twelfth-century manuscript from Ripoll entitled Verses Pascales de III Mariis, a popular depiction of the Easter morning tomb scene evolved out of the aforementioned trope. Perhaps the most celebrated example of such theatrical productions is the Ordo Prophetarum, which derived from the Cant de la Sibylla associated with the Christmas legend. The work has survived in Latin and Catalan versions, and has endured with little change over the centuries. In addition, several Troubadours were active in Catalonia, and performances by jongleurs and, later, by minstrels were a common form of secular entertainment.

Polyphony seems to have existed in Catalonia at the same time as the renowned Notre Dame school. References to the death in 1164 of Lucas, a canon at Tarragona, allude to a “magnus organista,” none of whose music has survived. A manuscript from Tortosa, transcribed between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, contains five polyphonic compositions and is considered the earliest example of this type of writing in Catalonia. Many of these early instances of Catalan polyphony are conductus for two or three voices, generally in the Notre Dame style.

In 1027 the monastery of Montserrat was founded originally as an appendage to Ripoll. Located at a site of Marian pilgrimage, it eventually became an important center of learning and musical production, gaining independence from Ripoll in 1409. Fire destroyed the library and depository of Montserrat during the Napoleonic invasion of 1811, and the only work to survive is known as the Llibre vermell, a reference to the crimson velvet which has protected the manuscript since the late nineteenth century.

The Llibre is a crucial source on several levels. For one thing, it relates vital information on life at Montserrat, discussing important religious, historical, and geographical concepts. The ten musical compositions it preserves are intended as suitable works for singing and dancing by pilgrims at the monastery. Eight of the pieces are in Latin, one in Occitan, and one in Catalan. They transmit several examples of the “ball rodó,” or “round dance,” and reveal a complete assimilation of the ars nova idiom in Catalonia. As Batlle puts it, “The Llibre Vermell is one more example of how, during the Middle Ages, music occupied a special place amongst the arts in Catalonia, and what great esteem Catalan music enjoyed in Europe.”4

The Establishment, Heyday and Decline of the Catalan Nation

Catalonia’s influential position in European musical affairs during the late Middle Ages was in some ways a reflection of the nation’s political clout throughout the period. Early in the ninth century most of the region was liberated from Moorish control, and Barcelona soon established itself as the political capital. Less and less reliant upon authorization from the Carolingian regent, generations of count-kings ruled the area from the Mediterranean port city. Some sense of the Catalan spirit of personal liberty and the limitations inherent in the powers of the count-kings is evidenced in the oath sworn to the Catalonian monarch: “We who are as good as you, swear to you, who are no better than we, to accept you as our king and sovereign lord, provided you observe all our liberties and laws, but if not, not.”5 If Catalonia can be said to possess a national character, such a declaration would surely be a clear embodiment of it, all the more remarkable for its early date.

In the eleventh century the province of Tarragona was united to the northern territories. Further expansion included the acquisition of several Provençal counties and the fusion of Catalonia with neighboring Aragon in 1134. The Catalo-Aragonese kingdom became a powerful military force and commenced territorial aggrandizement in earnest in the thirteenth century under Jaume I. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries Catalonia established an impressive presence throughout the Mediterranean, which included the vanquished Balearic Islands, Sardinia, and Sicily. On the peninsula itself, Catalonia neutralized some of Castile’s expansionist designs through the conquest of Valencia, an arduous and violent affair lasting from 1232 to 1248.6 In the fifteenth century Alfons IV of Catalonia occupied Naples and established his court there, though by that late date his native land was in serious decline: a series of plagues and crop failures reduced the population of Catalonia by more the fifty per cent by the mid-1400’s. Of even more lasting consequence was the marriage of Ferdinand II the Catholic to Isabella I of Castile. This union would sound the death knell to Catalonian independence, since the joining of the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile rendered Catalonia a peripheral concern to be ruled by viceroys or lieutenant governors.7 Catalonia’s erstwhile empire was practically in shambles, and Castile was poised for its explorations of the New World and all the attendant wealth that would flow from such an expansion.

Music during the Renaissance in Catalonia

In spite of the grim politcal and economic outlook in Catalonia during the Renaissance and Castile’s so-called “siglo de oro,” the region nevertheless contributed significantly to the arts of literature and music, if not so impressively to the visual arts. Music played an important role in civic functions, and municipal bands, known as “cobles,” became a part of Catalonia’s cultural life, enduring to the present day. Records from Barcelona town councils of the sixteenth century refer to the “pregoner de la ciutat,” apparently a sort of town crier equipped with “trompeta.”

In the realm of art music, the polyphonic madrigal was a significant mode of expression in Catalonia as throughout the rest of Europe, but so was the distinctively Spanish “ensalada.” This form was notable for its sometimes eccentric juxtaposition of diverse elements, including a mixture of various languages, different textures and rhythms, and a vacillation between popular and formal styles. The genre was ultimately intended as a sort of entertainment for the noble and educated classes. Among the more distinguished Catalan composers of “ensalades” were Mateu Fletxa “El Vell” (the elder) and his nephew Mateu Fletxa “El Jove” (the younger).

Of Occitan descent, Joan Brudieu (1520-1591) is responsible for the only known mass setting of the sixteenth century in Catalonia. Perhaps even more significantly, much of Brudieu’s music is said to conserve the characteristics of contemporary Catalan popular music. His Goigs de Nostra Dama are a set of polyphonic variations on indigenous melodies, and two of his fifteen known madrigals are settings of the poetry of Valencian Ausias Marc.

Finally, Lluís del Milá, possibly a native and certainly a resident of Valencia, is best remembered for his Libro de música de vihuela de mano intitulado El Maestro of 1536, a pedagogical work devoted to the vihuela. The compositions in the collection are arranged in order of difficulty. The first section presents several fantasies, pavanes, and “tientos” for solo vihuela, and the second advances to vocal works with vihuela accompaniment, including a number of “villancicos” and “romances.” 8

“La Decadència”

In spite of the aforementioned significant musical contributions, Catalans refer to the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as “La Decadència,” a time of not only general artistic impoverishment, but also of political repression.9 Ferdinand and Isabella, the so-called “Catholic Monarchs,” had married their daughter Juana (“la loca”) to Phillip, the son of Hapsburg emperor Maximilian, ensuring that their grandson, the future Carlos V, would rule over the most powerful and extensive European empire of the time. From the Catalonian perspective, however, the glimmers of social and political egalitarianism discernible in the region from the late Middle Ages were more or less extinguished under the heavy hands of Hapsburg viceroys. In the mid-seventeenth century, Catalonia’s enduring resentment of Castilian hegemony erupted into outright rebellion. Coerced military service against the French and the continued posting of Castilian soldiers throughout rural Catalonia sparked a peasant-led insurrection popularly known as “The Reapers’ War.”10 Catalans butted heads again with Castilian authority some fifty years later, when they backed Hapsburg pretender Charles III during the War of Spanish Succession. When Philippe d’Anjou, the grandson of Louis XIV crowned in Madrid in 1701, finally established his regency in 1714, Catalans suffered severe political repression and the loss of any remaining vestiges of regional autonomy under Bourbon rule.11

Music of the 17th and 18th Centuries in Catalonia

The absence of court life and the general cultural deterioration in Catalonia throughout the so-called Baroque era—typically dated 1600-1750—had a definitive impact on musical production in the region. For much of the seventeenth century religious music, often in the tradition of Palestrina and Victoria, was the norm, while opera, the musical form which from its inception at the turn of the seventeenth century had a uniquely defining impact on the Baroque style, did not arrive in Catalonia until the start of the eighteenth century. The new style persisted much longer in Catalonia and throughout the rest of the peninsula than in the rest of Europe, and a Classical approach along the lines of the Viennese school never developed fully. El Patriarca, the cathedral and collegium of Valencia, and the aforementioned monastery of Montserrat were crucial musical breeding grounds throughout the period.

The so-called “Valencian School” traces its origins to Joan Baptista Comes (1582-1643) and owed much of its vitality to the influence of Italian musical taste. “Mestre de capella” for many years at the cathedral of Valencia, the renowned Comes introduced the technique of “basso continuo” in his numerous religious works and also delved into the polychoral style of Venice. Pere Rabassa, also active in Valencia, was the first composer to introduce the Italianate concepts of recitativo and aria into his “villancicos,” starting in 1714. Josep Prades (1689-1757), also “mestre de capella” at Valencia, was an important composer for the stage and demonstrated a profound awareness of contemporary Italian vocal style in such works as his Opera a cinco voces al Patriarca San Jose of 1708. Another “mestre de capella” of the same cathedral, Pasqual Fuentes (1718-1768), was also a prodigious composer of “villancicos,” into many of which were interpolated such popular elements as “tonadillas,” “seguidillas,” and minuets, along with the customary recitativo and arias.

The “escolania” of Montserrat was the site of much significant musical production throughout the seventeenth century. Known to his contemporaries as “el mestre, el music, i el compositor,”12 Pere Joan Cererols (1618-1680) , a monk at Montserrat, was perhaps the most celebrated composer of the school. Cererols left the monastery for several years during the Reapers’ War and sought refuge in Madrid, where he was considerably influenced by the works of Mateo Romero and Carlos Patiño. His output abounds in vocal works, including a large number of “villancicos” in the Castilian tongue, as well as numerous works to Latin texts. Miquel López (1669-1723) developed the concept of instrumental polyphony at Montserrat and was responsible as well for several theoretical works and a Historia de Montserrat, preserved in manuscript form. His works are said to provide a valuable glimpse of the musical style of Catalonia before the wave of Italianism held sway. Further progress in the area of instrumentation can be credited to Benet Esteve (1702-1772), who enlarged the monastery’s orchestra with wind instruments, and his pupil Benet Julià (1726-1787), composer of works for various instruments and keyboard.

Josep Roda Batlle describes the works of Anselm Viola (1738-1798) and Narcís Casanoves (1747-1809) as the “culmination” of eighteenth-century music at Montserrat.13 The former taught at the monastery prior to moving to the Spanish capital. He was well versed in the full range of contemporary European styles, and his works reveal a comfort with such Classical forms as the sonata and the concerto, as well as the melodic and tonal norms of the era. Casanoves’ work is characterized by substantial Italianate influence, integrated into a multi-faceted personal style, which combined popular Catalan elements with archaic forms of polyphony.

A number of other composers active in Catalonia throughout this period produced instrumental music of note. Widely known as “the Spanish Buxtehude,”14 Joan Baptista Cabanilles (1644-1712) was organist at the cathedral of Valencia and produced a substantial number of works in variation form for his instrument. Josep Elies (16? – 1749) was a pupil of Cabanilles, best remembered for his Obras de órgano entre el antiguo i moderno estilo, a collection of twelve pieces which range from the antiquated polyphony of an earlier time to the contemporary taste for simpler and more melodious textures. The concept of enharmonics was introduced to Catalonia by Elies, who apparently had no knowledge of the work of Bach or Rameau. Indeed, this important innovator was credited by his own pupil Antoni Soler i Ramos (1729-1783) as the inspiration for the younger composer’s harmonic adventurousness.

Soler, presently the best known composer of the region, received his early training at Montserrat under the aforementioned Benet Esteve among others. In 1752 the young composer took orders as a Jeronimite monk in the Escorial, where he was to spend the rest of his life. Contact with José de Nebra and Domenico Scarlatti at the court was an important influence on Soler, whose one-movement, binary-form keyboard sonatas constitute a major part of his output, beyond an abundance of religious and chamber works. Soler was intrigued as well by theoretical issues, and entered into a correspondence on such matters with the Italian Joan Baptista Martini. Soler’s controversial treatise Llave de la modulación of 1762 was a product of his speculation on harmonic matters.

The composer remained in touch all his life with his native region, and it is largely due to copies of his music prepared at Montserrat that so much of his oeuvre has survived. Echoes of popular elements are readily discernable in many of the sonatas, and in their embryonic sonata forms the path to further structural development seems clear. How odd that such disciples as Rafael Anglès (1730-1816), Josep Gallés (1761-1836) and Josep Vinyals (1771-1827) were content to reproduce Soler’s formal procedures without the sort of advances prevalent throughout the rest of the continent. Still, the charm of such works cannot be overstated, and their integration of popular Catalan elements is of particular relevance to this study.

Also of note is the work of Francesc Valls (1665-1747), music director at the cathedral of Barcelona. Best known for his significant output of religious works, his Scala Aretina (based on Guido d’Arezzo’s hexachord) mass of 1702 provoked a major controversy through its unconventional handling of dissonances.


When Archduke Charles of Vienna was proclaimed king of Barcelona in 1705, he brought his taste for Italian opera to Catalonia during his brief rule. In celebration of his wedding, operatic productions were staged in Barcelona, with Italian singers imported from the Viennese court. The works of Antonio Caldara, Giuseppe Porsile and Emmanuele Rincon introduced opera to the city. The archduke’s retreat from Barcelona in 1711 had no impact on the newly introduced art form, which by then had acquired a loyal public following. Barcelona had one opera house at the time, the Santa Creu, which before long became a venue for zarzuela premieres. By 1750, Barcelona had its own opera company. Valencia was also committed to musical theater, as evidenced by the Nicolas Moro opera company based there.

Some cross-pollination between Catalonia and Italian operatic schools is evident in the number of Catalan-born operatic composers who found employment in Italy and in the important premieres of operas by Italian composers in Catalonia. Barcelona native Domenic Terradelles (1713-1751) is an example of the former, with his successful compositional career at Naples and Rome. In the latter half of the eighteenth century the Valencian Vicent Martín i Soler (1754-1806) was undoubtedly Catalonia’s most celebrated composer on the international scene, best remembered in modern times for his opera Una cosa rara, a theme of which was quoted in Don Giovanni. Indeed, like Mozart, the Catalan composer enjoyed a markedly successful collaboration with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. Known as “Martini lo Spagnolo” by the Italians, Martin i Soler resided at various times in Naples, Venice, Parma, and Vienna, eventually making his way to St. Petersburg at the invitation of Catherine the Great.15 Niccolo Piccinni was one of the favorite Italian composers of the Barcelona public, and his operas La buona figliuola (1761) and La buona figliuola maritata (1763) were performed widely in the Catalonian capital.

The Early Nineteenth-Century Musical Scene in Catalonia

Throughout much of the nineteenth century, civil strife, foreign occupations, and periods of extreme politcal repression tended to compromise artistic production in Catalonia. The supremacy of Italian opera persisted, and such composers as Rossini and Donizetti were lionized beyond the expectations of any native composer. Following the Napoleonic War of 1808-1814, Ramon Carnicer (1789-1855) created and directed an opera company dedicated to the Italian repertoire and underwritten by wealthy families of Barcelona. Carnicer was a gifted composer of Italianate operas in his own right, several of which were premiered in Spain. Other Catalans influenced by the Italian operatic style were Josep Melcior Gomis (1791-1836), Baltasar Saldoni (1807-1889), Marià Obiols (1809-1888), Vicenç Cuyàs (1816-1839), and Nicolau Manent (1827-1887).

The Teatre de la Santa Creu had long been Barcelona’s only opera house, but the “Liceu Filharmònico-Dramàtic Barcelonès de Doña Isabel II,” inaugurated in 1838, was to lead to the creation of a second, more illustrious theater. The “Liceu” was established by a battalion of the Barcelona militia and quickly became Catalonia’s first conservatory. Italian opera companies performed under its auspices with an orchestra of the Liceu’s students. The Gran Teatre del Liceu, a splendid edifice constructed on the site of a Trinitarian convent ceded by the government, opened in 1847 and quickly established itself as one Europe’s leading opera houses. A number of prestigious premieres took place within in its walls, including works not only by such Italians as Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, and Verdi, but also operas of Weber, Wagner, d’Auber, Meyerbeer, and Halévy.

In the domain of instrumental music, Ferran Sors (1778-1839) stands out for his contributions to the guitar repertoire and technique. Sors was trained at Montserrat and mastered the violin, cello and guitar at an early age. A composition student of Anselm Viola, Sors first distinguished himself in his late teens with his opera Telemac, successfully performed in Barcelona and Venice, and later a Catalan-language work, Crits del carrer o Draps i ferro vell. The composer settled successively in Paris, London, Prussia and Russia, where his output of operatic, symphonic, chamber, and vocal compositions was warmly received. Still, it was Sors’ mastery of the guitar and his publications for that instrument for which he was most highly regarded and is best remembered. Some sixty-five original works for guitar were published in Paris in 1825, and his guitar method of 1830 was known throughout the entire continent.

The “Renaixença”

The “Renaixença,” or Renaissance, was an artistic and political movement within Catalonia, which called for the reestablishment of a national identity. This entailed the revival of the Catalan language as a medium for literary expression, and the recasting of the region’s history along mythologically idealized terms. Writing on the subject in Barcelona, Robert Hughes alludes to the “Renaixença” in relation to Catalonia’s growing industrialism:

In fact, beyond the region’s literary and intellectual elite, most Catalans were preoccupied with trade protection for their industry and recognized the value of remaining politically connected to Madrid. Still, in the long run, the “Renaixença” would have genuine political implications and profound social relevance.16

While the dawn of this new era is often traced to the publication in the 1830’s of Catalan-language poetry, it would take the engagement of musicians in the movement to reach the masses. This social agenda was largely initiated by Anselm Clavé (1824-1874), founder of the region’s first choral societies.

In his youth, Clavé was imprisoned for his dangerously progressive political outlook and his participation in a major popular revolt of 1843. Following his release in 1845, Clavé founded “La Aurora,” initially a group of some twenty young singers and musicians committed to performing readily accessible music by Clavé and his peers to the lower classes. By 1850, however, the young revolutionary addressed the need for direct participation in communal music making as a means to social progress by founding “La Fraternitat,” Catalonia’s first choral society. Municipal authorities compelled Clavé to change the name of his organization to the less threatening “Euterpe” in 1857, although its function and work remained unaltered. Within two years the society was publishing its own magazine, Eco de Euterpe, and in 1860 “l’Associació General de Cors Euterpenses” was created to coordinate the activities of diverse choral societies now thriving throughout Catalonia. Clavé’s own musical compositions are noteworthy for their pedagogical simplicity and feeling for basic choral textures. Indeed, although Orpheonism flourished in Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands in the nineteenth century, composers seemed eventually to weary of the requirement of composing technically uncomplicated arrangements for untrained ensembles.

The survival of choral arts in the area rests with the formation of several professional societies in the 1890’s, most notably the “Orfeó Català,” founded by Lluís Millet and Amadeu Vives in 1891. Both musicians were deeply committed to the revival of early music and to exploring the region’s folk music. Antoni Nicolau (1858-1933) was another important composer of choral music, including several works based on texts by Catalan poet Jacint Verdaguer premiered by the Orfeó Català. The illustrious Palau de la Música Catalana of Barcelona, designed by the architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner and constructed between 1905 and 1908, became the base of operations for the organization.17 So significant was the Orfeó Català to the musical life of Catalonia that composers of this generation have come to be known as the “Generació de 1908.”18

The music of this period owes much of its inspiration to the pioneering work of Felip Pedrell (1841-1922). The Tortosa-born musician produced a significant body of operatic and symphonic music early in his career but, more significantly for posterity, became passionately committed to research into early music as well as the study of popular and folkloric modes of expressions. Pedrell published numerous articles and studies in these areas and founded two publications in 1881, Salterio sacro-hispano and Notas musicales y literaria. Most celebrated is his publication of the Cancionero musical popular español in 1922. The four volumes of this study include not only a wealth of folk music from each region of Spain, but also a good deal of Medieval and Renaissance material. Indeed, Pedrell’s Cancionero provided for many a first glimpse of the Cantigas of Alfonso el Sabio, the work of the great “vihuelists” and organists of the “siglo de oro,” and many charming “tonadillas” from the seventeenth century. Complete editions of the works of Victoria and Cabezón also owe their existence to Pedrell.

One of Pedrell’s greatest inspirations was the compositional esthetic of Richard Wagner. The German master’s commitment to Nationalism and his quest to create “German opera” became an important example to Catalan composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Indeed, the influence of the leitmotiv technique can be felt in a such purely instrumental music as the original solo piano version of Enrique Granados’ Goyescas. Wagnerian opera captured the hearts of the Barcelonese public in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and, with numerous productions at the Liceu, it constituted a significant departure from the previously dominant Italian styles. Clavé had been one of the first Catalan musicians to take up the cause of Wagner’s music, and Pedrell continued this tradition in 1901 by forming the “Associació Wagneriana.”

Pedrell’s personal quest to create a quintessentially Spanish national opera along the lines of Wagner found expression in such works as Els Pirineus and La Celestina, the former based on the text of Catalan poet Victor Badaguer, the latter on a celebrated prosaic work of the Spanish Renaissance.19 Most modern-day commentators have only qualified praise for Pedrell’s original compositions, but his fervent commitment to the indigenous music and art of Iberia was clearly a transformative force in the artistic development of countless Spanish composers of succeeding generations. “Por nuestra música,” an appeal for musical Nationalism written originally as a prologue to Els Pirineus, was in effect a rallying cry for a new era in Spanish art music, which would find its most glorious expression in the works of Catalonians Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) and Enrique Granados (1867-1916) and the Cádiz-born Manuel de Falla (1876-1946).

Although these three composers have achieved an international renown virtually synonymous with the revitalization of Spanish musical traditions at the turn of the century, a number of other Catalans were deeply affected by Pedrell’s example on a more localized level. Francesc Alió (1862-1908), a pupil of Nicolau and Pedrell, was a prodigious composer of songs based on texts by Catalan authors as well as simple arrangements of folk songs. Alió’s pupil Joan Gay (1867-1926) founded the Institució Catalana de Música before relocating to Cuba. Another protégé of Pedrell and Albéniz, Enric Morera distinguished himself in the fields of composition, pedagogy, musicology, and choral direction. Also of this generation was the pedagogue Joan Llongueres and the legendary musicologist Higini Anglès. In addition, concert artists such as cellist Pau Casals (1876-1973) and Joan Lamote de Grignon (1872-1943), founder and conductor of l’Orquesta Simfònica de Barcelona, contributed mightily to the musical life of the region.

“Catalanism” on the Politcal Scene

Politically speaking, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw a continuation of tumultuous changeability in the Spanish government, along with an ongoing development of nationalistic sentiments in Catalonia. “Catalanism” is a term widely used to evoke the political, social, and artistic concerns which centered around the region’s unique identity and needs at this time. The aforementioned “Renaixença” was one crucial manifestation, but so was a rather reactionary longing for the restoration of Medieval Catalan political rights and legal proceedings. Worker revolts over atrocious working and living conditions characterized much of this period in Barcelona, even as the city sought to expand and modernize its earlier peripheries through the destruction of its original walls and the adoption of Ildefons Cerdà’s “Eixample,” or plan for urban enlargement.20

The formation of the “Lliga Regionalista” in 1901 led to increased electoral clout for Catalonia, and several repressive moves from Madrid—including the banning of the Catalan language from public schools in 1902—actually had the effect of inspiring stronger nationalist feelings and increased voter turnout. In 1912, the Spanish government conceded a small degree of autonomy to the region by enacting the so-called “ley de mancomunidades,” which authorized the creation of provincial health, social, cultural, and educational programs, all backed by government funds. The “mancomunidades” would endure some ten years, until their repeal by the government of Primo de Rivera.21

Catalan Music in the Early 20th Century

Several of the twentieth century’s most notable Catalan nationalist composers came to artistic maturity during this period of renewed regional pride and empowerment. A pupil of Enric Morera, Jaime Pahissa is perhaps best remembered today for one of the first biographical studies of Manuel de Falla, although his compositional essays included some of the earliest dodecaphonic, polytonal, and “intertonal”22 music penned in Catalonia. Pahissa composed a great deal of theatrical and operatic music, and his Suite Internacional of 1926 remains one the most progressive and interesting works of the era. Better known for his strong commitment to dodecaphony was Robert Gerhard (1895-1970), a Catalan native who became eventually a British subject. In the early 1930’s, Gerhard and Pablo Casals succeeded in enticing Schoenberg to winter in Barcelona, where the music of the second Viennese School was gaining considerable exposure.23 Gerhard was in fact Schoenberg’s sole Spanish pupil, having completed earlier studies with Pedrell and Granados. This sense of a “dual heritage” would inform much of Gerhard’s output, a concept well illustrated by the premiere in 1932 of the orchestral version of his Sis cançons populars catalanes in Vienna with soprano Conchita Badia under the direction of Anton Webern!

More Romantic in inspiration was the Catalan Eduard Toldrà (1895-1962), who first distinguished himself as a child prodigy of the violin. In 1911 he founded the celebrated “Quartet Renaixement,” which contributed significantly to the musical life of the region as well as the rest of the nation. Toldrà’s organizational skills surfaced again in 1943, when he established the “Orquestra Municipal de Barcelona,” which he directed to great international acclaim until his death. As a composer, Toldrà trained under Nicolau and produced a substantial corpus of music in a rather nationalistic vein, including a number of chamber and vocal works.

One of Toldrà’s more important contemporaries was the Catalan Manuel Blancafort (1897-1987), whose “Polca de l’equilibrista” from Parc d’attractions (1920-1924) was premiered by the legendary Ricardo Viñes and earned the composer an international reputation. Impressionism and the work of the French “groupe des six” were major influences on Blancafort’s style, although the neo-classical works of Stravinsky also exerted a considerable pull in many of Blancafort’s later compositions. Still, the consistent element in the composer’s output is a marked regionalism and the unabashed exploitation of Catalan folk materials. Blancafort’s work is frequently contrasted with that of his illustrious colleague, Federico Mompou (1893-1987). Mompou is of course one of the most crucial figures of this period, and his work will be the focus of several later chapters. Other Catalan composers of the period worthy of mention include Agustí Grau, Xavier Gols, Josep Valls, Frederic Llongàs, and Joaquim Serra. Commentators have frequently associated these composers with the “Generation of ‘27.”24

Oppression, the Second Republic, and the Spanish Civil War

When Miguel Primo de Rivera, captain-general of Catalonia, seized control of the Spanish government in 1923, the dictatorship he imposed moved yet again to suppress all traces of Catalanism from the province. Rivera was fiercely committed to the ideal of Spanish unity and reserved his deepest contempt for Catalonian middle-class dreams of independence. The working class tended to accept the new regime for its creation of numerous employment opportunities, many of which stemmed from the 1929 World Exhibition at Barcelona. Still, Rivera’s ban on the Catalan language and flag from public institutions, his revocation of the Mancomunitat laws, and his abolition of Catalan political parties excited in many a secretive spirit of Catalanism, associated at that time with Catalan separatist revolutionary Francesc Maciá.25

Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship was short-lived, since he was obliged to step down once King Alfonso XIII withdrew his support in 1929. Within two years Alfonso himself would be ousted, however, as a new government assumed power. Catalonia supported wholeheartedly the establishment of the Second Republic of Spain, since its constitution assured autonomy for the region along with the creation of the “Generalidad catalana.” Nevertheless, mounting social unrest and widespread conflicts between extreme elements on both ends of the political spectrum led to the deterioration of the Republic within five years. The “Falange Española,” a right-wing movement founded in 1933 by Primo de Rivera, reacted against the left wing of Spanish politics, emphasizing Spanish traditionalism and a quest for civil order.26 The lines were being drawn for the monstrous Spanish Civil War of 1936 – 1939, after which Generalísimo Francisco Franco would rule Spain until his demise in 1975.

Music in Catalonia under Franco

The suppression of Catalan autonomy under Franco’s dictatorship and Spain’s general alienation from the international community during this oppressive regime dealt a heavy blow to the previously promising musical scene in Catalonia. Shortly before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War Barcelona had proudly hosted the Fourteenth Festival of the SIMC (Societat Internacional de Música Contemporània) and the Third Congress of the SIM (Societat Internacional de Musicologia), evidence of the city’s prominence as an international musical center. In the aftermath of the civil strife, many important composers such as Mompou, Pahissa, and Gerhard chose to live abroad, whereas others such as Morera and Millet were largely ignored. Prominent soloists left the country as well, perhaps most significantly Pau Casals, whose Orquestra Pau Casals disbanded. Many of the musical societies which had flourished in Catalonia since the late nineteenth century folded, and the Orfeó Català suspended its activities. So extreme was the repression of Catalan institutions that for years the use of the Catalan language in choral compositions was banned, as were performances of the “Cant de la Senyera,” Catalonia’s “Song of the Flag.”

Fortunately, the desolation was not to be long-lived: as much as Catalonia suffered under Franco, she also became the embodiment of resistance to his totalitarian regime. Through the efforts of numerous gifted composers, performers, and pedagogues, the region’s musical life was soon to revive. With the creation of the Orquesta Municipal of Barcelona, Eduard Toldrà provided the area with a stable symphonic ensemble. This orchestra would be succeeded in 1967 by the Orquestra Ciutat de Barcelona under the baton of Antoni Ros Marbà. The Orfeó Català was authorized to resume its performances in 1946, and numerous new choral groups were established in the following years, including the Capella Clàssica Polifònica, the Coral Sant Jordi, and the Cor Madrigal. “Club 49″ of Barcelona, founded by Joaquim Homs and Carles Maristany, sought to promote awareness of the musical avant-garde through its numerous public performances, as did the Joventuts Musicals, founded in 1951. Other performance groups committed to new music were Diabolus in Musica, the Conjunt Català de Música Contemporània, the Laboratori de Música Electrònica Phonos, and the Grup Instrumental Català.

Although Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-99) is a native of Valencia, that region’s historical link to Catalonia and the composer’s international renown warrant inclusion of him in the present discussion. Rodrigo studied with the Valencian López-Chávarri before relocating to Paris for studies with Dukas. After the Civil War, the composer of the world-famous Concierto de Aranjuez settled in Madrid and has held the “Manuel de Falla” chair at that city’s university since 1947. Following the phenomenal success of his ubiquitous guitar concerto, Rodrigo continued to produce a number of works in a similar vein, one of which, the Fantasía para un gentilhombre, has enjoyed comparable acclaim. In his songs, Rodrigo has turned frequently to Catalan texts, which he sets with uncommon sensitivity, frequently in a neo-classical style with modal harmonies.

Barcelona native Joaquim Homs (1909- ) trained under Robert Gerhard. In contrast to the rather conservative compositional orientation of Rodrigo, Homs has favored atonal and frequently dodecaphonic approaches. His commitment to contemporary music is evident in numerous magazine articles and in his efforts on behalf of several Catalan organizations. Homs played a crucial role in arranging and providing commentary for concerts of Club 49 and was the first president of the “Associació Catalana de Compositors.”

A pupil of Morera and Pahissa, Xavier Montsalvatge (1912- ) was born in Girona and has achieved an international stature on par with that of Rodrigo. Montsalvatge has evolved compositionally through a number of diverse styles and trends. His most popular works are generally from the 40’s and early 50’s, when the composer was enamored of “antillanisme,” a Caribbean musical style associated with Spain’s colonization of Cuba.27 Among Montsalvatge’s most representative compositions from this period are the Cinco Canciones Negras for soprano and orchestra, the Cuarteto indiano, and Divertimientos sobre temas de autores olvidados for solo piano.

A more neoclassical approach characterizes much of Montsalvatge’s output from the later 50’s and 60’s, as suggested by such works as the Desintegració morfològica de la Chacona de Bach and the Sonatine pour Yvette. Later still, the composer would turn to dodecaphonic resources in his Cinc invocacions al Crucificat, Laberint, and Sonata concertant, among others.

Among the more important Catalan composers born during the era of the Second Republic and the Civil War are Romà Alís, Lleonard Balada, Jordi Cervelló, Salvador Pueyo, and Andrés Lewin-Richtes. Alís has distinguished himself through his pedagogical activities in Madrid and Seville, as well as through numerous film and television scores. Balada began his studies at the Conservatori del Liceu before moving to New York to continue his training at the Juilliard School. He is currently on the composition faculty of Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. Particularly noteworthy is his opera Cristóbal Colón, composed in 1986. The influence of the Second Viennese School is apparent in the expressionistic and atonal work of Cervelló. The composer has been drawn in several instances to compositions on Jewish themes, including his Anna Frank, un simbol of 1971. Pueyo studied in Barcelona with Toldrà and Zamacois, a prominent pedagogue, before proceeding to Paris to continue with Pierre Shaefer. Abstraccions and Antítesi, both for orchestra, are considered among his most advanced compositions. Finally, the electronic camp finds representation in the work of Lewin-Richtes, who studied at the electronic music studios at Columbia University with Davidovsky, Ussachevsky and Varèse. Virtually all Lewin-Richtes’ compositions entail the use of taped music, be it purely electronic works such as his Fontecilla mix I, works for voice and tape like the Sequencia III per a Anna, or “collages” for instruments and tape as in the Collage en homenatge a Gerhard.

Music and Politics of the New Generation

More recent Catalan composers have included Carles Guinovart (1941- ), Eduardo Polonio (1941- ), Albert Sardà (1943- ), Anna Bofill (1944- ), Vicenç Acuña (1945- ), Mercè Capdevila (1946- ), Josep A. Roda (1947- ), Joan A. Amargós (1950- ), Lluís Gasser (1951- ), Llorenç Balsach (1953- ), and Isabel Garvia (1959- ). A fine selection of their work for piano is provided in Llibre per a Piano, a publication of the Associació Catalana de Compositors.28 Commenting on this most recent generation of composers Josep Roda Batlle remarks:

…composers of the present day seek total originality, and each of them his own language, which makes it difficult to group them by characteristics or schools. These musicians were somewhat influenced by the Generation of ‘51, starting composing under the directives of serialism or aleatory, only to end up defining and refining their own musical language… These are composers of the present and the future, not yet history.29

In the political arena, the last several decades have brought about bright new horizons for Catalonia as well. With the restoration of the Spanish monarchy in the person of Juan Carlos I following the death of Franco, Spain made rapid progress towards democratization in the form of a constitutional monarchy. The new constitution was ratified in December of 1978 and called for regional autonomy in the context of a unified nation. In this document, areas of state-wide control are distinguished from matters left to regional governments. Catalonia had especially compelling claims for autonomy, given its unique history, culture, and language, as well as the enduring quest of its population for such a political structure. In December of 1979, the national “Cortes” ratified Catalonia’s specific petition for autonomy, the Catalan populace approved the proposal in a referendum, and the new statute was officially implemented.30

Tensions have nevertheless persisted in the struggle to define Catalonia’s autonomy. Grandiose ambitions on the part of certain Catalans desirous of incorporating Valencia into a “greater Catalonia” along the lines of the erstwhile empire have been ascribed to “Regional imperialism” and won little national support.31 A more pressing concern has been the emigration to Barcelona of large members of the working force. Such non-native Catalans often have political orientations different from those of the indigenous population, as well as limited respect for the region’s customs and culture. Democratic principles accord natives and emigrants equal electoral power, thereby imperiling some of Catalonia’s unique identity.32 Still, a silver lining is discernable in the dilemma: in the quest to articulate the essence of supposedly endangered “Catalanism,” the meanings and implications of the term are bound to become more widely known and understood.

1 Unless otherwise indicated, all references in the present chapter to Catalan musical history derive from the following source: Josep Roda Batlle, Música i músics a casa nostra (Barcelona: Editorial Teide, 1993).

2 Robert Hughes, Barcelona (N.Y.: Vintage Books, 1992), 75.

3 Batlle, 15-17.

4 Batlle, 47.

5 Hughes, 119.

6 Ibid., 104-109.

7 Ibid., 169-171.

8 Gilbert Chase, The Music of Spain (N.Y.: Dover Publications, 1959), 55-58.

9 Hughes, 175.

10 Els segadors (The Reapers), a nearly ubiquitous Catalan anthem dating from the nineteenth century, commemorates this struggle.

11 Vicente Cantarino, Civilización y Cultura de España (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1995), 207-210.

12 Batlle, 66.

13 Ibid., 67.

14 Ibid, 71.

15 Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 6th ed., s. v. “Martín y Soler, Vicente,” by Othmar Wessely.

16 Hughes, 254.

17 Felipe Fernández-Armesto, Barcelona: A Thousand Years of the City’s Past (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 211-212.

18 Batlle, 125.

19 Encyclopædia Britannica, 1964 edition, s. v. “ Celestina, La,” by P. E. Russell.

20 Fernández-Armesto, 171-172.

21 Fernández-Armesto, 190-191.

22 Batlle explains “intertonality” as a system based on “pure dissonance.” 138.

23 Willi Reich, Schoenberg: a critical biography, translated by Leo Black (N.Y.: Praeger Publishers, 1971), 176.

24 Batlle, 155.

25 Fernández-Armesto, 219-221.

26 Cantarino, 323, 361-369.

27 It is useful to recall that for many years Cuba was seen as yet another region of Iberia, and the inclusion of a piece such as “Cubana” in Manuel de Falla’s Cuatro piezas españolas, for example, would not have seemed incongruous.

28 Associació Catalana de Compositors, Llibre per a Piano (Barcelona: Associació Catalana de Compositors, 1980).

29 Batlle, 172-173.

30 Cantarino, 412-424.

31 Ibid., 423.

32 Ibid., 424.