Musical Sunbeams Cutting through the Fog

Sunbeams cutting through the winter fog. © Charles Thibo

Snow has become a rare commodity in Luxembourg, and it is far more likely to snow in January or February than in December. White Christmas is a myth! Climate change is not helping to improve this situation: Winter is like a long series of grey, wet days, prone to trigger depressive ideas and bad temper. That’s why I cherish every single winter day with a little sunshine. I compare it to a promise, made by nature to mankind: Spring will come!

Here is another, similar promise –  music that will cut through grey clouds and heavy fog like a sunbeam. Music composed by the Spanish composer Antonio Soler. He is known chiefly for his keyboard sonatas, whose refinement is often compared to the works of Domenico Scarlatti whom Soler met at the Spanish Court in the second half of the 18th century. Soler wrote some 120 sonatas and the Croatian pianist Martina Filjak has recorded 15 of them with the Naxos label, who has asked other pianists to perform the remaining sonatas.

I appreciate the lightheartedness of Soler’s work. Although they are firmly rooted in the Baroque tradition, they have a distinctive touch, a little of Mozart but at the same time foreshadowing Chopin’s style. Soler’s formal structure has been characterized as the bridge between the Baroque suite and the mature classical sonata.

Soler was born in 1729 in Catalonia (north-west of Spain). His father led a military band. Soler was raised in the monastery of Montserrat and sang in the monastery’s boys choir. He received early training as an organist and composer. Around 1750 he become the chief musician at the cathedral of Lleida, the capital city of the province Catalonia. A few years later he entered a monastic order and became the musical director at El Escorial, a monastery and royal residence.

The keyboard sonatas saw the light while he taught members of the Royal family. They were meant as training material. That was common practice all over Europe as writes the researcher Hayk Arsenyan in his dissertation on Soler’s works: “In the pre-classical era the sonata gained a pedagogical purpose and became one of the most popular genres in Europe. […] In England such sonatas were called lessons, in France pièces or études, in Austria divertimenti, in Italy essercizi, and in Spain toccatas”.

Scarlatti also wrote organ works, concertos, quintets, dramatic works and sacred vocal music. Unfortunately most of his works were destroyed in 1808 when French troops ransacked El Escorial during Napoleon’s occupation of Spain. Damned Napoleon!

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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