Joseph Petric is acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost concert accordion soloists. His goal, to transform the accordion into a major solo instrument, reached a significant point in 1997 when he [...]
They spoke about it
Padre Antonio Soler y Ramos was born at Olot on December 3, 1729 and died at the monastery of El Escorial on December 10, 1783. It was at Escorial, between 1755 and 1765, that he composed four of his six volumes of sonatas. Didactic in nature, they were written for the royal family of King Ferdinand VI and Maria Bárbara. It is these sonatas that form the best known portion of his compositional output. Very little is known of Soler’s early years except that his father recognized his early talent and enrolled him as a student at the monastery of Monserrat. Soler studied with Domenico Scarlatti and was renowned across Europe by the age of 20. He was chosen as maestro de capilla at Lerida in 1750 and was ordained sub-deacon of the Jeronymite order of monks at the monastery of El Escorial on September 25, 1752. In 1757, with the death of Gabriel de Moratilla, he assumed the post of maestro de capilla. He remained at this monastery until his death. Soler’s breadth of knowledge and interest in theory were as significant as his composition and his historical writings. During his time at El Escorial, Soler heard some of the greatest church music of the period as conducted by Corselli, Mir y Llussá and Ripa. Soler composed many choral and chamber works during this period and completed and published a 272-page theoretical treatise entitled Llave de la Modulación (1762). By the time of his death in 1783, Soler’s output was enormous. His catalogue included 9 masses, 5 requiems, 5 motets, 16 responsories, 28 Lamentations, 25 hymns, 60 psalms, 13 Magnificat, 12 Benedicamus, 132 villancicos, 120 keyboard sonatas, a rare collection of 6 quintets for two violins, viola, cello and organ obbligato, and various chamber music. Like Scarlatti, Soler is known almost exclusively for his keyboard works. His sonatas were first published in England in 1796 by Lord Fitzwilliam. Soler’s treatment of form and material indicate that the sonatas were born, as their internal drama suggests, of a need for powerful and intimate expression. This and Soler’s practical experience as a performing musician may account for the synthesis of conventional musical forms and vernacular elements. While Soler’s sonata output is but a quarter of Scarlatti’s, they extended far beyond the single-movement and paired miniatures of his teacher. Soler preferred three- and four- movement sonatas wherein he created brilliant harmonies, highly inventive melodies and modulations combined with irregular phraseology using unmistakable Iberian elements such as the zapateado, bolero, polo and jota. While his keyboard sonatas are didactic in nature, they are neither academic nor serene, and have an air of freshness and spontaneity about them. This feeling of spontaneity in Soler’s sonatas owes something to the art of improvisation and his experience in vocal composition. For example, Iberian vernacular elements are clearly heard in the Allegro Spiritoso of his Sonata in B flat, R 62. The style of writing invites the performer to offer improvised and ornamented passages throughout the sonata. In the Andante Gracioso of the Sonata in G major, R 94, Soler writes with astonishing melodic sensibility, worthy of comparison to Haydn or Mozart. The Andante Cantabile from the Sonata in F major, R 56 is an example of Soler’s rich imagination, at once dark and charming, foreshadowing the music of Brahms. The traditional binary sonata form used so extensively by Scarlatti, is discarded by Soler. His Sonata, R 94 is published by Samuel Rubio in the complete works edition as a collection of no less than four movements—Andante grazioso e con moto / Allegro non troppo / Minuet I and II da capo / Allegro—for a total duration of 25 minutes and 30 seconds. The ‘Minuet I and II da capo’ movement alone, is nearly 9 minutes in length and is the longest movement in this sonata collection. Soler manages to extend the minuet da capo form using a combination of Iberian rhythms, a carefully developed melodic line, and a structural extension of a traditional French minuet form. Minuet II has six repeated sections as compared with the normal two repeats of binary form. This treatment transforms a normally rustic movement into something dramatic and compelling. It is this treatment of form and material that is a testament to Soler’s pragmatism, fertility of imagination and vision. The decision to record these sonatas on the concert accordion was made for two reasons. Firstly, all the works recorded fitted perfectly the sound, range and stereophonic timbre of the concert accordion. As a result, the sonatas sound as convincing, if not more so, than on their original instrument. Secondly, Soler’s treatment of form in each sonata serves to provide a new and important medium for the serious accordionist, something which is not as readily found in miniatures. While Soler led a monastic life, he was nonetheless an innovator. It is appropriate that his sonatas should meet one of the newest of recorded classical instruments, the concert accordion.