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Castro

Biography
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Piano Works, by Julio Ogas.

The following information is copyrighted material. Reproduction prohibited.

 

 

Juan Jose Castro's piano work presents neo-classic characteristics: structural balance, thematic variety, economy of resources and sobriety of expression. His output may be divided into three periods: formation, transition and neoclassic.

Period of Formation (before 1913-1930)

Two elements of great importance to the composer's future style are already present during this period. The first of them is the Argentine tango. Castro makes his first contact with this genre as a teenager, and writes three pieces of this kind. "Que Titeo!....","EI Pibe," and "Un Cimarron".

The tango "Que Titeo!...." (composed before 1913) is a piece in D major, written in regular tango form: two outer sections and a central trio. The rhythmic last section contrasts with the delicate and elegant melodies of the first and middle section.

The second element of this period is the French influence, mainly of Franckian roots. The pieces that most clearly evidence this influence are: the Chorale in c minor, the Sonata in f minor, "Cancion Variada" (Song with variations), the Prelude and chorale in e minor, the Dance, the Variations and Finale, the "Suite Infantil" (Suite for children), the Prelude, Chorale and Fugue (unfinished) and the Scherzo (lost). His strong self-critical sense made him discard all these early pieces, with the exception of the "Suite Infantil", and expressly request his wife, Raquel Aguirre de Castro, not to allow the performance of any of them. The "Suite Infantil ", which has been transcribed for orchestra, shows many post-Romantic features, such as the generous utilization of chromatic harmony, and the great unfolding of scales, arpeggios, trills, tremolos -devices used to illustrate with sounds the lyrics of the tunes used in the Suite.

Suite Infantil

  1. La Historia de Mambru (The story of Marlborough)
  2. Ay! Ay! Ay!... Cuando vere a mi amor! (Alas! When shall I see my beloved again?)
  3. Sobre el puente de Avignon (On the Avignon bridge)
  4. Arroz con leche... (Rice and milk...)

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Period of Transition (1933-1938)

During this period, Castro's production is clearly influenced by contemporary European musical trends, namely Stravinsky, Milhaud, de Falla, Satie and Ravel. To this period belong the Nine Preludes (1933, Prelude 3 now lost), that can hardly be considered a work intended to be performed as a unit, but instead, as individual pieces, independent from one to another, and "Negro Triste" (Sad Negro, 1935). The pieces for children:"Danza del Oso (Bear Dance) and "Los Corderitos Brincando" (Playful Lambs, 1938) can also be included in this group.

Some of the elements present in the aforementioned works are: the use of modal scales -in a way that resembles Ravel- in Prelude no 4 "Para la Chingola " (For Chingola, dedicated to a young niece, who died prematurely), Spanish modal flavor in Prelude no. 1, the influence of Erik Satie's sarcastic style in Prelude no. 5, "Bal Musette" and in "Danza del Oso." North American exuberant rhythms are present in Prelude no. 7, "Danza Guerrera " (War Dance), Jazz rhythm in "Negro Triste", which is a slow blues, and politonality in some passages of "Los Corderitos Brincando."

Preludios for piano

  1. Preludio (Prelude)
  2. Duendecillos (Little Elf)
  3. (Unkonw - lost)
  4. Para la Chingola (For Chingola)
  5. Bal-Musette
  6. Scherzino
  7. Danza Guerrera (War Dance - New York, 1934)
  8. Historia Terrible (Terrible story -- for children that do not behave)
  9. Parade Foraine (Foreign Parade)

Towards the end of this period of search and experimentation, Castro has acquired all the essential elements of his mature style. From now on, all his creative power will be focused on the development and elaboration of musical ideas and on the intensive exploitation of the instrument, in the light of his new aesthetical principles.

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The Neoclassic Period (1939-1953)

The pieces from this period can be divided into two groups: a group of pieces with nationalistic themes and another group of pieces with universal themes. In the first group are:

Tangos (1941)

  • Evocacion (Remembrance)
  • Lloron (Whiner)
  • Compadron
  • Milonguero
  • Nostalgico

These five tangos are Castro's homage to Buenos Aires and its musicians. In some of them, Castro utilizes quotations of very popular tunes, such as "La Cumparsita" in "Evocacion" (tango no. 1) and the trio of "9 de Julio" in "Nostalgico" (tango no. 5). The composer feels at home working in this music genre. The urban essence of his quasi-popular melodies remains untouched despite the complex processes of rhythmic and melodic elaboration that they undergo

Casi Polka (Quasi Polka, 1946)

This short piece uses rhythm of Polka, common in both the province of Corrientes, Argentina, and in Buenos Aires, as a hybrid "tango-polkas." Two contrasting themes, one melodic and the other rhythmic, are the foundations of the three sections (A-B-A) of the piece.

Corales Criollos (Creole Chorales, 1947)

Dedicated to the gaucho Martin Fierro -literary folk character from the Argentine pampas created by writer Jose Hernandez- this piece has Castro's "Cantata Argentina Martin Fierro " as a predecessor. This dedication makes evident the great admiration of composer towards the work of Hernandez.

Corales Criollos is a theme and variations whose original melody, full of folk flavor, evokes a "triste pampeano," sad song from the Pampas. Each of the eight variations is a different personification of the theme; thus, the original idea is mutated into different characters: the urban character in variation NÁ 8, written in tango rhythm, the Negro character in variation no. 3, which suggests Jazz rhythms, and the vanguardist European character in variations 1 and 6, which utilize atonal writing and resonance pedalling. However, despite the differences between variations, the continuity of the work is never lost; on the contrary, each variation becomes the logical consequence of the previous one, and the piece accomplishes the effect of a delicate and deep emotional development.

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In the second group are:

Sonata no. 2 (1939)

Allegro Moderato
Choral/Lento
Allegro

Piece in three movements that presents classical Sonata form in the first and last movements. The first movement -introspective in mood- uses Spanish modal tunes, artfully combined with rhythms typical of Buenos Aires. The middle movement is a figured chorale divided into three sections, with a quasi cadenza joining the second and third sections. The third movement is an extroverted Rag-time, where "jazzy" chords accompany dry and brisk melodies that resemble solo improvisation.

Toccata (1940)

Conceived in three sections, A-B-A, with an introduction and a coda, this Toccata uses modal harmony and melody. Wise and precise exploitation of the instrument resources and profound knowledge of compositional techniques are the main characteristics of this virtuosic and brilliant piece.

Sonatina española (1953)

Allegro Comodo
Poco Lento
Allegro

This piece is based on an outstanding expressive development of Spanish-like musical material throughout its three movements. In the firs movement -of hispanic atmosphere- the A theme emerges after an introduction that presents the twelve tones of the scale. Both themes, A and B, display certain reminiscence of the Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz. In the second movement, the appearance of a pentatonic theme joining two Spanish motives suggests an American scenery. The natural merging of the American and the Spanish characters in this movement contrasts with the vibrant clash -in the third movement- between the Hispanic themes and a partial literal transcription of the Rondo from the Sonata no. 1 op. 34 by Carl Maria von Weber.

Conformism does not exist in Juan Jose Castro's piano works. Each piece introduces a new search, a beginning, a challenge to his own creative talent. That is the reason why, though some pieces present common elements, each of them displays inspired and unique inventiveness.

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