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Castro

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Juan José Castro (1895-1968) has earned widespread recognition as one of the most important Argentine composers of the 20th century. Since his twenties he championed the modern music cause both as a conductor, performing South American premieres of such works as Le Sacre du Printemps, and as a composer, experimenting with dissonant techniques and neoclassicism. Castro's musical language is synthesis of three different musical trends: the Spanish, with modal Moorish colors and vital rhythms; the French, with both "Franckian" textures and the biting dissonances of Les Six; and the Argentine, with tango rhythms and cadences.

Biography

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The internationally known Argentine conductor.
Juan Jose Castro was born to a family of musicians on March 7th. 1895, in Avellaneda, province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. In this country, he studied with Manuel POSADAS, Constantino GAITO and Eduardo FORNARINI From the last two teachers, Castro inherited Gaito's fondness of the folk element and Fornarini's tendency to controlled and cerebral composition processes.

During the French belle epoque, in the 1920s, he completed his studies in Paris under the teachings of the composer Vicent D'INDY and the pianist Edouard RISLER. Back in Buenos Aires in 1925, Castro devoted himself mainly to orchestral conducting, making his debut in 1928 with the "Renacimiento" Chamber Orchestra. A year later, he was invited to conduct the Argentinean premiere of "El amor brujo" ("Love, the sorcerer") -piece by the eminent Spanish composer Manuel de Falla- in the Colon Theatre in Buenos Aires. With this performance, Castro initiated two fruitful and longlasting associations: first, with the Colon Theatre, and second, with Manuel de Falla. Juan Jose Castro's active and ever growing career as a conductor can be followed decade by decade, between the 30s and the 50s. During the 1930s, he was intensely busy with orchestras in Argentina. His programs frequently included music by 20th century composers, such as the French Impressionists, members of "Les Six", and contemporary Spanish and Argentine composers.

The decade of the 1940s marked the beginning of Castro's international career. Some important tours throughout the Americas took him to the USA -invited by Toscanini to conduct the NBC Symphony Orchestra,- Mexico, Peru and Chile. Later, between 1947 and 1949, he was the music director of the Philarmonic Orchestra of Cuba, and between 1949 and 1952, of the SODRE Symphony Orchestra in Montevideo, Uruguay.

During the 50's Castro's international reputation continued to extend to the rest of the world. In 1950, a succesful debut with the Belgrad Symphony Orchestra, in Yugoslavia, launched a European tour that included England, Switzerland, France, Spain, Norway and Finland. After Europe, he travelled to Australia to conduct the Melbourne Victorian Symphony Orchestra and other orchestras of that country and New Zealand, between 1952 and 1953.

J. J. Castro and Argentine writer Victoria Ocampo (dedicated picture).
 

Finally, after an absence of more than seven years, Castro returned to the Argentine musical scene in 1955. Back in his native country, he directed the National Symphony Orchestra until 1960. During these years, the broad experience acquired in his tours and his exceptional talent as a conductor, allowed Castro to transform this orchestra into the foremost musical institution in the country.

The last stages of Castro's career took place at the Music Festival of California, USA, and in San Juan of Puerto Rico, where he bacame the Dean of the National Conservatory after a formal request made by its founder the violoncellist Pablo Casals.

The neo-classic Argentine composer.

Castro and Stravinsky
 

Juan Jose Castro appeal as a composer is the result of his rich and eclectic style, and of his balanced aesthetic sense. His works include numerous symphonic pieces, fiIm music, chamber music, music for piano solo, bandoneon solo, voice and piano, choir, operas and arrangements of music by other composers such as Bach, Weber, and Julian Aguirre.

Castro's musical language is a very personal and original synthesis of three different musical currents: the Spanish, with its modal scales, moorish flavor and vital rhythm; the French, with Franck-like harmonies and textures, and Impressionist atmospheres, and finally the Argentinean, with its folk flavor from the countryside, and its urban tanto from the "arrabal" (outskirts) of Buenos Aires. Among Castro's most important pieces, mention is due to his Biblic Symphony (1932), the ballet "Mekhano" (1934), the Sinfonia Argentina (1934), the Piano Concerto (1941), the String Quartet (1944), "El Llanto de las Sierras" (The weeping of the hills, 1947), "Corales Criollos no. 3" (Creole chorales no. 3, 1953), and his operas "La Zapatera Prodigiosa" (The woundrous shoemaker, 1943), "Proserpina y el Extranjero " (Proserpine and the Foreigner, 1951) and "Bodas de Sangre" (Blood weedings, 1952).

As a composer, Juan Jose Castro was always committed to the Argentine avant-garde movement. ln 1929 he joined the "Grupo Renovacion" -that grouped contemporary Argentine composers- and, in 1948, the Argentine Composers Association. His pieces were awarded prizes in many ocassion. The opera "Proserpine and the Foreigner" -premiered at the "Alla Scala" Theatre in Milan- received the "VERDl" award after having been chosen among 138 pieces; "Corales Criollos no. 2" won a prize in Caracas at the Latin American Music Festival in 1953; and, lastly, the National Fund for the Arts of Argentina awarded him the Honorary Grand Prize in 1965 for his musical production.


Carlos Chaves, Alejo Carpentier, J. J. Castro, Hilario Gonzalez and Julián Orbón in Venezuela, 1954

Parallel to his career as a composer and conductor; Castro held many important administrative appointments: he was the General Director of the Colon Theatre from 1933, professor in the National Conservatory of Music in Buenos Aires from 1939 to 1943, member of the Fine Arts National Council in Argentina from 1945 and member director of the National Endowment for the Arts.


At the Ricordi Prize ceremony, awarded to Julian Bautista (6/2/58). J. J. Castro and Alberto Ginastera (first to the right) among others.

For information about Manuel de Falla and Julian Bautista, two Spanish composers and close friends of Castro's visit Julian Bautista 's website at http://www.julianbautista.com.ar

All photos from the personal archives of Ms. Raquel Aguirre de Castro. Reproduction prohibited without written permission.

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