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.
of Formation (before 1913-1930)
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".
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.
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.
Historia de Mambru (The story of Marlborough)
Ay! Ay!... Cuando vere a mi amor! (Alas! When shall I see my beloved
el puente de Avignon (On the Avignon bridge)
con leche... (Rice and milk...)
of Transition (1933-1938)
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.
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."
la Chingola (For Chingola)
Guerrera (War Dance - New York, 1934)
Historia Terrible (Terrible story -- for children that do
Foraine (Foreign Parade)
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.
Neoclassic Period (1939-1953)
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:
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
Polka (Quasi Polka, 1946)
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.
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.
the second group are:
Sonata no. 2 (1939)
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.
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
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.
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.