Sextet for Viola, Piano, and String Quartet, Op. 7 (“Escena andaluza”)
Turina was one of the most popular Spanish composers in the first half of the 20th century, despite his limited success in theater music, where the greatest public interest was focused. He wrote in virtually every form and medium, but most prolifically in coloristic miniatures for piano, his own instrument. Music was a large part of his upbringing and early family life in Sevilla, and although he made some dutiful efforts studying medicine, there was little doubt where his career lay. After exhausting local options for training, he moved to Madrid for further study. His early attempts in opera and zarzuela bore little fruit, but Turina did meet Manuel de Falla, who became a close friend and important influence.
In 1905 Turina went to Paris, where he studied piano with Moritz Moszkowski and composition with Vincent d'Indy at the Schola Cantorum, from which he graduated in 1913. During this period he performed as a pianist with the Parent Quartet, which gave the premiere of his Piano Quintet in 1907. This was a big Romantic piece in the style of Franck - the model for most of the Schola Cantorum composers - and Turina labeled it his Op. 1, although he had composed much prior music. The premiere was attended by Falla and Albéniz, both of whom advised him to look to Spain for inspiration rather than to Franck and conventional forms.
This Turina did - his Op. 2 was the picturesque solo piano suite Sevilla. Another musical look at his native land was the Scène andalouse - or Escena andaluza in Spanish sources - from 1912, when Turina was still in Paris. This is another work of the sort he did with the Parent Quartet, a balanced two-movement piece for piano, string quartet, and solo viola.
The piano opens the first movement, "Twilight," with an evocative mini-prelude. The solo viola is the voice of Andalucian lovers; the quartet reflects its gestures and contributes pizzicato suggestions of serenading guitars. The second movement, "At the Window," is a lover's conversation, in which ardent outbursts alternate with tender murmurs. The rhetoric slips into Franckian grandiloquence at points, but Turina's own elegance and grace emerge strongly in this well-crafted, directly expressed musical scene.
-- John Henken