FRAY JOSE DE LARRAÑAGA (1728–1806): HIS FIGURE AND RELEVANCE
José de Larrañaga Echaniz was born in 1728 in Azkoitia, a village in the Basque Country. The first record of him dates from when he was aged 11, when he played the organ at the Arantzazu Sanctuary. Who were his teachers? Where did he study? The most likely answer is at the Arantzazu monastery, where he would almost certainly have joined as a talented chorister. He was born into an age that was blossoming musically. In 1739, when Larrañaga was 11, the chapel master at Arantzazu was Fr. Francisco de Ibarzábal. The level of this musical chapel at the time is demonstrated by the fact that following year, in 1740, a group of its musicians, together with other Franciscan musicians from Bilbao, appeared at the celebration of the General Chapter of the Franciscan Order in Valladolid. He was probably taught by several of the musicians at Arantzazu, learning quickly. The monastery’s musical archive contains a piece signed by Larrañaga in 1746, when he was still only 18. In 1747 he is named on a score as “Maestro”. By 1758 he was the director of the musical chapel that performed at the reopening of the Church, with members of the chapels of Aránzazu and the Franciscan Convent of San Sebastian. In 1763 he was called upon from Bergara to attend the annual event held in honour of San Martin de la Ascension, and we may assume that he attended the celebrations in February 1764, when the Real Sociedad Bascongada de los Amigos del País was created. In 1767, he appeared again at Bergara leading the Aranzazu chapel, providing music for the religious service of the provincial meeting held there. Fray José de Larrañaga died in Arantzazu in September 1806.
There are three major features of his professional life: his relevance in the world of organ-playing in the Basque Country, his intellectual activity as a member of the Real Sociedad Bascongada de los Amigos del Pais, and his work as a composer, of which 34 pieces remain — 25 choral (and all religious) and nine instrumental.
As an organ virtuoso, what truly calibrates the musical weight and authority that publicly accredits Fray José de Larrañaga is his constant presence in the organ tests and organ approvals and test performances by organists throughout the Basque Country. These activities included testing the new organ built by Lorenzo de Arrázolaat San martin de Tours Church in Ataun (Guipuzcoa) on 15 April 1762; issuing his opinion as Arantzazu Chapel Master on the organ at San Pedro Church in Bergara (Guipuzcoa) in 1774; and his appointment as senior examiner for the post of organist at the Bilbao Musical Chapel in 1779. Also in 1779 he was involved in fixing the specifications for a new organ to be built at the Echarri-Aranaz church in Navarre. In 1781 he tested the new organ at Santa María Parish Church in Durango (Biscay). In 1782 he served as examiner for the post of organist in Ondárroa (Biscay). On 2 May 1786 he was appointed examining judge in Legazpia (Guipuzcoa), eventually choosing the candidate Tomás Guridi. In 1789 he was appointed an examiner of the organ made in Zegama (Guipuzcoa) by Domingo de Garagalza, followed by examining the candidates for the organist’s post (the winner was Joaquín de Aranegui, from Lekeitio in Biscay). In 1789 he was proponed as technical expert for the planned refurbishment of the organ at Tolosa Church (Guipuzcoa). In 1791 he was commissioned in Legazpia (Guipuzcoa) to issue a technical report on the renovation work carried out on the organ there.
In the first articles of association of the Real Sociedad Bascongada de los Amigos del País in 1766 he was named as a member under the description "Franciscan monk and Chapel Master of Aranzazu". In the “Works Submitted by Members”, entry No. 22 is a “Code of Music adapted from M. Rameau’s French edition by Fray Joseph de Larrañaga, Franciscan Monk”. Rameau’s work — one of the key theoretical studies of the progress of the science of music — had first been published five years earlier, in 1761, which clearly demonstrates Fray José de Larrañaga’s keen intellectual interests. By the extracts for 1771 he is now listed as Professor of the Second Commission (of Practical Arts and Sciences). In subsequent issues he continues to be named as a member of the Second Commission (in 1772 y 1775), always accompanied by the Count of Peñaflorida, a fellow son of Azkoitia. He attended several seminary meetings in Azkoitia and Bergara and the General Meetings at least in 1779, where we learn: "Together the same Friends as at the preparations of yesterday and Father Jose de Larrañaga, Professor, with a lucid concourse of both communities commenced the function with an opening Speech by the Friend Director on Patriotism...”.
Although Fray José de Larrañaga is best known as a composer for his keyboard works, the bulk of his efforts were devoted to religious music. His liturgical works reveal him to have been an expert in the musical language of his era. His mastery of writing for the human voice, with extensive application of solo lines and effective use of choral bodies, is combined with his skill at scoring for orchestra, giving testimony of his familiarity with the latest trends in instrumental music, particularly from Italy and France. As a result, Fray José de Larrañaga is one of the key composers in the development of music in the Basque Country and a link in an unbroken chain of talents — the year of Larrañaga’s death, 1806, was also the year when one of the best-known Basque musicians, Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga, was born in Bilbao.
Jon Bagüés Erriondo
THE MUSIC OF FRAY JOSÉ DE LARRAÑAGA
When I received the first Larrañaga scores and began to study them, the most striking thing about them for me was their stylistic variety. This variety can be found not only between different compositions but also within the same piece. I had the impression that the Basque composer’s palette was filled with a wide range of traces and colours — some of them inherited from the tradition of Iberian music in the 17th century, and others from Italian music (particularly from Naples) in the 18th century. He was evidently also familiar with the French style, which he used in some short pieces, and he also seemed to be no stranger to “pre-Classical” language. Yet I was even more surprised to find how he would sometimes “superimpose” all these different styles, for example, by giving the choir an harmonically archaic base with a much later orchestral scoring on top. What would this layering actually sound like? According to a purely harmonic analysis, the pieces didn’t seem to be especially interesting, although from the viewpoint of their dramatic architecture (dialogues and counterpoints between choir and orchestra or choir and soloists), theatricality was evidently being sought. However, the instrumentation was the most unusual, sumptuous feature, with a clear predilection for the colour given of by the violins and oboes playing in unison, with the splendour of trumpets and horns accompanying compositions of a more varied nature.
One of my past experiences with music for soloists, choir and orchestra by Corselli had taught me that the 18t-century Iberian school was capable of obtaining quite spectacular results with very simple harmonic means: what on paper didn’t look to be very much at all, would, once played, have an impact that all the composer’s powers had built in. And this is exactly what happened with Larrañaga as well: at the first rehearsal with a string section or a choir, none of the musicians seemed to feel they were dealing with music of any special quality, although as the sections were added in, with the wind instruments, percussion and soloists, it all began to take shape and the extreme variety of languages came to the fore, as if all the parts of a jigsaw puzzle were being slotted into place, or a few simple kitchen ingredients, of little interest alone, were mixed in such a way as to make a quite delicious dish. The greatest satisfaction that this production has brought me has been to see how the musicians I was working with gradually came to love this music, as if it had been slowly winning us over. Now, thanks to this recording, Larrañaga’s music is returned to its original splendour after almost three centuries of obscurity. I trust it will continue to win over an increasingly wide public and its beauty will serve to stimulate further research and the recovery of other lost Iberian treasures.
In Ómnibus "a 5, con juego de instrumentos"
1. In ómnibus réquiem. Allegro
2. Tunc praecipit. Allegrisimo
3. Et in electis me. Allegrisimo y Largo
4. Tu autem. Despacio
5. Deo gratias. Allegro Spiritoso
Lamentacion 1ª del primer día (1759) "a 5 con violines, oboes, clarines con sordinas o trompas"
6. Incipit lamentatio. Moderato
7. Aleph. Allegro/Airoso
8. Quomodo sedet sola civitas.Moderado-Despacio-Majestuoso
9. Beth. Spiritoso
10. Plorans plorabit. Patético-Despacio
11. Ghimel. Allegro; Migravit Judas. Allegro
12. Daleth. Allegro
13. Viae Sion. Despacio-Moderato-Patético
14. He. Andante-Spiritoso; Facti sunt hostes eius. Andante
15. Jerusalem conver tere. Majestuoso.
Oratio Jeremiae "a 5, con violines, oboes, trompas y acompañamiento"
16. Incipit lamentatio. Andante
17. Recordare Domine. Andante
18. Hereditas nos. Andante Spiritoso
19. Pupili facti sumus. Andante
20. Aquam nostra pecunia. Andant
21. Mulieres in Sion. Allegro Spiritoso
22. Jerusalem conver tere. Andante
Missus est (1785) "a 5 voces con violines, clarines y baxo"
23. Missus est angelus. Allegro
24. Et ingressos angelus. Allegro Spiritoso
25. Tu autem domine. Largo
26. Deo gratias. Allegro.
"...por lo escuchado en el mismo, el Padre Larrañaga forma parte del primer grupo, es decir, de los músicos que estaban pidiendo a gritos que alguien los recuperara para que pudiéramos apreciar la belleza de su música (...) Para mi ha sido una grata sorpresa, lo mismo que la interpretación. La orquesta suena francamente bien y las trompetas (...) son fantásticas. (...) ...otro cantante solista, el contratenor catalán Xavier Sabata, ratifica lo que ya sabía de él, que era todo bueno. Su "Plorans plorabit" de la Lamentación primera del primer día es de una conmovedora emotividad"" (Eduardo Torrico, CDCOMPACT October 2007)
"Hay en estas cuatro composiciones que se recuperan en este disco, todas ellas a cinco voces con diversos acompañamientos instrumentales, armonías sencillas pero efectivas, bellísimos claroscuros, cuidadas lineas vocales y, ante todo, sonoridades ricas y variadas, a veces al servicio de fines verdaderamente dramáticos. Así lo ve el milanés Fabio Bonizzoni, capaz de revelar todas las influencias sin necesidad de mezclarlas, ordenando tantos colores para dejar que fluyan de forma clara y natural, siempre con la sabiduría y la vitalidad que se le reconocen. A sus órdenes el Peñaflorida Ensemble entra con fuerza en el terreno del disco, luciendo una cuerda ágil y flexible, unos vientos precisos y unos timbales de adecuada contundencia, en tanto las voces de la Capilla Peñaflorida forman un maravilloso y entonado conjunto que cree firmemente en lo que canta. Los solistas están en general a la altura, con emotivas aportaciones del contratenor Xavier Sabata en Lamentación primera del primer día y un hermoso diálogo entre la soprano Isabel Alvarez y la mezzo Ainhoa Zubillaga en el Missus est final. Es un disco que enseña, que desentierra, que reivindica y que además viene muy bien presentado, un importante valor en el rescate de nuestro patrimonio musical"
(Asier Vallejo Ugarte SCHERZO september 2007)
"Las interpretaciones poseen una excelencia sostenida (…) El canto coral y la ejecución orquestal constituyen un placer constante, y el sonido posee calidad estelar"
(Graig Zeichner-Golberg april 2007)
"Al depurado estilo vocal de Peñaflorida, en esta ocasión se suma el Peñaflorida Ensemble, compuesto de 22 instrumentistas en su gran mayoría vascos que, con dirección del especialista en música antigua Fabio Bonizzoni, consiguen unas interpretaciones de gran nivel (…) Un disco que resulta absolutamente recomendable a todo interesado en el pasado musical de nuestro país"
(Karmelo Errekatxo-Periódico Bilbao april 2007)
"Lo primero que llama la atención al escuchar las primeras notas del último disco de la Capilla Peñaflorida es la belleza de la música del compositor azkoitiarra Fray José de Larrañaga (1728.1806). Su In omnibus, que abre una grabación realizada con calidad, mimo y sabiduría es, en realidad, un aperitivo de un delicioso registro bien regido por Fabio Bonizzoni"
(María José Cano-El Diario Vasco february2007)
"La grabación que comentamos, realizada en el Convento de Santa Cruz de las Reverendas Madres Brigidas de Azcoitia, es excelente y los solistas Isabel Alvarez, Ainoa Zubillaga, Xavier Sabata y Jesús García Arejula cumplen con solvencia su cometido, a veces muy delicado, como el de Isabel Alvarez en el Tu autem y el del contratenor Xavier Sabata en Plorans ploravit de la Lamentación 1ª del primer día. En fin, un disco altamente recomendable por lo artístico y por lo que significa historicamente para quienes deseen internarse en lo que supuso la música dentro del proyecto de la Ilustración en Vasconia, borrado del mapa con la llegada del reaccionario carlismo decimonónico. El disco ha sido patrocinado por el Gobierno Vasco y la Diputación Foral de Guipúzcoa; un ejemplo para muchas instituciones que no mueven un dedo para recuperar nuestro espléndido patrimonio musical"
(Andrés Ruiz Tarazona DIVERDI)