Notes 59.2 (2002) 332-333
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Catálogo sistemático descriptivo de las obras musicales de Isaac Albéniz. By Jacinto Torres. Preface by Robert M. Stevenson. Madrid: Instituto de Bibliografía Musical, 2001. [521 p. ISBN 84-607-2854-4. €57.] Music examples, illustrations, bibliography, indexes.
Eighty? One hundred and thirteen? One hundred and seventy? Two hundred? Six hundred? Nine hundred? Just how many works did the Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) write, anyway? The answer has always been hard to come by and depended completely on which source one consulted. All of these numbers have been advanced as valid approximations by scholars over the years. It is all a matter of who is doing the counting, and how. For instance, toward the end of his life the composer himself told his nephew and future biographer Víctor Ruiz Albéniz that he had written a little over four hundred works ("quatrocientas y pico," p. 21). But he was prone to some very creative bookkeeping. For instance, his set of seven pieces for solo piano entitled Recuerdos de viaje comprised eight works by his reckoning: the seven individual pieces, and the entire collection itself! Moreover, he counted earlier works published under new titles as original compositions.
In his new and magisterial Catálogo, Jacinto Torres declines to supply a definite answer to this question, for the eminently logical reason that no one will ever really know precisely how many works flowed from Albéniz's pen. Many have been lost, or suffer obscured identity due to possible misattribution or survival under a different title. For instance, the first catalog of his works, which appeared in 1886 in a biographical sketch by the Madrid journalist Antonio Guerra y Alarcón, mentions a "Serenata" that almost certainly is the piece we now know as "Granada (Serenata)," from the first Suite española (Guerra y Alarcón, Antonio. Isaac Albeniz, notas critico-biográficas de tan eminente pianista [Madrid: Escuela Tipográfica del Hospicio, 1886], 41). Other works mentioned and no longer extant may have been figments of his imagination, while yet others mentioned in the contemporary periodical literature may have been improvisations never committed to paper (or later published under another title, as in the case of the nonextant Serenata napolitana, a piano piece mentioned in reviews of his 1882 concerts in Galicia, which may have reincarnated later as the third movement of his Escenas sinfónicas). In short, there is always a certain amount of educated guessing involved in such work. Despite such difficulties, Torres has given us the most thorough, scientific, and reliable catalog of Albéniz's music ever. Whether or not it is definitive (and given the problems involved, that is perhaps too much to expect of any catalog), it is as complete and accurate as possible and will unlikely ever be superseded.
Torres, one of the leading musicologists in Spain today and professor at both the Real Conservatorio and Universidad Complutense in Madrid, is no newcomer to Albéniz studies. He has been at the forefront of this area for over a decade, and has brought to light, edited, and provided critical commentary for several of Albéniz's most important works, including Iberia and the Rapsodia española for piano and orchestra, for which he resurrected the original orchestration. He also assisted in the recovery and recording of the opera Merlin. Of special interest is his edition, with Anton Cardó, of the complete works by Albéniz for solo voice and piano: Integral de l'obra per a veu i piano (Barcelona: Tritó, 1998). It contains many gems that will be of interest to singers who are unfamiliar with this dimension of his creative output.
The catalog at hand is a fine example of how to go about this kind of work. Although it is in Spanish, that will prove no real impediment to those unfamiliar with that language wishing to consult it. In the introduction, Torres establishes the parameters of his work and lays out his methodology. He surveys previous attempts...