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buber.net > Basque > History > Juan Crisostomo de Arriaga Balzola
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Juan Crisostomo de Arriaga Balzola

Translated by Blas Uberuaga, Robert Allenger and Douglas Vaisey

This article was translated by Blas Uberuaga, Robert Allenger and Douglas Vaisey. The English may still be somewhat rough. If anyone has corrections, feel free to let me know.

(from the Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Basque Country)

Arriaga Balzola, Juan Crisostomo de


He was born in Bilbao on January 27, 1806. He died in Paris on January 17, 1826. He was a true musical artist, having composed his first work, the Ensayo de octeto nada y Mucho when he was 11 years old; when he was 12, a Obertura and, when 14, the opera in two acts Los esclavos felices and the Variaciones: La Hungara, productions of perfect construction. The opera Los esclavos felices premiered in Bilbo in 1820 with great success; the adolescent composer presencio atonito among bastigores, the favorable effect that his music caused in the public. When he was 16 years old, on September 26, 1822, Arriaga went to Paris where, like his father, he would complete the carrera and encounter a suitable atmosphere for developing his exceptional musical talent. He increased his knowledge of the violin (which he began studying in Bilbao with Fausto Sanz) with Baillot; he began to study composition with Fétis who, after a few months of teaching Arriaga asserted that, for Juan Crisostomo, "no difficulty existed with counterpoint and the fuge, which was just a game for him". When Arriaga was 18 years old, Professor Fétis named him instructor of his classes in harmony. Arriaga explained the lessons with such competence that the masters Reicha, Catel, Boieldieu and others predicted that soon he would be "one of the principal professors of the Conservatorio". Among the first compositions Arriaga completed in the French capital were his three Cuartetos de arco, pages of beautiful and magnificant perfection; Fétis said of them: "It is impossible to find anything more original, purer or more correctly written". On the other hand, it must be noted that this Bilbaoan musician composed them in an age in which no master wrote with such musical form, not even Beethoven, a pesar de his unquestioned genius. In the first quartet, we sense reminiscences of bolero mediante, a popular and perhaps Basque theme, which made Arriaga a precursor of musical nationalism; they seem to have a Beethovian air about them and include accents of a romantic character, similar to those which Schubert brought to his years later. Master Arriaga composed with  geniality and personality, as if he knew the works of Haydn and Mozart well; he hardly listened to Beethoven and even less to Schubert, whose work rarely was performed in the Parisian concerts of that period. Los Cuartetos los edito the Casa petit in 1824, in vida of the author. In a continuation of the Cuartetos, the beautiful symphony in Re minor (in four movements) made a name for its creator, maybe through the orchestra of the Concervatoria of Paris; se conserva a material in which constan the names of the ejecutatntes, and the Tres estudios or Caprichos, for piano, of inmejorable construction; in the first are found fragments of deep romantic sensitivity and syncopations analogous to those that Schumann employed, and the second has acordes and enlaces that Cesar Franck user twenty years later in his Prelude, chorale and fuge. The Parisian creations of Arriaga were completed by the vocal compositions Erminia and Medea, Edipo, All'Aurora and Agar. The last (for soprano, tenor and orchestra) is impressively dramatic and, like Erminia and Medea, it possesses a strength of expression and a vigor of inspiration superior to those of similar works of composers contemporary to Arriaga. The work that is supposed to have inspired the production that queda enumerada, combined with the skills of repetidor in the Conservatorio, the lessons that he gave and  his activity as a performer (Fetis asserted that "Each time that intervenia in the interpretation of his Cuartetos roused the enthusiasm of his listeners"), eroded his health; he died in Paris without completing his twentieth year. In his last moments, he was attended by Cirilo Perez Nenin (porcer Bizkaian, friend of the Arriaga family) and Pedro Albeniz (pianist). Like Mozart, he was buried in the public burial ground of the cemetery of the North (Montmartre).

Catalog of Works

Composed in Bilbo:
Nada y Mucho, ensayo de octeto
Obertura, op. I
Patria, himno para voces y orquesta
Marcha militar
, para banda
Los esclavos felices, opera
Tema variado en cuarteto, op. 17
Obertura, op 20
Variaciones, La Hungara
Stabat mater, para voces y orquesta
Composed in Paris:
Tres estudios o caprich
os, para piano
O salutaris, para voces y orquesta
Tres Cuartetos, para instrumentos de arco
Sinfonia en Re
All'Aurora, para
 tenor y bajo con orquesta
Edipo, para tenor, con acompanamiento de orquesta
Erminia, escena lirico-dramatica en un acto y dos cuadros, para so
brano y orquesta
Medea, aria para soprano y orquesta
Agar, para soprano, tenor y orquesta
Los esclavos felices, suite del mismo nombr
e, realizada por el compositor Francisco Escudero.

Arriaga wrote more compositions, like lo pureban the numerous works of those he composed in Bilbo, which are not published. The originals disappeared and concretamente se sabe concibio a Misa Salve regina; and Et vitam venturi seculi, fuga of 8 voices, productions which have been lost.

Horacio Chivacuán sent me the following addition

Juan Crisóstomo Jacobo Antonio de Arriaga y Balzola

Born in Rigoitia, near to Bilbao on january 27, 1806; died in Paris on january 17, 1826. A true natural musical genius, he composed his first work (the octet "Nada y Mucho" - "Nothiing and Much")when 11 years old. The next year he produced an overture and at 14 completed two larger works: a two-act opera ("Los Esclavos Felices"- "The Happy Slaves") and a set of variations ("La Húngara"-"The Hungarian Maid"), both productions of perfect construction. The opera Los Esclavos Felices was premiered in Bilbao on 1820 with great success; the teenager composer witnessed in astonishment behind scene the favorable effect of his music in the audience. At age 16( on september 22,1822), Arriaga (like his father before him) went to Paris to complete his musical education in a more cosmopolitan atmosphere to fully develop his exceptional musical talent. He increased his ability with the violin (whose study had begun with Fausto Sanz in Bilbao) taking lessons with Baillot and studying composition with Fétis who, after a few monts declared that for Juan Crisóstomo "no difficulty existed in contrapunctum or fugue that would not be a game for him". The same Fétis designated the 18 years old Arriaga as assistant professor of his harmony classes. His performance as teacher was so good that several prominent composers (v.g., Reicha, Catel, Boieldieu) forecasted that he would soon became "one of the main professors of the Paris Conservatoire". Some of the first works that Arriaga completed in Paris were his three String Quartets, pages of beautiful charm,high musical value and manificent perfection; about this quartets Fétis declared: "It is impossible to find anything more original, nor purer, nor more correctly written". This is a very interesting commentary since the musical form of the string quartet had only been extensively and deeply explored by Haydn and Mozart, and it is even more remarkable to notice that Beethoven was a contemporary of Arriaga (he died a year later but at older age) but did not achieved so great mastery in composition at the same age. Since Arriaga began the string quartets in Vizcaya it is perfectly possible to assume that he had had no contact with the works of Beethoven or Schubert, an interesting question regarding his natural talent. The inclusion of a popular theme (maybe basque) in the first string quartet, makes Arriaga perhaps a pionneer of musical nationalism. The quartets were printed by Casa Petit in 1824.The continuation of the string quartets is the beautiful Symphony in D minor (four movements) which was maybe performed for the first time by the Conservatoire orchestra (there are documents that register the names of the perfomers). Other less known works of Arriaga are the Three Études or Caprichos for piano, vocal works (Erminia y Medea, Edipo, All´Aurora, Agar (for soprano, tenor and orchestra), this last one is full of an impressive dramatism. Unfortunately, the excess of work and tuberculosis affected seriously his health and he passed away before his 20th birthday in the company of two family friends (Cirilo Pérez Nenin y Pedro Albéniz). In a sad coincidence he was buried in a common grave like his illustrious namesake and fellow composer...Mozart. It is also sad to know that a great deal of his production has been lost or at least not found in spite of evidence that he wrote more works.

*a personal anecdote: Thanks to a late friend (Father Manuel Sanjinés Mendirichaga, priest and music connoisseur) it was possible to include the overture of Los Esclavos Felices and the Symphony in D minor in the repertoire of the Universidad Autónoma de Tamaulipas Symphony Orchestra, besides, I had the personal privilege of buying the partitures of the string quartets and had the joy of having the first one performed for the first time in my hometown. That is why I became acquainted with Arriaga...

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