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Ausrine Stundyte as Cio-Cio-San, Elizabeth Janes as Butterfly’s child and Sarah Larsen as Suzuki in Seattle Opera's production of Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Photo by Elise Bakketun.
North American Works Directory Listing
El Gato con Botas
Xavier Montsalvatge
Born in Gerona, Spain, Xavier Montsalvatge (1912-2002) became a major figure in the musical world of Barcelona, where he lived for most of his life. He studied violin there with Francisco Costa, and composition with Enrique Morera and Jaume Pahissa. In 1933 his first composition, Tres Impromptus, won the Patxot Foundation's Rabell prize. Thus began a compositional career that continued into the 1990s. In addition to composing some 100 works, Montsalvatge also worked as music critic for such publications as Destino magazine and the newspapers La Vanguardia and El Matí, and was professor of composition at Barcelona's Conservatori Superior.

Some of Montsalvatge's best known works were written after his discovery of the art of the Antilles. He was fascinated by West Indian music, which, as he wrote, "was itself originally Spanish, exported overseas and then re-imported into our country, and which finds a place at the periphery of our traditions as a new, vague and evocative manifestation of musical lyricism".

Cinco Canciones Negras (Five Black Songs) for mezzo-soprano and orchestra (and also reduced by the composer for mezzo and piano), springs from this source. Based on poems by Latin Americans, including the great Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén, the songs are an example of the "evocative lyricism" of the West Indies. Cinco Canciones Negras has been performed and recorded over the years by artists such as Victoria de los Angeles, Teresa Berganza, and Montserrat Caballé.
The other important influence on Montsalvatge's style is neoclassicism, which first attracted him in his student days. The New York Times wrote: "Xavier Montsalvatge has pursued music more as an intimate pleasure than a public statement…the four piano pieces retreat from the grand Romantic statements of an earlier generation. [They] have an adamant modesty and share the evasive quiet and childlike simplicities of another colleague, the late Federico Mompou…There are abrupt shifts to minor chords when major ones are expected, surges of whole-tone writing, keys placed one atop the other in the French manner of the 1920's."

Other pivotal works in his oeuvre are concertos and operas. At the request Henryk Szering in 1953, Montsalvatge wrote Poema Concertante for violin and orchestra which premiered in Barcelona. That same year the pianist Alicia de Larrocha and the Philharmonic Orchestra of Barcelona premiered Concerto Breve, a work Ms. de Larrocha went on perform extensively and record.

Montsalvatge has also written distinguished music about and for children, including settings of Federico García Lorca's children's poems and a "magic opera" based on the Puss-in-Boots fairy tale, El Gato con Botas. This delightful work reflects Montsalvatge's experience with ballet in its careful attention to rhythmic nuance. The first recording ot the opera, by Orquestra Simfònica Del Gran Teatre Del Liceu conducted by Antoni Ros Marbà, was nominated for a 2004 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording. It was recorded on Barcelona's Columna Música label, which has undertaken an ambitious recording project of Montsalvatge's music, already having released the complete vocal works and two operas.

Montsalvatge always remained true to his early taste, writing utterly unpretentious music characterized by lyrical beauty and classical clarity. Spanish composer Francesc Taverna summed up the lyrical purity of Montsalvatge's music with this statement in 1993: "In some way, the spirit and luminosity of Mediterranean Art crystalizes, in the case of Montsalvatge, in the brightness and conciseness of his sonorous speech."

Nestor Lujan
Conductor: Carlos Suriñach
January 10, 1948
Not available
Puss-in-Boots (S), Miller (T), King (Br), Princess (S), Ogre (B)
Not Available
NEW chamber version for solo voices and 12 players: S,S,T,Bar,B soli; fl, ob, cl, bn, hn, perc, pno; str (1 ea.)

Original version for large ensemble: S,S,T,Bar,B soli; 2(pic)-2Eh)-2-1; 4-2-3-1; timp-perc-hp-cel; str.
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