Manuel Palau and the Guitar: The Irresistible Call of Music

Concierto Levantino Performance Practice

by Rafael Serrallet

Rafael Serrallet, a classical guitarist from Spain, has written a doctoral thesis about the Spanish composer Manuel Palau and his Concierto Levantino for guitar. We are most pleased to publish Señor Serrallet’s summary of his paper, “MANUEL PALAU AND THE GUITAR. THE IRRESISTIBLE CALL OF MUSIC. CONCIERTO LEVANTINO. PERFORMANCE PRACTICE” on the Jefferson Classical Guitar Society website.Website:

Raphael Serrallet
Manuel Palau and the Guitar
A Doctoral Thesis Summary
by Raphael Serrallet
Manuel Palau (1893-1967) is, despite his prolific musical production, relatively unknown in the music world. This ignorance of his music is even larger when we talk in terms of the guitar. Palau left a very interesting collection of guitar works and, additionally, he wrote a substantial concerto that is almost forgotten today and has been barely performed since his composition.

This doctoral thesis draws us closer to the reality of Manuel Palau,s guitar music and is divided into two parts. The first is a review of the historical, artistic and musical panorama of Palau,s age, and more exactly, of the period in which the concert was written. The second is the musical analisis of the concerto. The axis of this thesis, is something of a pioneer in its genre, being born in the shadow of one of the foremost guitar works, and one of its main points of reference, the Concierto de Aranjuez.

The thesis begins with a review of the historical and artistic environment in which Palau developed, followed by a detailed analysis of the musical and guitaristic climate of the age. This focuses on the different musical currents contemporary to Palau and the influence of folklore and popular music, all of which resulted in producing the artistic legacy of a musician who searches for his own identity.

Palau lived some of the sweetest and most bitter moments of art in Spain. He had the good fortune to be a contemporary of a large number of artists (painters, poets, musicians) and scientists who had achieved international significance. However, he also had the misfortune of living through the horrendous events of the military insurrection against the legitimate government of the country and suffered the post-war horrors of the post-war that severely impeded artistic production. But the Valencian musician composed until the end of his days, motivated by the satisfaction that his own creative activity gave him.

Palau looked into the French musical mirror, where he found some of his more important musical influences. The artistic currents that coexisted at that moment influenced his music to a greater or lesser degree. An review of some of those styles, Palau,s sources of inspiration, bring us closer to the European musical environment of that time. But, without doubt, one of the elements that marked his music in a definite way, was to be Valencian folklore. Originally from a small village in the Valencian countryside, the music that he heard sung at parties, weddings, etc, were to become his constant inspiration. Sometimes, he recreates a given popular themes, other times he invented melodies himself in the style of folk music , giving his compositions a peculiarity that differentiates his music from other Spanish music of the time (that often looked to the South of Spain for its inspiration) that had become popular towards the end of the 19th century.

Palau,s life unfolded almost in parallel to the development of the modern concert guitar. The composer bore witness to the most important changes that the instrument underwent in practically its entire history. In a way that is not immediately obvious, Valencia itself played a crucial role in this process, and its composers and guitarists, played an essential role in placing the guitar where it is today. That is why it is very important understand the reality of Valencian life in the first half of the century and the interrelationship that they make to each other.

A description of the guitar works of the composer, gives us a better perspective of Palau,s interest in the guitar and help us to gain better insight into some of the personal and musical factors that tied don Manuel to the instrument. The use of the guitar with orchestra, the inspiration of Manuel Palau,s concerto, was not widespread at the time that he composed his work. To take on such a daring compositional project was not common. The precursors of this work, with the exception of the Concierto de Aranjuez, were always the work of guitarist-composers and it is the Rodrigo concerto that gives clues to help elaborate the hypothesis presented here.

The Concert of Valencia (as is written in the orchestral parts of the Concierto Levantino) is one of the unknown large-scale concertos in his output, nevertheless it was one of his more ambitious projects. He spent a long time and invested great effort in this concerto. Dedicated initially to Regino Sainz de la Maza, it was premiered by Narciso Yepes and the ONE (National Orchestra of Spain) in Madrid. Years later, Palau revised his music to make important changes, most of all in the first movement, that were played in Valencia in 1954 by Manuel Cubedo as soloist and that were reflected in the only recording that exists, made by Yepes and the ONE in 1959.

Narciso Yepes is, in his own right, another important figure connected to this work. Despite an uncomfortable rivalry with the exceptional Andrés Segovia, also a man with his own prejudices and fixations, Yepes was nonetheless able to become another of the great international figures of the guitar, thanks to his persistence and his personality. His signature is also firmly imprinted on the pages of the Concierto Levantino. However, part of the merit given to Yepes belongs to another young and unknown musician: Manuel Cubedo who helped the maestro to revise all the parts with which Palau was dissatisfied, but who was discretely sidelined, and denied due gratitude and acknowledgment.

The second part of the thesis comprises a musical analysis of the concerto, his most important work for the guitar. In this section, Palau,s most distinctive compositional features and inner secrets are revealed through a detailed examination of the original scores, and these are discussed in conjunction with a wide range of other documentary materials concerning the work that are gathered together here. The different surviving versions of the concerto, in manuscripts from 1947, 1954 and 1959, have been carefully compared.

Manuel Palau looks for the Valencian,s colour: at a time in which Andalusian regionalism was dominant, the maestro sought inspiration in his own cultural roots.

Two further chapters discuss a couple of controversial issues that can be interpreted in many different ways. The intention is not to attempt to resolve questions concerning delicate matter such as musical interpretation or the use of amplification, but rather to reflect upon the questions they pose. The fact that they are so closely tied to the central theme justifies their inclusion in the thesis.

The conclusions show us the multiple complications associated with Palau,s decision to write for this unusual musical ensemble, and how he changed the work after initial bad reviews. We try to clarify the reasons as both he and his work are almost forgotten, and we try to restore the acknowledgment due to him. It would indeed be welcome to see the Concert of Valencia return to the current repertoire of guitarists.

The guitar, was, as Palau himself points out, important to him at the time he chose his music vocation. Through the sound of its six strings, the musician from Alfara heard irresistible call of music.

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