EDA Libros publishes Ilia Galán’s “Conversations with Luis de Pablo”.
Luis de Pablo (Bilbao, 1930-Madrid, 2021) has been one of the most important musical figures in the history of our country. And it is necessary to remember this and insist on the evidence. Together with Cristóbal Halffter and Carmelo Bernaola, he formed the fundamental basis of the composers of the so-called Generation of ’51, which renewed the Spanish musical panorama of the last century and linked it with the European and international avant-garde, from which it had remained isolated. In the German city of Darmstadt, where he travelled on a scholarship at the end of the fifties, he met the most influential and important creators of the time: Pierre Boulez, György Ligeti, Bruno Maderna and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Sponsored by the Spanish Huarte family, he was the founder of the first electronic music studio in Spain, Alea, and of the famous Encuentros de Pamplona. But for a living he had to work as a lawyer for Iberia and compose food music for cinema (collaborating with directors of the stature of Carlos Saura and Víctor Erice) before managing to make a living exclusively from his work as a teacher and composer. In 1991 he received the Premio Nacional de la Música and among other great prizes he was awarded the Premio Tomás Luis de Victoria (in 2009) and the Golden Lion for Music at the Venice Biennale (in 2020, a year before his death). Now, the Malaga publishing house EDA Libros is publishing these Conversations with Luis de Pablo, held between 1997 and 2003 with Ilia Galán, professor of Aesthetics and Art Theory at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid and visiting professor at the universities of Oxford, Harvard, the Sorbonne and New York University. De Pablo, as the great holistic intellectual that he was, versed in philosophy, art, film and literature, was a great conversationalist and as such has manifested himself in a number of books and publications, of which I have selected a couple of examples: Encuentros con Luis de Pablo. Ensayos y entrevistas, interviews with Piet De Volder, an older book (published in 1998 by the Fundación Autor and translated by Rafael Eguílaz from the original French), or Luis de Pablo: Inventario, by Miguel Álvarez-Fernández, more recent (published in 2020 by Ediciones Casus-Belli). In this new book, the conversations held with the composer have a relevance that goes beyond the musicological, as they are not limited to strictly musical and/or professional matters, but deal with sometimes very personal aspects, such as those moments in which he acknowledges having kept “quite few” friends, and goes on to explain: “what I did [he refers to his music and the initial period of his work, the fifties and sixties] in Spain interested very few people and, of course, among my friends, no one. When I say nobody, I mean nobody. Do you understand? That is to say, no one, as far as I remember”. But it was not only his friends who showed a lack of interest in or abandonment of culture. In his talks with Galán De Pablo frequently looks into the intellectual wasteland that was Spain in the fifties and sixties, including everything to do with our own culture – “Do you know of a good biography of Falla written by a Spaniard, do you know of a good book, a good book on zarzuela that explains what zarzuela is, original in Spanish, do you know of any book on Albéniz that is not translated from English? At another point, De Pablo admits that he lived “solely and exclusively around music […] That also, in a way, let’s say, has helped me to have a relationship with others, we could say, somewhat distant […] It was, almost, we could say, an orgy of work”. This dedication to music also influenced his love life. Until he met Marta Cárdenas, the painter, his widow, whom he married in 1975. “Before that, of course, there had been other things, but I have to confess that I myself had made sure that those things didn’t last too long […] We got married in 1975, but I had met Marta much earlier, ten years before”.
Me, who also had the opportunity and the good fortune to interview him on a couple of occasions, and I remember his vehemence when he spoke, I am not surprised when in the book he laughingly says that while composing “his” music he also had to produce food scores for the cinema, including important titles by Carlos Saura, with whom, however, he kept his distance: “I can never say that I was very good friends with Carlos Saura. His musical interests were at the antipodes of mine. Once he asked me to do pasodobles; another time he asked me to write in the style of Vivaldi or Beethoven or whatever for a film. On another occasion he told me that he really liked the music of Los Marismeños, and asked me if I could do something similar, and that led me, among other things, to distance myself from cinema”.
On another occasion, for España insólita, a documentary by Javier Aguirre made in 1965, which was about curious traditions -˝the customs that they have in Cascajosos del Cebollo, of… I don’t know… eating a lamb in bites”, explains De Pablo with his peculiar irony-, he did have to compose some original pasodoble. Some of the musicians who took part in the recording of that music for the film told the composer that he couldn’t have done that, because “this pasodoble is very good”, as opposed to another work of his that they had performed with the Orquesta Nacional…: “And why then do that shit we played the other day”… De Pablo explains, laughing, that this was what the flautist Rafael López del Ejido replied to him, referring to Tombeau, a piece composed between 1962 and 1963 and premiered by the Orquesta Nacional in 1964.
Having been said that De Pablo became the link between the musical avant-gardes that had developed in the world and Spain, and that he was the organiser of the famous Encuentros de Pamplona, the mythical halo surrounding that historical and cultural event meant nothing for De Pablo, at the time, but displeasure. And although he demystifies his relevance at the time (“the humble, simple people had a wonderful time; not a single one of the bourgeoisie was seen”), he does admit his visionary and pioneering character, since he was the one who brought John Cage, Steve Reich, Luc Ferrari and Lejaren Hiller –”the first person who thought of making music with a computer”– to Spain for the first time. It is noteworthy that De Pablo did not create an event to please himself, but rather a revealing encounter with what was being done in the rest of the world, despite the fact that De Pablo himself did not hold the music of Reich or Cage in high regard. There are no opinions on Reich in this book, but there are opinions on Cage: “Cage’s music, as music, in my opinion, is of no great interest. Cage, above all, what he is… is a detonator […] He was an absolute ascetic, that is to say, a smiling ascetic. The most charming person in the world.”
Another important composer of the 20th century, who has gone down in history as one of its greatest revolutionaries and a fundamental influence on today’s avant-garde, the Greek-French Iannis Xenakis, who celebrated the centenary of his birth in 2022, does not come off well either, in his opinion: “Xenakis didn’t give a damn about the sound of what he wrote. This is very serious”, in the sense that it has fed the pejorative judgements of certain influential layers of society towards contemporary music.
Of Stockhausen himself, the most solid personality, together with Pierre Boulez, of the music of the second half of the 20th century, De Pablo offers a vision not exempt from critical judgement. Of the German, he positively highlights Gruppen, a work for three orchestras arranged in a triangle, with the audience in the centre, of which he says that it is “blessed glory, it is a splendid work”, but on the contrary, Kontra-Punkte “is not like that”. He admits, however, that “Stockhausen was a god in his day, in the sixties […] He was a guru […] a man you could find in the most unlikely places […] in the Beatles’ album, in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, there is a photographic montage of people who influenced them, and among them Stockhausen is hidden there. And so is Cage.”
From England, De Pablo saves Sir Michael Tippett, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies – of whom he says he was “very handsy” – and, above all, Sir Harrison Birtwistle. And of the younger ones, Michael Torke. Of the United States, on the other hand, he believes that “it’s terrible: what doesn’t work, zero; what doesn’t make money, zero. Most of the best American composers are published in Europe. The “best of them all”, in his opinion, was Elliott Carter.
The book is full of discoveries, reflections and tremendously simple sentences to explain transcendent and elevated points of view. Witty and cultured to a fault, De Pablo is a personality whom Spanish society should never let fall into oblivion.