Un homenaje a la música de Hilarión Eslava / A tribute to the music of Hilarión Eslava
A biographical sketch
Miguel Hilarión Eslava y Elizondo, eminent 19th century Spanish composer, musicologist, and educator, was born in Burlada, near Pamplona, Navarra, on October 21, 1807. He died in Madrid on July 23, 1878.
Engraving by V. Irraola
Euskaros Ilustres, D. Hilarión Eslava y Elizondo, Revista Bascongada (1878)
“Benitorena”, birthplace of Hilarión Eslava in Burlada (1845?)
Engraving by Belhatte et cie. In “El Oasis – Viaje al país de los fueros”, tomo primero, by Juan Mañé y Flaquer (1878)
Cloister of the Cathedral of Pamplona (1850)
Engraving by Genaro Pérez de Villa Amil Diputación Foral de Gipuzkoa
Scene of the siege of Pamplona (1823)
Contemporary French engraving by Victor Adam Museo de San Telmo, Donostia – San Sebastián
Cathedral of El Burgo de Osma
The organs date back to the 17th century (Gospel side, left) and 18th century (Epistle side, right). Photo: José J. Martín Espartosa, creativecommons.org
The early years (1807-1832)
Of humble origin, Eslava began his musical education at age 9, as a boy chorister at the Cathedral of Pamplona. Following a brief interruption in 1823 caused by war, Eslava resumed in 1824 his musical studies, focusing on the violin, cello, and bass, while at the same time beginning his religious education. His first compositions date back to this period.
In 1827, a barely 20-year old Eslava moved to Calahorra, in the Rioja region, to perfect his religious music studies. After a few months, in 1828, he won a competition for the post of Master of the Chapel of the Cathedral of El Burgo de Osma, in the province of Soria. His composition activity started to grow there while he continued his ecclesiastical career.
Eslava in Sevilla (1832-1844)
At age 23, Eslava applied for the posts of Master of the Chapel of the Cathedral of Sevilla and Master of the Royal Chapel in Madrid. His application to the latter was dismissed, due to his young age. In Sevilla, he lost the competition for the post by a narrow margin, but in 1832 he was ultimately awarded the job when the position became vacant. Eslava remained in Sevilla for almost 12 years, during which he composed a large part of his musical legacy, including several Misereres (the first one in 1833) and numerous religious pieces. Shortly after arriving in Sevilla, Eslava received his holy orders.
In Sevilla, the Navarrese maestro earned much popularity both in the musical world, and as an educator and as someone considered close to the people and the traditions of the city. During these years, he also began to work on his celebrated and comprehensive Método de Solfeo. This solfège textbook is still in use today.
The lack of resources of the Archbishopric (Cabildo, in Spanish) of Sevilla and Eslava’s scant pay, drove him to seek out other sources of income. He found them in the dramatic arts, with his opera with Italian libretto Il Solitario del Monte Selvaggio in 1841, followed by La Tregua di Ptolemaide (1842) and Pietro il Crudele (1843).
Eslava’s operas were enthusiastically received. The first two were staged in Madrid and in other Spanish cities. But the opposition of the church authorities of the time and the economic difficulties faced by theatres and opera companies cut the composer’s operatic career short. Unfortunately, there is very little or nothing left of these operas today.
La Torre del Oro, Sevilla (1833)
Oil painting by David Roberts Museo del Prado, Madrid
The procession of the feast of Corpus Christi inside of the Cathedral of Sevilla (1835)
Oil painting by Genaro Pérez de Villa Amil Collection of the Banco Santander
Hilarión Eslava commemorative plaque next to the Cathedral of Sevilla
Photo: Antonio Rufín (2016)
El Teatro de la Cruz, Madrid (1845)
This theatre witnessed the Madrid premiere of Eslava’s opera Il Solitario, on December 7, 1841. Archive of the Museo Municipal de Madrid
Cover of the first volume of the Lira Sacro-Hispana (1852)
Archives of the Biblioteca Nacional de España
The Royal Palace, Madrid (1870)
Photo: Francis Frith, Ayuntamiento de Madrid
Royal Chapel, Madrid
Organ, 18th century masterpiece of Jorge Bosch Photo: Patrimonio Nacional
In August 1844, Eslava was appointed master of the Royal Chapel in Madrid, initially as a supernumerary (without pay) and finally in the titular role in 1847. He served in that capacity until the 1868 Revolution (“La Gloriosa”), which culminated in the dismissal from the throne and exile of queen Isabel II. In 1875, with the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty with king Alfonso XII, Eslava returned to the Royal Chapel, a post he held until his death three years later.
In 1854, Eslava joined the Royal Conservatory of Music of Madrid as a Professor of Composition. In 1866 he assumed the additional post of Director of the Music Section. He worked in both of these capacities until the fall of the monarchy and consequent reorganization of the academic staff of the Conservatory in 1868.
This was a period of great activity in Eslava’s life. A large number of choral and symphonic works, the vast majority religious in nature, originate from this time. It is also during these years that Eslava fully developed his role as an educator and musicologist, with the publication of great works like the Lira Sacro-Hispana (1852-1860) and the Museo Orgánico Español (1854), as well as his treatises on harmony, composition, melody and musical discourse, instrumentation, and counterpoint and fugue, written between 1861 and 1870.
As the head of the Royal Chapel, Eslava endeavored to improve the condition of the archives and the quality of the music performed at the royal court. He also collaborated with other musicians of his time to promote musical culture in Spain through organizations he helped create, like España Musical.
Another aspect of much of Eslava’s life was his support and patronage of young composers and artists, among them Julián Gayarre (1844-1890), one of the most famous tenors of his time, hailing, like Eslava, from Navarra. The accomplishments of his nephew Bonifacio (San Martín) Eslava (1829-1904) should be noted here as well. In addition to publishing a substantial body of his uncle’s works, Bonifacio became one of the most important Spanish musical editors of the 19th century. To him we owe the preservation of much of Hilarión’s music. The old print shop, later used for piano manufacturing and sales, on the Calle del Arenal en Madrid is today known as Teatro Eslava.
Eslava’s health started to suffer in the 1870’s, due to a serious pulmonar illness. His activity decayed progressively as a result, until his death, which occurred in Madrid on July 23, 1878. He was initially buried in Spain’s capital. Later, his body was moved to Pamplona and finally, in 1919, to his native town of Burlada.
As recognition for his musical and educational accomplishments, and for his services to the Spanish Crown, Hilarión Eslava received while still alive the Great Cross of Isabel la Católica, the Order of Queen María Victoria y the Royal Order of Carlos III, the highest decoration a Spanish citizen can be awarded in Spain.