Jesús García Leoz

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Jesus Garcia Leoz

Jesús García
(1904 - 53)

Although Jesús García Leoz’s fame rests on his reputation as a cinema composer – the most important Spain produced, from the advent of the ‘talkies’ until his death in 1953 from a sudden stroke – that should not blind us to his wider achievements. His songs, orchestral, chamber and instrumental works form a small but select output, and the same is true of his work for the stage. In particular, the second of his two completed zarzuelas, La duquesa del Candil (1947) is of a musical and theatrical interest transcending its time.

Born in Olite, Navarra, on 10 January 1904, eldest of twelve children (a younger brother was the tenor Esteban Leoz) his early musical training was as a boy chorister at Pamplona Cathedral, under Eleuterio Marráriz. After spending time in Argentina, where he graduated from Buenos Aires conservatory as a pianist, winning several prizes, he returned to Spain for obligatory military service. Then came the inevitable move to Madrid. At the Royal Conservatory he studied further under Conrado del Campo and Joaquín Turina, becoming the latter’s favourite pupil and close friend.  While working in the capital as a cinema and café pianist, he wrote his first film music in 1933, for Florián Rey’s Sierra de Ronda. Meanwhile he cemented contacts with the theatre world: aside from making band arrangements for Jacinto Guerrero (including the latter’s 1935 film score for Rumbo al Cairo) he remained active as a pianist, playing at the Teatro Coliseum with Ataúlfo Argenta in a recital for two pianos and orchestra.

Further film scores followed, as well as a sprinkling of high-quality songs, symphonic and chamber works. During the Civil War he wrote the music for several anti-fascist documentaries – including some for the Spanish Communist Party, with which he was closely associated through his work with María Teresa León and her husband, the poet Rafael Alberti. As music director of Teatro del Arte y Propaganda (based at Teatro de la Zarzuela) he wrote scores for cutting-edge stage productions, while contributing polemical articles to León’s and Alberti’s publications, such as ‘El mono azul’. After the fall of Madrid he was imprisoned for six months, and forced to renounce his political ideals in order to continue his life and career.

After the War, he worked tirelessly in film, averaging more than a dozen soundtracks a year: amongst the best-known are Botón de ancla (1947), Balarrasa (1950) and Bienvenido, Mr. Marshall (1952, but premiered after his death). He also composed concert works of a pronounced neo-classical flavour – as well as the ballets La zapatera prodigiosa and Noche de San Juan, plus an incomplete opera Barataria, based on an episode from Don Quixote.

Although previously no great proponent of zarzuela’s claims as ‘national music theatre’, he staged two of them. The first, La duquesa del Candil (1947), to a libretto by Guillermo and Rafael Fernández Shaw in an 18th c. Madrid setting, was described by Antonio Fernández-Cid as ‘one of the most important of the last twenty-five years’, for its musical and formal freshness. It won the Ruperto Chapí Prize for an original lyric theatre work the following year. La alegre alcaldesa – poorly staged in Navarra during 1949 – had been written many years earlier, though it is reputedly not without interest. Leoz also won state prizes for his 1946 Piano Quintet, and the nativity cantata Primavera del portal (1952) which many consider to be his most substantial musical testament. He died of a sudden stroke, aged 49, on 25 January 1953.

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