This page is © Christopher Webber, Blackheath, London, UK. Last updated January 15th 2002
Born September 24th 1893 in Algeciras near Cadiz, Millán came from a musical family. His first teacher was his father, a military bandsman, and Rafael soon emerged as a notably fine violinist, moving to Madrid in 1914 to advance his career. Once established in the orchestra of the Teatro de la Zarzuela under his mentor Pablo Luna, his interest in theatre naturally blossomed; and soon he was conducting and composing stage pieces, the first of which was El Príncipe Bohemio of 1914. He also wrote symphonic, choral and band works, but his forty three stage works are his most significant legacy.
After 1910, when Luna's own Molinos de viento took Spain by storm, operettas - particularly those by the Viennese Franz Lehar - became much more fashionable than género chico zarzuelas with a Madrid setting, and many of Millán's early works, such as El preceptor de su Alteza (1916), followed the trend. With La Dogaresa (1920) he first emerged as a significant voice in his own right, and his premieres were eagerly awaited from then onwards. El pájaro azul (1921), Los buscadores de oro (1922) and El dictador (1923) franked his fame; the later La gaviota (1924) and La severa (1925) augmented it. Millán was particularly popular in Barcelona where he made his home, and where many of his finest works first saw the light of day.
Much of the rest of his life was shrouded in mystery. One major reference book talks of "a progressive paralysis" before his "death in 1938". The truth is that from 1925 Millán became subject to attacks of mental illness, and some years later he was permanently hospitalised. The 1928 revision of La severa for Madrid as La morería (1928) was mainly undertaken by Alonso. Touchingly, he did enjoy an Indian Summer at the end of his life, when his mental condition improved sufficiently to allow him to compose one last stage work, El tesoro de Golconda (1952) for his beloved Barcelona. He died in Madrid on 8th March 1957.
From the very start of his composing career, Millán's music attracted positive notice by reason of a superior orchestral and compositional quality, and its influence on the work of his less precocious contemporaries is patent. Although his music may lack Sorozábal's contemporary flavour and individuality, Millán's best scores are nevertheless of absorbing musical interest. The melodies of El pájaro azúl or El dictador may not be so instantly memorable as Luna's or Serrano's, but these zarzuelas have a symphonic strength and integrity which makes their comparative neglect a pity. Only La Dogaresa, with its glamorous Venetian settings, is much encountered today.[Back to top of page]