José Serrano

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José Serrano

José Serrano
(1873 - 1941)

José Serrano Simeón was born in Sueca, Valencia on 14th October 1873, son of the conductor of the town band. His father gave him his first music lessons - by the age of five he knew his sol-fa, and at twelve he could play violin and guitar with proficiency. In 1889 he left for Valencia, spending two years there in the Conservatoire studying piano, violin and composition with Salvador Giner. In 1892 he took a scholarship to Madrid - only to return home a year later, disillusioned with the capital artistically as well as economically.

Five years later came the turning point. He took the chance to work as amanuensis for the nearly blind Caballero, collaborating on the scoring of Gigantes y Cabezudos, and writing up his experiences in the musical journal, El Salonillo. In 1900 he was generously offered the libretto of El motete by the famous Alvarez Quintero brothers. The work was a decided success, marking as it did the arrival of a new style to suit the new century. From then on he was never short of commissions, taking his place amongst the most prolific zarzueleros of the day. He also wrote some songs and vocal works, including the celebrated Hymn to Valencia (1909) - and an opera, unfinished at his death, La venta de los gatos (1943.) He died in Madrid on 8th March, 1941.

Of Serrano's 50 or so zarzuelas, a considerable number have managed to retain their place in public affection. La reina mora (1903); the exotic tragedy Moros y Cristianos (1905); El pollo Tejada (1906) and El amigo Melquíades (1914),both written with Quinito Valverde; Alma de Dios (1907); L'alegría del batallíon (1909); La canción del olvido (1916) with its ever-popular "Soldado de Nápoli"; and Los de Aragon (1927) are all in the one-act tradition of the género chico. Some of his later works, such as Los Claveles (one act, 1929) and La dolorosa (1930) - his last and perhaps most respected score - are longer and more ambitious in scope. Golondrina de Madrid, on which he was working at the time of his death, proved a failure when finally produced in San Sebastian in 1944.

His musical personality is robust rather than specially distinctive - though he often taps a rich vein of melodic inspiration. He fully recognised his own limited technical ability, keeping his harmonies and orchestrations simple, and his strongest suit is undoubtedly a powerful theatrical intuition and unfailing power to touch the heart. He certainly directed the mood of the género chico away from the sophisticated, urban wit of Chapí or Bretón towards a simpler, popular theatre of the emotions. In this sense, Serrano is a true heir of Chueca and Caballero - with a substantial tranfusion of red blood from Puccini and his verismo contemporaries.

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