PASCUAL JUAN EMILIO ARRIETA CORERA
EMILIO ARRIETA (PUENTE LA REINA, 1823 - MADRID, 1894)
He was a composer. A son from farmers and an orphan at an early age, Arrieta, christened as Pascual, moved to Madrid, summoned by his sister Antonia. He was a precocious outstanding musical student and his sister took him to Italy in 1838. They both came back very soon. Pascual, who was using the name Juan at the time, started his journey to Milan. In Barcelona he boarded a smuggling ship which took 76 days to cross the gulf of Lion. He entered the music school at the capital city.
He studied Piano and Harmony and he lived Bohemian, ravenous days, which made him faint often. Thanks to a pension from the Count of Litta, he could stay in Milan until 1846. He reached the acme of his musical studies by winning the first price at the Conservatory, where he bade farewell with Ildegonda, an opera which was represented very successfully.
Again in Madrid, after a doubting period -he was called from Italy several times- he stood out very quickly . Elizabeth I, who had met him at a palace party, asked him to be her singing teacher and ordered to build a theatre at the palace so that Ildegonda could be premiered.
After that, in December 1849, he was appointed Master composer at the Royal chamber of theatre. Arrieta premiered La conquista de Granada at the palace (1850) and started to work on Pergolesi, but he left the court and moved to Italy in March 1851. His absence meant the extinction of the Royal Theatre, where they had had twenty-four opera shows, the two above mentioned, by Arrieta and La straniera, by Bellini. According to gossip in that period, Elizabeth II supported Arrieta due to non-musical reasons.
Arrieta stayed in Italy for a year and came back to Madrid forever. On the 19th of February in 1853, he put on his first zarzuela (Spanish operette) El dominó azul; thirty years afterwards, the last one, San Francisco de Sena; in between, he signed about fifty titles, including operas. Marina is the only surviving work in his repertoire. Marina, with a script by Camprodón, who also wrote the text for El dominó azul, opened in September 1859 with a cold reception. Tamberlick advised Arrieta to make an opera of it and thus he premiered it at the Royal Theatre in Madrid (1871) It was his greatest success and it is the only Spanish Opera still represented today, like Don Juan Tenorio in lyrical theatre, as it has been defined. Gaztambide considered it “real Spanish Opera within the people's reach”.
Arrieta managed to keep his prestige in the middle of the political vicissitudes in that century. As it has been said, he got royal support, but in 1868, when the revolution came, he composed the hymn by García Gutiérrez proclaiming “Down with Borbones”! He was appointed headmaster at the Conservatory, a post he kept until his death because he knew how to adapt himself to the times of Amadeo I, the Republic and the Restoration. The reform at the Conservatory, which, after the Revolution was called National School for Music and Diction, was, in fact, previous to that political turn. But Arrieta saved this institution, provided means and prestige to it; he used the normal diapason, improved the teachers’ salaries; he also started the Ensemble lesson with public performance, rebuilt the centre’s Hall; among his least understood decisions, he passed over Eslava and consigned him to the composition lesson.
Arrieta, who made an effort to understand Conservatories’ way of working, transformed teaching and according to many people, he was a surprising European- friendly head.
The Republic created a section of Music at the Academy of Fine Arts and appointed the twelve first number individuals (1873) Arrieta was among them and he made his opening speech in 1877, which he divided into four sections: the need to extend music teaching in Spain; defective music performed in churches -”with one work two profanations are committed: the Temple’s and the Art’s”-; demanding more attention for Spanish lyrical and dramatic shows - “completely abandoned”- and “the violent fight that has started between traditional people and those who support Wagner and his doctrine”, a fight in which Arrieta kept his opinion for himself when he saw excesses in both groups.
In spite of his career, Arrieta was not a top person in terms of musical Theory or Pedagogy, although Breton, Chapí and Marqués were among his pupils. Nor was he a brilliant writer, even though in that period he was considered a literary collaborator -apart from a financial one- at the prominent magazine El Padre Cobos.
The glory of Arrieta is based on his theatre production, especially on his decisive role to consolidate zarzuela. This leading role of the Navarrese master was possible due to his sense of melody, in Bellini’s traditional line more than Verdi’s innovating, dramatic one. Also because of his instrumental and harmonic resources, acquired thanks to his Italian formation. In this respect, Arrieta was better than his Spanish colleagues, in comparison to whom, maybe he lacked popular grace. Marina’s most popular parts today are Brindis, Tango, Bolero and Jota.
Anyway, these pieces and rhythms were not ingredients of a national lyrics, but local, colourful elements.
Arrieta, a prolific author of zarzuelas, rejected this term all the time. He wanted to use the French name. He was unsuccessful. Maybe as a trace of honour, he wanted to be identified as zarzuelamaker in his gravestone: “Here lies Arrieta, zarzuelero”.
He died at one in the morning in February 1894, in his residence. He suffered a palsy attack. He was buried next day in a niche at the cemetery of San José y San Millán.
Other works by Arrieta: El grumete, La suegra del diablo, El planeta Venus, El toque de ánimas, El potosí submarino. La guerra santa, La cacería real, La estrella de Madrid, La taberna de Londres, Las fuentes del Prado, El motín contra Esquilache, Un viaje a Conchinchina, El agente del matrimonio… More than 50 works.