Father Antonio Soler created an incredibly rich body of work, through talent and determination, that led to him being widely regarded as the greatest Spanish musician of the 18th century.
Antonio Francisco Javier José Soler Ramos studied music with his father, a regimental musician, before joining the Escolania de Montserrat choir at the age of six. He studied the great works for organ of Cabanilles and Miguel López and at 14 already knew the 24 varied pieces by José Elías. His mastery was such that he took on roles running two chapels. He took office at Seo de Urgel and was ordained subdeacon in 1752. On the 25 September 1752 he joined the Order of St. Jerome at El Escorial and became their permanent organist. In the first year, he composed freely and performed masterfully on the piano, cementing his fame. Despite his huge workload as a priest and chapel master, Soler wrote a large number of works, spending almost all of his free time composing. He would work until past midnight and get up for the four o'clock mass. He slept very little and even built a small desk so that he could compose in bed, when sick.
The royal family of Ferdinand VI, then that of Charles III, brought composers such as José Nebra and Domenico Scarlatti to their autumn resort. Soler studied with Nebra, and described himself as a disciple of Scarlatti, a famous Italian composer living abroad in Spain, whose work he studied for inspiration. Nebra wrote a laudatory preface to Soler's monumental theoretical treatise titled Llave de la modulación, and Antigüedades de la música, which was published in Madrid in 1762. In the first volume, Soler explored modulation by describing how to go from a tonality to any other in the most direct way. Nebra felt that this represented a significant discovery but many theorists virulently criticised the work. The second book conveyed a detailed knowledge of ancient musical notation and described the different modes of resolution in the canons.
In 1766, Soler was named professor of music to the son of Charles III, the talented Prince Gabriel. He designed and built an instrument that enabled to accurately measure and hear the major and minor semitones as well as the nine commas. His great knowledge of organs and their repertoire led him to write a 32-page letter on the highly criticized instrument of the Cathedral of Seville, and to draw up plans for the construction of a new instrument in Malaga.
Soler's work is varied but centres around 200 essential keyboard sonatas. They are much more harmonically daring than those of Scarlatti and are coloured by Iberian influences, dancing rhythms and sparkling style. In his final sonatas Soler made use of the Alberti bass, which was loved by Haydn, and popularised in Spain by Boccherini in the 1770s. Soler’s famous 462 bar Fandango featured a persistent bass that creates dissonance and syncopation. His sacred vocal music showed a great variety of inspiration in form, language and orchestral colour, while his chamber music and Concertos for two organs adopted a simplicity that was much appreciated by Prince Gabriel.
Six Landmark Dates in the Life of Antonio Soler :
1736 : Joined the Escolania de Montserrat
1745 : Became Chapel Master of Lleida
1752 : Became a Hieronymite Monk
1762 : Published his theoretical work
1771 : Published a treaty on the exchange of Catalan and Castilian coins
1772 : Sent 27 keyboard sonatas to England for publication
Six Key Works by Antonio Soler :
1753 : Veni creator, for 8 Voices and Strings
1758 : Los negros venen de zumba, Popular Song for Six Voices
1763 : De un maestro de capilla, for Soprano, Alto, Choir and Orchestra
1765 : Dos gitanas y un gitano, work for seven voices
1775 : Stabat Mater, for Two Sopranos and continuo
1776 : Six Quintets for Harpsichord and String Quartet