The Kennedy Center

Ramos Soler Antonio


A composer and organist from the Catalan region of Spain, Antonio (Ramos) Soler (1729-1783) became a monk at the monastery of El Escorial near Madrid. He spent all his life there as choirmaster, organist, and respected teacher. He is most known for the numerous keyboard sonatas he composed, although he also wrote organ works, quintets for strings and organ, some works for the theatre, and sacred vocal music.
After receiving musical instruction from his father, at age six Soler entered a famous music school in the monastery of Montserrat, near Barcelona He studied the major organ works of a number of Spanish composers, and by age 14, had learned all the organ works of a prominent Spanish composer of the time. He was later appointed choirmaster at a cathedral, where he was ordained sub-deacon in 1752. That same year, he joined the order at El Escorial and became the permanent organist. It is believed that approximately five years later, he became the choirmaster there.
The royal families of Spain's King Ferdinand VI and Queen Maria Barbara spent each autumn at El Escorial. Their musical retinue included composers Domenico Scarlatti and José Nebra. Soler studied with Nebra, but it is not certain whether he received any instruction from Scarlatti (one of whose pupils was Maria Barbara). Soler was, however, quite familiar with Scarlatti's compositions and described himself as that composer's disciple.
Despite his heavy duties as priest and choirmaster, Soler wrote a significant number of works, spending as much of his free time as possible composing. Soler is best known for his large output of keyboard works, mainly sonatas. His works' Spanish flavor is evident in the use of dance rhythms and brilliant musical colors. An excellent example is his Fandango, a lengthy work that ascends from a quiet introduction, through dissonances and flamboyant variations, to an explosive climax.
It is not always clear for which keyboard instrument Soler's works were composed. He had available to him an organ, harpsichord, and fortepiano, and wrote for all three instruments.
Soler's vocal works are also a significant part of his output. Most of these are sacred pieces connected to church services, although he also wrote many compositions for major feast days, which are not very religious and reflect more of peasant life.
Among Soler's other compositions are six original quintets for two violins, viola, cello and keyboard obbligato, which broadened the compositional style of chamber music in the 18th century. These were composed for his pupil, King Carlos III's talented son Prince Gabriel. The prince studied with the composer from age 14 until Soler's death.
Soler is also known for his large musical treatise in two books, published in Madrid in 1762. In the first book Soler shows how to modulate smoothly from any major or minor key to any other of the 24 keys in the fewest number of bars. His theories were very daring at the time and were severely criticized by a number of musical theorists. In fact, feelings were so strong that in a letter dated July 1765, Soler mentions he had been called "El diablo vestido de fraile" (a devil dressed as a monk).
Ramos Antonio