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Tomás Bretón

Tomás Bretón (December 29, 1850, Salamanca – December 2, 1923) was a Spanish musician and composer.

Tomás Bretón gained renown as a result of the success of his zarzuela La verbena de la Paloma, although other were well-received works, included his óperas Los amantes de Teruel, based on the famous legend, and La Dolores. After his death, his extensive output was a generally forgotten. His career spanned the majority of the musical areas of the period of the Restoration (1875-1923): Conservatorium Director, reputed orchestral conductor, composer of óperas, zarzuelas, symphonic and chamber music.

His aimed to create a Spanish ópera, which would form a basis for a national music. He not only expressed these ideas in his many writings, but composed a series of works throughout practically his whole career which reflectec them, from Guzmán el bueno (1876) to Tabaré (1913). His series of nine óperas, two of them in only one act, are an ambitious body of work for Spanish composers of his time. After a long polemic which delayed its première, Los amantes de Teruel (1889) amounted to its definitive consolidation, and was followed by proposals along very different lines, such as the Wagnerian in Garín (1892) for the Barcelona Liceo and the veristic in La Dolores (1894) for the Madrilenian Teatro de la Zarzuela. His last works, despite being tied to a strong nineteenth-century tradition, contain undeniable interest, such as Raquel (1900), based on the famous romantic drama, Farinelli (1902), composed for the failed Teatro Lírico project, Tabaré (1913), set in America, and Don Gil de las calzas verdes (1914), based on a comedy by Tirso de Molina.

At the same time, he approached the art zarzuela with unequal success. His output, while less than that of his contemporaries Chapí, Giménez and Fernández Caballero, is of great quality, given the variety of genres which he tackled. He made several attempts at composing in the zarzuela grande genre, both in a more traditional line than previous generations in works such El campanero de Begoña (1878) and Los amores de un príncipe (1881), and at the end of the century in the Circo de Parish, with El clavel rojo (1899) and Covadonga(1901), where he adopted more modern procedures, within the limitations of the genre. His greatest fame came from the género chico, especially La verbena de la Paloma (1894), one of the most famous zarzuelas of the Spanish repertoire, although he later composed many others which were not as successful. On the other hand, he wrote symphonic music with a singular insistence, at a time in which in Spain, orchestral ensembles barely existed. He composed and conducted numerous works for the Sociedad de Conciertos, of which he was chief conductor from 1885 to 1890. A result of this were his three symphonies (1872, 1883, 1905), revealing a strong assimilation of Beethoven's compositional techniques. His most successful works were those with a Spanish character, albeit in an Alhambristic vein –such as En la Alhambra (1887)– or a more danceable one, as in Escenas andaluzas (1894). During his last years he composes various symphonic poems with a clear, nostalgic character, such as Los galeotes (1905) based on the famous Quixote episode, and Salamanca (1916) on popular themes from his native region. In the chamber-music genre he has left us various works, including three quartets (one of which is published), as well as a trio and quintet, composed from markedly classical standpoints, influenced by the French world of Saint-Saëns. His wide musical knowledge led him to tackle many other fields such as song, including a song-cycle based on Bécquer's rhymes (1886), which was followed by Las golondrinas, and the oratorio El Apocalipsis (1882) composed in Rome as one of the works written under the Academy scholarship requirements.

The prolific composer for the guitar Francisco Tárrega dedicated one of his greatest masterpieces, "Capricho Árabe", to D. Tomás Bretón.

Tomás Bretón timeline

  • 1850 Born in Salamanca on 29 December, to a poor family.
  • 1858 Began studying music at the Escuela de Nobles y Bellas Artes de San Eloy in Salamanca.
  • 1865 Joined the orchestra of the Teatro Variedades in Madrid. Lost his job, surviving as a violinist in the Café del Vapor and the Orquesta de la Sociedad de Conciertos de Madrid.
  • 1872 Awarded joint-first prize in composition at the Conservatorio de Madrid, shared with Chapí.
  • 1873 Composed his first zarzuelas in Madrid.
  • 1874 The Sociedad de Conciertos premièred his Symphony no. 1 in F Major.
  • 1876 Successful première of his first ópera Guzmán el Bueno in the Teatro Apolo.

1878 Founded a new orchestra in Madrid called Unión Artístico-Musical.

  • 1880 Married Dolores Matheu. Travelled to Lisbon with the Unión Artístico-Musical.
  • 1881 Moved to Rome, as a scholarship-holder of the Spanish Academy in Rome.
  • 1882 Completed the composition of his oratorio El Apocalípsis in Rome. Travelled to Naples, Venice, Milan.
  • 1883 Moved to Vienna, where he completed his Symphony no. 2 in Eb Major.
  • 1884 Began composing 'Los Amantes de Teruel' in Paris, which he completed upon his return to Madrid.
  • 1885 A commission headed by Emilio Arrieta refused to première 'Los Amantes' in the Teatro Real de Madrid. Accepted the post of conductor of the Sociedad de Conciertos de Madrid.
  • 1889 Successfully premièred 'Los Amantes' in the Teatro Real; warmly received a short time later in the Liceo of Barcelona.
  • 1892 Successful première of his opera Garín in the Liceo of Barcelona.
  • 1894 Unexpectedly composed the sainete La verbena de la Paloma, which was enormously successful in the Teatro Apolo. The Sociedad de Conciertos premièred his Escenas andaluzas.
  • 1895 The Spanish ópera La Dolores, set in Aragón, with a libretto by José Feliú y Codina was a new and outstanding success.
  • 1896 Entered the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, with an address about national ópera.
  • 1899 Contributed to the Circo de Parish's grand zarzuela project with El clavel rojo.
  • 1900 His ópera Raquel was coldly received in the Teatro Real.
  • 1901 Named Director of the Conservatorio de Madrid. Première of Covadonga in the Parish.
  • 1902 Parcipated in the failed attempt of the Teatro Lírico (Spanish Opera Theatre) which his ópera Farinelli, set in time of the famous castrati.
  • 1904 His first string quartet is premiéred in Madrid.
  • 1913 Travelled to Argentina with a Spanish ópera company.
  • 1919 Despite the favourable audience reception of his ópera Tabaré, set in Uruguay in sixteenth century, it was only performed three times in the Teatro Real.
  • 1910 Première in the Teatro Tívoli of Barcelona of his ópera Don Gil de las calzas verdes, based on the work by Tirso de Molina.
  • 1916 Première in his native city of the symphonic poem Salamanca, based on popular songs.
  • 1917 Death of his wife Dolores Matheu. Composed Elegía y añoranzas, an autobiographical symphonic poem based on themes from earlier works.
  • 1919 Addressed an essay in favor of Spanish ópera to the government.
  • 1923 Died in Madrid on 2 December.


– Víctor Sánchez Sánchez: Tomás Bretón. Un músico de la Restauración. Madrid: Instituto Complutense de Ciencias Musicales, 2002.

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