There are days full of paradoxes, at dawn on August 15, when the Virgen de la Paloma arrives and what should be the Patron Saint of zarzuela should be celebrated in Madrid, one of the most outstanding Navarrese composers of the 20th century says goodbye to us, Agustín González Acilu. And in Navarre, without a government yet.
Born in Alsasua on February 18, 1929, Acilu, as we all knew him, had become the last resister of a generation and an era incomprehensible today. That an erudite, rigorous and multi-award-winning composer was a metalworker in his teens, a member of the Air Force band in his twenties to study music in Madrid and, later, a clarinetist in Madrid’s cabarets on the Gran Vía seems an unlikely story. . Intertwined with all this, musical studies in a pedagogical context that rejected any modernity, he, who was looking for it with true passion. And, gradually, possibilities to travel around Europe, Paris, Rome, Venice, Darmstadt.
This story is not far removed from that of his contemporary colleagues (De Pablo, Halffter, Bernaola…), but the Navarrese component provided colors and aromas that made Acilu an endearing figure while being hard and consistent, like the metals of his adolescence.
The mature Acilu did not market his creative freedom, his ideology coincided with that of the avant-garde, but his determination guided him towards non-negotiable positions. I remember conversations with the maestro in which he insisted: “in each piece you have to learn to compose again.” And he did it with the stubbornness and tenderness with which he assured me that I “didn’t know how to eat curds” on the various cider house menus that he liked so much.
I personally met Acilu in a curious session. The famous Pamplona Meetings of 1972 had come to an end and some of their manifestations were repeated in different places. At the Pequeño Teatro on Calle Magallanes in Madrid, of which I was a part, the film director Javier Aguirre presented several things that those of us who had not been able to attend the Meetings enjoyed. One of them was a work by Acilu, Hymn to the Lesbians, or Hymne an Lesbierinnen. It was what seemed to me an exercise in phonetic poetry, the phonetician Lily Greenham officiated. Since we were few, I dared to ask the reason for the title and its relationship with the abstract content. Answer: the piece is based on fricative phonemes. That was Acilu, educated and curious, although a bit cheeky. And the explanation I have never forgotten.
Acilu became interested in linguistics in general and, specifically, in the Basque language that he adored, although surely more because of its formal implications and the hardness of its materials than for anything else. His works for voice, choir, soloists are numerous and he was even interested in a work for the deaf choir, the Semiophonic Cantata. But no less is his extensive instrumental catalog and he prudently approached the scene.
He alternated his personal work with teaching and Spanish musical life, and Pamplona in particular, has a good number of former students, now orphans. When he reached retirement he refused to receive commissions (I was a victim of his intransigence as head of the Alicante festival): “But, Agustín, we are friends.” “Nothing, I do not accept orders.” As revenge, I keep eating the curd badly.
Victim of the usual Spanish oblivion
He was one of the very few composers of his generation who attended all the contemporary music concerts that we organized at the Reina Sofía, and his generous attention was widely appreciated by his friends, both in the room and, later, over a few beers. They also appreciated his presence in the Doce notas magazine, which my wife Gloria Collado directed, when he appeared with a small tray of pasta; she lived near the newsroom and liked to take advantage of the walk.
The appreciation of his work and the memory of his life fade in the recurring exercises of oblivion that devastate our country. The avant-garde of the sixties seems like a blurred dream that, for the curious who approach it, dissolves when touched. What do titles such as Superimposed Successions, Phonetic Dilation, Pan-linguistic Oratorio, Interphonisms, Series Printing, Piano Auto-forms, Partita ontica say to today’s audiences?
Acilu, however, knew that these things must be done, that the world does not end with a couple of lazy generations. His beloved Bach had to wait half a century to be recognized. However, if his works await, the figure of this Bachian metallurgist has had, at least, the recognition of his own; twice National Music Award (1971-1998), Prince of Viana Award for Culture from the Government of Navarra (2009) and Doctor Honoris Causa from the Public University of Navarra (2011). The rest is vanity, right, Agustín?
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