Carles Santos (b. 1941)



AVANT #12. Carles Santos

  1. Interviews with Carles Santos and Pere Portabella. (In Catalan)
  2. Music selection

The first instalment of the monographic dedicated to Carles Santos features an interview with Pere Portabella.

To a large extent, the history of the piano, from its origins in the eighteenth century up until the present day, is also the history of the music of Western civilization over the past three hundred years. Curiously, the instrument that revolutionised learned music in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, survived into the early twentieth century as the main means of popular entertainment and music transmission in the homes of the new European middle class. The arrival of electronic media pushed the piano into the background in comparison to its previous social role, but even in the unstable context of music in the first half of the twentieth century, with its radical changes and new sound sources, the piano held onto its status and mutated along with the times. Thus, most composers who spurred on cutting-edge music on both sides of the Atlantic around the 1950s, used the piano as a tool and as a means for expression.

The life and career of the musician Carles Santos (Vinaròs, 1940) has also been inseparably linked to the presence of the piano. "There are piano artists, and there are artists who have turned the piano into a work of art. Santos is a piano artist and an artist who has turned the piano into a work of art," wrote Manel Guerrero in the catalogue for the exhibition "Visca el piano!" So much so that even his brief period without a piano (when, rebellious, he sold it to buy a motorbike) allowed Santos to synthesize his relationship to the instrument with the same irony that hovers over many of his creations.

The education of this Valencian musician follows a similar pattern to that of other key figures in twentieth century music: he started as a student, went on to become a young performer, then a torchbearer for contemporaneity (first the Vienna, then New York versions), and later a composer. But in the case of Santos, this process acquired a transversal slant that soon led him to develop an aspect that defines his work to this day: an interest in related arts disciplines (theatre, film, dance, plastic arts), which led him to bring about a radical change in music (and particularly in the way audiences perceive the musical act).

Meeting the poet Joan Brossa was an unmistakable milestone for Carlos Santos, who describes him as the "ideologue" of the group of artists and activists that Santos himself sprung from. Their relationship deeply influenced his global conception of the performing arts which has led him, over the part forty years, to compose with a stage rather than an auditorium in mind, to mix scenes and specialities and to superimpose seemingly unrelated concepts like minimalism and romanticism. It has also led to him to make forays into film, putting forward alternatives and breaking traditional codes and structures, mainly in the company of filmmaker Pere Portabella, but also other directors like Gonzalo Herralde, Jordi Cadena and Carles Durán. In Santos’s work, extravagance, sexuality, histrionics and sarcasm are placed at the service of music and art, which he sees as a form of communication and entertainment, in the best sense of the word. Although his work implies a rupture that he shared (almost inevitably) with many of his contemporaries –the break with the single discipline, with linear narrative, stylistic continuity, and the distinction between high and low culture that can be seen in the work of Santos–, it challenges not only the status quo, but also boredom. A challenge that is part amiable and part hermetic, somewhere between popular accessibility and that unfathomable aspect of contemporaneity in music that Santos struggles to dissolve in acid.

Produced and edited by Roc Jiménez de Cisneros for Radio Web MACBA
From AVANT: Music of The Spanish Avant-Garde
Presented in collaboration with Radio Web MACBA


Voicetracks (1981)

1. To-Ca-Ti-Co-Ta-Ca-Ta
2. Cant Energètic
3. Pepa
4. La Sargantaneta
5. Conversa
6. Autoretrat


Carles Santos began his formal musical education at the prestigious Conservatori Superior de Música del Liceu in Barcelona. There, he received awards that gave him the opportunity to continue his studies in Paris, where he worked with Jacques Fevrier, Robert Casadesus, Magda Tagliaferro, and Marguerite Long, among others. Later he studied with Harry Datymer in Switzerland. In 1961, he began his career as a pianist, with a repertoire that included works by Béla Bartók, Arnold Schonberg, and Anton Webern. During these years, he also played the musical parts of Joan Brossa's Concert Irregular, which premiered in Barcelona and New York as part of the commemoration of the 75th birthday of Joan Miró. A grant awarded by the Juan March Foundation in 1968 allowed Santos to move to the United States, where he met and worked with a number of avant-garde artists, including John Cage.

In the late 1960s, Santos turned his attention to the production of films, and his oeuvre in this discipline eventually grew to include short films, full-length films, documentaries, and videos. Over the years, he collaborated with such directors as Pere Portabella, Jordi Cadena, and Carles Durán. His own first short film, L'Apat, premiered in 1967.

During the 1970s, Santos increasingly devoted himself to performing his own compositions, and eventually he decided to play them exclusively. His compositions are decidedly minimalistic and at the same time bear the stamp of romantic, traditional Spanish, atonal, and 12-tone music. In these years and into the 1980s, he took part in a number of important musical events, including the Festival d'Automne in Paris, the Musicalia in Milan, the International New Jazz Festival in Moers, Germany, the Biennial in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the Zürcher Theater Spektakel in Zurich, the Music Theatre Festival in London, Wintermusik '82 in Karlsruhe, Germany, and New Music America '83 in Washington, DC. In his performances, his goal was to avoid the boredom often caused in the audience by certain avant-garde music. Exhibition I-Cervantes Berlin 'Visca el piano!' 2007

In the 1980s, Santos began to design scenic musical shows, which he staged in such venues as the Sydney Opera House, the Hebbel-Theater in Berlin, and the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona. His musical shows are marked by extravagance, sexual themes, and deliberate provocation, with the goal of questioning established concepts, albeit with a sense of humor. The notes to the 2006 exhibition of Santos's costumes held in Barcelona at the Museu del Tèxtil i la Indumentaria (Mariaelena Roqué desvesteix Carles Santos [Mariaelena Roqué Undresses Carles Santos]), indicate that Santos, through his shows, is expressing his loves and fears and attempting to banish his personal demons.

Santos has been commissioned to compose works for a variety of special occasions, including the opening ceremonies of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona and the opening of the 2001 Biennial of Arts in Valencia.

A major retrospective of Santos's works titled Visca el Piano (Long Live the Piano) was held in 2006 at the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona. The exhibition included videos of his scenic musical shows, graphic and photographic works, montages, and kinetic sculptures. The last category included a waltzing player piano that whirled around the exhibition hall under its own power while playing music by Bach and somehow avoiding running into the other exhibits.



Obertura Musical para una Bienal (2001)
  1. 11.509 Notes per a 2001 (8:26)
  2. Fanfàrria Musica (4:53)

Banda Municipal de Valencia, Banda Primitiva de Llíria, Banda Unió Musical de Llíria




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