On the tercentenary of the birth of Sebastián de Albero (1722 – 1756)

Martin Voortman
martes, 25 de octubre de 2022
Sebastián de Albero © Dominio Público Sebastián de Albero © Dominio Público

Sebastián Ramón de Albero y Añaños is for sure one of the best composers of keyboard music of the 18th century pre-classical period in Spain. The doctoral thesis of Carlos Andrés Sánchez Baranguá* gives the following information:

Albero was the third child of a physician, born on June 10th of 1722 in Roncal (Navarra). In 1729 the family moved to Ujué (Navarra), where Albero could have received music lessons from the organists of the local church which were teachers at the local school as well. Between 1734 and 1739 Albero was a choirboy at the cathedral of Pamplona. There his masters may have been Miguel Valls, Andrés Escaregui, and the organist Andrés Gil. We know that many choir boys, after their dismissal, remained serving in the same church for some years more until they could get a place as chapel master or organist. 

New information found by Ars Hispana enables us to find that Albero resided in Madrid in the convent of the Descalzas Reales between 1743 and 1746. There he got acquainted with the organ master José Elías, and with his future wife as well.* 

In november 1747 he married Ángela de la Calle y Manso. Although no documents write about, it is possible that he as well gave lessons to the royal family. In all case, Queen María Bárbara had two volumes with his works listed in her legacy to Farinelli. His death occurred on March 30th of 1756, such early as those of his mother and father. Albero’s works are all for keyboard, in two collections:

Sonatas para clavicordio (twenty-eight sonatas and two fugues) and Obras, para Clavicordio, o Piano Forte (Six Recercata, Fuga and Sonata). Clavicordio is the 18th century Spanish word for harpsichord, while the clavichord was named monacordio

Altogether, this are six recercatas, eight fugues and thirty-four sonatas. 

Ars Hispana has just published a new edition of the six Recercata, Fuga y Sonata, and already in 2017 a new edition of Albero’s Sonatas para clavicordio.

This year, the harpsichordist Diego Ares gave outstanding interpretations of Albero’s Recercatas, Fugas y Sonatas in concerts in Madrid and Basel.

Albero, in his statement of 1749 written as a letter to the author, to the Obras de órgano entre el antiguo y moderno estilo by José Elías (organist of the Descalzas Reales in Madrid), declared to “have been participant of your school for a short time”. For sure he would have studied his organ works, mainly the first set of 12 Prelude-Fugue-Grave-Allegro.*

But much closer to Albero’s style we can find –since edited in 2021- an astonishing set of eight Sinfonías (sonatas or suites) by José de Nebra (1702 – 1768, working in Madrid for the Spanish court since 1717). As the team working on this edition due to term by Luis Antonio González Marín found, the source is an autograph of José de Nebra to be dated in the 1740s. The most astonishing of it is the unique synthesis of the Italian and French styles, together with that of Domenico Scarlatti. The latter is singular among Italian composers, being the first to integrate motifs of Iberian (mainly Andalusian) folklore in his bipartite sonatas.*

As curious forms in the Nebra Sinfonías we find Rondeau, Da Capo (ABA), four part movements, and the possibly only Spanish variation set in the gap between the last Spanish Diferencias and the first variated themes typical for the classical period in Middle Europe. How could José de Nebra have known such different kinds of keyboard music while we hardly find any trace of it in the remaining Spanish sources of other environments? In all case, he must have owned a unique collection of European keyboard music which includes the eight suites of G. F. Haendel, livres d’ ordres of François Coupérin, sonatas by Johann Kuhnau… 

This is explained with all references in the introduction of the edition, which is written in English and Spanish. Was there even a contest between Nebra and Albero in writing down their assimilation of high-class European keyboard music? Was it even Albero who wrote the 30 sonatas first than Nebra the Sinfonías? When I first played through the 30 sonatas of Albero in my youth, I wondered about some bars of each part of number XXIX in E major sounding so German-  and indeed there is an affinity to Handel’s “Harmonious Blacksmith” (Aria with variations of suite 5 ) in the same tonality.

Until our days it has been stated so often that Soler and Albero had been disciples of Elías, Nebra, and Scarlatti. What is to be expected about? An extremely humble attitude of the pupil towards his master, doing lots of exercises for months? As Albero and Soler were already skilled craftsmen, the studies could have been centered in studying, playing and copying good works of that masters, mostly without their presence or advice. Let us remember that Soler himself stated to have studied “twenty four works of José Elías at the age of thirteen or fourteen” already in Montserrat. 

In all case the pieces in this set of Nebra –including two monumental fugues- often remind us works by Scarlatti, Soler and Albero. This suggests that the interchange of works between the musical heads of the court was more intense than we knew before. Scarlatti had a singular position, but Soler, Albero and Nebra could have been even asked to emulate the style of him in their compositions for harpsichord. 

A numerical similitude between the series of 28 sonatas and 2 fugues by Albero and the 31 pieces distributed in eight Sinfonías can be recognized better if we understand nr. 29 and 31 as a pair (with eventual Da Capo of 29) and nr. 30 as the final piece. 

While Nebra’s compositions result more in a juxtaposition of the Italian/ Spanish and French styles, Albero did a much more refined homogenization of them. Macario Santiago Kastner was clearly aware of the French influence when he wrote his PROLOGO to the Treinta Sonatas para clavicordio – not only because of the fact that the Recercatas remind the French “Prélude non mesuré”.*


1. Sánchez Baranguá, Carlos Andrés, «Sebastián Ramón de Albero y Añanos (1722 – 1756): vida y obra», Pamplona: Universidad Pública de Navarra, Tesis doctoral, 2016

2. Angulo, Raúl: «Sebastián de Albero (1722 – 1756), Obras para clavicordio o piano forte», Asociación Ars Hispana, Madrid, 2022, pages 1 and 62 - 66

3. Pedrero-Encabo, Águeda, «Josep Elies, 24 obres per a órgue (Peces i Tocates)», Barcelona: Edicions Tritó, 2007

4. Dra. Luisa Morales López del Castillo is probably the scholar which has published most about this point.

5. Gálvez, Genoveva, «Treinta sonatas para clavicordio por Sebastián Albero», Madrid: Unión Musical Española, 1980, p. V

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