Ataúlfo Argenta

Ataúlfo Argenta

Ataúlfo Exuperio Martin de Argenta Maza (November 19, 1913 - January 21, 1958) was a distinguished Spanish conductor. Born in Castro Urdiales in Spain's Cantabria region, he played pivotal roles in the founding of the Festival Internacional de Santander and the Madrid Chamber Orchestra. From 1947 until his death in 1958, he was the Principal Conductor of the Orquesta Nacional de España. [Juan González-Castelao, [ Biography of Ataúlfo Argenta] in the Orquesta Nacional de España programme for «Homenaje a Ataúlfo Argenta», January 25, 26, 27, 2008, pp. 5-12. Retrieved 14 February 2008.] He specialized in late 19th and early 20th century music, and especially music by Spanish composers. Argenta recorded nearly 50 zarzuelas with Alhambra (the Spanish label of Columbia Records) and was contracted to Decca from the mid-1950's. [Many of these Decca and Alhambra recordings have been released on CD, most notably, "Great Conductors of the 20th Century: Ataulfo Argenta" (EMI Classics 75097) and "The Complete Decca Reordings of Ataúlfo Argenta, 1953-1957" (Decca 4757747/5)] In 1954, his remarks criticizing the state of Spanish music under the Franco government (and his subsequent retraction) caused considerable controversy. [ [,8816,857408,00.html Comradely Criticism] , "Time Magazine", March 13, 1954. Retrieved 15 February 2008.] He died less than four years later at the age of 44 on the brink of a major international career. In January 2008, the 50th anniversary of his death was commemorated in Spain with concerts, exhibitions and conferences, [ [ Exposición, concierto y conferencias recuerdan Argenta en su Cantabria natal] , "EFE", January 21, 2008. Retrieved 15 February 2008] as well as the publication of two biographies. [Salvador Arias Nieto, "Ataúlfo Argenta Una batuta para la historia", Aula de Cultura La Venencia, 2008; Juan González-Castelao, "Ataúlfo Argenta (1913-1958): estudio biográfico, analítico e interpretativo ", forthcoming June 2008]


Early years

Ataulfo Argenta was born on November 19, 1913 in Castro Urdiales then a small, mainly fishing, port on Cantabria’s Atlantic coast. He was one of two children and the only son of the local station master, Juan Martín de Argenta, himself the son of a Madrid University professor and widower, and Laura Maza, from the nearby village of Samano.

Argenta showed early musical promise through his singing. He sang in the church of Santa Maria , before developing his talent on violin, and particularly, piano under the tutelage of Vicente Aznar and Blanco Justo. He went to school at Doctrina Cristiana, playing locally in the cinema and at Circulo Catolico concerts.

It was through the Circulo Catolico Argenta gained a bursary to attend Madrid’s Real Conservatorio Superior de Música (Madrid Conservatory). In 1927 he and the family moved to Madrid, his father to work in the head-office of the State Railways, and for Argenta to take up his place at the Conservatory, aged thirteen.

He proved an able pupil, studying with Alberdi, Conrado de Campo and Frances and awarded with a Premio Extraordinario for piano in 1930. He had continued to sing and in 1928, at fourteen, met at the Masa Coral de Madrid, Juana Pallares Guisasola, a fellow pupil at the Conservatory, who he was eventually to marry. Juana was also to win a Premio Extraordinario in her graduation year. Argenta, himself, having graduated the previous June from the Conservatory, took, still aged seventeen, the prestigious Kristina Nilsson Prize early in 1931, in spite of the sudden death of his father, just two weeks previously.

The father’s death left the family in poor finances and Argenta, his sister and mother were forced by circumstances to move to Liege in Belgium, where one of his half-sisters, by his father’s first marriage, had married and was running an hotel. It is said that during this period Argenta studied at the Conservatory in Liege under professors Marsick and de Chastain and that he was forced by ill health to leave Liege and move to Brussels with the aid of another bursary. In fact, although Argenta’s health was a constant source of concern during his life (He was said to have been gravely ill as a child, through eating too much sugar. He was, in fact, tubercular), it is unlikely that he studied in Liege or went to Brussels at all, choosing to return to Madrid, to Juana, to seeking money to continue his studies there, with his mother and sister remaining in Belgium.

In Madrid from the beginning of 1932, and finally unable to gain a grant, he had to turn his hand to many things. He worked for a short time at the office of the State Railways, no doubt through connections there that remained from his father. He performed on the piano in dance-halls and bars, as an accompanist, music tutor – in short anything that could provide him income. His summers were spent mainly in or near Los Molinos, a mountain village 35 miles west of Madrid, where the Pallares family spent their summers. He was able to continue to study with de Campo and Alberdi and also took his first steps on the podium, conducting for the first time in public on 2nd March 1934 with the orchestra of the Professional Association of Conservatory Students. He finally left the Conservatory, starting to try to earn a living as a professional musician.


The end of 1935 saw Argenta’s appointment as resident conductor at Madrid’s Teatro Calderon for the 1936 opera season. In this period he was spending time with the well known tenor Miguel Fleta at his home in Alhama de Aragon. It was with a small orchestra of Sindicato members that Argenta found himself playing in Galicia, when the events began that were to lead on 17th July to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.

Despite being in Galicia Argenta also made his way to Salamanca as a volunteer in the Nationalist forces. As the only son of a widow he was not required to fight at the front. He was instead transferred to a communications battalion and moved with it to Segovia. There he was trained in radio-telegraphy and was involved in the Segovian Falange.

During the Civil War he served behind the northern front almost until the fall of Gijon, the last Republican stronghold in the north. In the meantime he had managed to get messages via the Red Cross to his family in Belgium and to Juana in Madrid. She was able to make arrangements to leave there on the pretence of joining the family in Belgium but doubled back once in France to enter Nationalist territory in August 1937. Argenta was then posted back to Segovia and there, on 13th October, he and Juana were married.

At the fall of Gijon Argenta’s unit was withdrawn from the front. He went to join them but soon fell ill with a fever, said to be typhus. He was hospitalised in Palencia and sent for convalescence at Segovia. There his talents were used in concerts for the Falange to such an extent that he reported back late to his unit and to wrong place. He was accused of desertion and it took the intervention of Pilar Primo de Rivera, sister of the late founder of the Falange, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, and head of its Woman’s section, to have the charges dropped.

Shortly after the desertion charge Argenta was accused of spying but it was shown to be false. He was eventually released, after which the remainder of his war was much calmer, as his musical rather than military talents were employed. In November 1938 his first child, a girl, was born. At the end of March 1939 Juana fell pregnant once more. The war ended in April 1939 and Argenta was demobilised in July in Albacete.


Post-war Argenta returned to Madrid to try to make a living as a musician. He struggled, taking concerts wherever he could. He was at just such a concert when he learned of the death of his second child, a son, born a month premature and who survived just a matter of hours.

By the beginning of 1940 Argenta had found work. He was playing in review with Jesus Garcia Leoz at Madrid's Teatro Guerrero but still had ambitions as a concert pianist. During the year he arranged a number of concerts with the support of Cayetano Luca de Tena at the Teatro Espanyol with varying degrees of success, one of which was heard by the visiting, German pianist, Winfried Wolf. Wolf thought Argenta had potential. He was able to use his influence with the German government, for Argenta to receive a three-month stipend to study with Wolf in Germany. As arrangements were made, Argenta remained in Madrid until Wolf once more returned. He left again on 25th April, 1941 to return to Potsdam. With him went Argenta but alone. His family remained behind.

In July 1941 Argenta travelled to the Bad Elster music festival. Also there were several Spanish musicians; the pianist, Cubiles, Sopena, later secretary to Turina, the composer and Commissioner of Music, and Regino Sainz de la Maza, to whom Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez had been dedicated and who had premiered the piece nine month’s earlier, plus the German conductors, Carl Schuricht and Franz von Hoesslin.

During the festival Argenta’s third child, a daughter, had been born in Madrid. Juana had been pregnant when he had left for Germany. After the festival Argenta was able on the journey back to Berlin to persuade Schuricht to intercede with the German government to extend Argenta’s stipend. He remained in Germany and was not to see his new daughter for ten months.

Later in 1941 Argenta moved with Wolf from Potsdam to the university at Kassel. There he continued study and to perform in concerts throughout Germany, and Austria, specialising in a Spanish repertoire. He had his first sold-out concert in early 1942, was appointed Professor of Piano at Kassel and developed his conducting. He took to the podium in May 1942 in front of the Berlin Radio Orchestra. Her wife Juana and their two daughters arrived in Kassel to a house in Wolfshanger, just outside the city. It was followed by fever and the discovery of lesions on Argenta’s lungs. Signs of tuberculosis had returned. He had to rest for three months. Later in 1942 Argenta resumed his teaching and performing. In February 1943 he played in Vienna. However, as the tide of the Second World War turned, Spain gradually ceased cooperation with Germany and Kassel had been increasingly targeted for its armaments industry. It had been first bombed in June 1942. It was lightly bombed in mid-1943 and an attempt was made to bomb it heavily on 2nd October 1943. The bombs missed their targets. They hit Wolfshanger. The Argenta’s had to flee their house. It was hit and destroyed. The family wisely moved to nearby Spangenberg as, 8 days later Kassel, was fire-bombed. The air-raid razed to the ground the Old Town, 10,000 people are thought to have died and the University was destroyed.

If plans had not already been made to leave Germany, it was time to do so. Argenta took on a series of concerts to raise funds and re-establish musical and political contacts in Spain, particularly at the Teatro Espanyol. At the end of November plans were complete and the family, Juana five months pregnant, left for Madrid via an engagement in Frankfurt. There they became separated, for a few hours did not know where each was but were reunited in Paris and the return was completed on 6th December 1943.

On return to Madrid Argenta tried to re-launch a career as a concert pianist. It was not a success. He had concerts in January and April 1944, his third surviving child, another daughter, was born in March and Schuricht arrived to conduct the Spanish National Orchestra (SNO) in May. More concerts followed but it was from that point his career began to take off, not as a pianist but a conductor.

In December 1944 Argenta was pivotal in the formation of the Madrid Chamber Orchestra (MCO), sponsored by the banker, Luis Urquijo, the Marques of Bolarque. In early 1945 the MCO began to perform, based at the Teatro Espanyol, conducted by Argenta, although he still performed as a pianist. It was also at this time that he must have become better acquainted with Rodrigo, who he may first have met before he left for Germany in 1941. In March 1945 he was auditioned to conduct the orchestra of the National Radio, of which Rodrigo was the Musical Director. In June he was given a six-month contract to conduct weekly concerts with the radio orchestra, which seemed to be more or less the MCO. In July his fourth child, a son, was born. In October 1945 he was appointed the resident pianist with the SNO, conducting it for the first time in November, shortly after, again for the first time, performing with the Madrid Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) as a pianist under Pablo Sorozabal. Three weeks later he was to conduct the MPO for the first time.


In late 1945 the director of the SNO was Bertolome Perez Casas, who was aging and not in the best of health. Argenta was to share more of the conducting of the SNO with Jesus Arambarri, a close friend of Rodrigo, and Unger the first of a series of German conductors to be brought in. In January 1946 the radio contract was not renewed. It coincided with the stepping down of Rodrigo as the Radio’s Music Director. It also seems Argenta was offered the directorship of Madrid’s third orchestra the Madrid Symphony (MSO), which had eased out its former conductor, Enrique Jorda. Argenta turned down the offer. However, he continued to be a member of the SNO but noticeably had no opportunities to conduct in concert.

In the early part of 1946 the SNO continued to search abroad for a replacement for Perez-Casas. Next to be tried was Franz von Hoesslin. It renewed an acquaintance he and Argenta had had since 1941. The trial appears to have been a success. Von Hoesslin was asked to return and before he did so Argenta was made the SNO’s assistant conductor. It is likely that von Hoesslin would have become the SNO’s director with Argenta his German-speaking assistant. However, on his return home, the plane in which the German was travelling crashed in France. He was killed.

Von Hoesslin’s death threw the Spanish musical establishment into confusion. Argenta dropped down the pecking order once more but only temporarily. Unger returned to the SNO, as Argenta returned to accompanying. However, Unger did not work out. He was eventually to emigrate to conduct in Canada. A conference, the Assembly of Spanish Composers and Soloists, was called. Argenta did not attend. He was judging a competition for the Falange. However, almost immediately his old teacher, Wolf, arrived in Madrid, and most likely as a result of the conference and the visit, Argenta was in mid-November 1946 officially named Second Conductor of the SNO.

For the remainder of 1946 Argenta continued to mix performing with the MCO and the SNO. He appeared to hedging his bets. On 2nd January 1947 he was named but clearly not considered Joint-Director of the SNO. For much of the year more German conductors came and went, including Unger once more. Argenta was relegated to the MCO and MPO. However, it was during this period the Argenta met one of the more important figures of his career – the guitarist, Narciso Yepes.

It was not until October 1947 that Argenta’s joint-directorship of the SNO appears to have been recognised and he returned to conducting both the MCO and SNO in a series of major concerts, including the debut of Yepes, playing Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, and premieres of several Spanish works. Yet, in spite of all his efforts and conferences, it seems Argenta’s position was still not secure. The first half of 1948 saw yet more foreign conductors for the SNO. He reacted by working almost entirely with the MCO, including a Rodrigo premiere. He was also reported as being ill for over a month, before returning to make his international debut in June in London with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Foreign conductors had one last flourish at the beginning of the 1948 winter season but in November Argenta was finally declared Symphonic Director of the SNO. It was a curious arrangement that was to have long-term consequences but for the moment it was Argenta, who ran the orchestra on a day-to-day basis with Perez-Casas titular head.

The next six months into 1949 saw once more a mixture of performances with the SNO and MCO. They included the first ever recording of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez - with Regino Sainz de la Maza, to whom the piece had originally been dedicated - more premieres, including Rodrigo’s Concierto Galante, with Gaspar Cassado, and the first concert performance of the Aranjuez outside Spain, with Yepes.

The rest of 1949 saw more of the same, as Argenta worked on improving the standard of the SNO, and the last podium performance of Perez-Casas. He became Commissioner of Music, succeeding Turina, who had died earlier in the year. It might be expected that Argenta’s situation might now have completely stabilised. It had not.


For the first half of 1950 the SNO was once more conducted by foreigners. Argenta seemed again to be relegated to the MCO and the MSO. He travelled to Paris, accompanied by the SNO and supported by Bolarque and Rodrigo, for a series of very successful concerts and broadcasts with Pilar Lorengar and Yepes. He followed it with a performance of the Concierto Galante, with Rodrigo present, a second trip to Paris and the birth of his fifth and last, surviving child, another girl.

Argenta was to be in Paris once more in November 1950 to conduct for the first time in the Paris Conservatory Orchestra season, as he was to do regularly until his death. He was also back conducting the SNO, his position at last assured, in a Madrid classical musical scene that was flourishing. Not just the SNO performed regularly, but also the MSO and MPO, the latter under the talented leadership of the Sorozabal, acting as a feeder orchestra to the SNO.

In January 1951 Argenta spent most of the month in Italy, with Rodrigo and Cassado performing the Concierto Galante, and Paris, where he performed the Aranjuez with Yepes and made the still stunning recording of Manuel de Falla’s El Amor Brujo with Ana-Maria Iriarte. She and he were to perform the same piece in Madrid in March that year, then again in Paris and Brussels.

Mid-1950 saw the beginning of what was in time to become a major part of the Argenta legacy – the recording of over 50 zarzuelas, the Spanish light opera, on the Alhambra record label. It also saw, encouraged by Garcia Leoz, his one and only involvement in film – La Cancion de Malibran, for which he conducted the sound-track - and the first sign of infidelity since Germany in 1943.

The first Alhambra zarzuelas were performed on stage with the help of Luca de Tena. They were then taken on the road with Ana-Maria Iriarte, Tony Rosado and Manuel Ausensi as the stars. All three were to become stalwarts of the Alhambra company, where they were to be joined by many others including Pilar Lorengar, Carlos Munguia and a young Teresa Berganza.

La Cancion de Malibran was premiered in October 1951. It was followed by a month-long trip to Buenos Aires, as part of the regular cultural exchanges between Argentina and Spain. December 1951 saw Argenta briefly return to conducting the SNO before in the New Year he travelled once more to Rome with Yepes, Rodrigo and Oscar Espla. At this stage in his career he was working closely with Rodrigo and Yepes, but the latter was soon to move to Paris permanently.

As Yepes left Madrid so the Venezuelan guitarist, Alirio Diaz arrived. It was at about this time, the beginning of 1952, that Valmalete in Paris became Argenta’s agent. It was also then that his increasing absences abroad were first commented on. The absences were to continue – in Paris and then, for the first time, in Vienna, with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Ana-Maria Iriarte and Cassado. March, April May were spent in Madrid, working with the SNO, including a performance with Madeleine de Valmalete. He also worked with the MCO and it was probably at this time that Alhambra zarzuela recordings were begun, initially with the Coros Cantores de Madrid, just as he also was involved in the organisation of the first Granada Festival in June and Santander Festival in August. Ana-Maria Iriarte was to perform El Amor Brujo at Granada, which also saw the return to Spain of the guitarist, Segovia. Iriarte was to perform the same piece at Santander and then probably went on to record more zarzuelas with Argenta, interrupted only by him taking a summer tour of Germany and Switzerland with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. The tour had been announced earlier in the year.

The remainder of 1952 was spent conducting the National Orchestra, interrupted only by a short tour to Portugal and three concerts in Scotland.

1953 was probably the year of greatest success for Argenta; at least in Spain. It appears to have started with a ONE tour to France and possible recording there. It was followed by a brief stay in Madrid before he travelled to Belgium. It was whilst there that his friend Garcia Leoz died in Madrid. Argenta returned to take two emotional memorial concerts, one with the SNO and the other with the MCO, before remaining at home. In mid-April he was once more on tour with the SNO in the south of France, before travelling to Rome for a performance of El Amor Brujo, onward to Strasbourg and then to Vienna, at the time of its music festival, for a performance of the Aranjuez with Yepes and a recording with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra of Mendelsohn.

After Vienna Argenta went briefly to Madrid, and then to Barcelona, before a quiet period in advance the 1953 Granada Festival. However, in the three weeks or so he may have made a recording, that seems to exist, of the Concierto de Aranjuez with the SNO and Alirio Diaz.

After the success of the 1952 Granada Festival in 1953 it was much more influenced by the Spanish establishment in content and format. Musically it may have been less interesting but the decision to expand and internationalise the festival meant dance was included in the form of Antonio and his Spanish ballet and London's Sadlers Wells Company with Margot Fonteyn.

The summer break in 1953 was short. For Argenta and the SNO the Santander Festival began on the 1st August, with the first of the Beethoven symphonies. It culminated with the Beethovens’s 9th on the evening of 10th August at the famous Porticada concert with Rosado, Ines Ribadeneira, Ausensi, Barjardi, the Orfeon Donostiara (OD), the choir with which he was increasing to work in concert and the recording of zarzuelas, and twelve minutes standing ovation.

After Santander, Argenta did not take up an invitation to the Besancon Festival. Instead he went with the SNO to the Quincena Festival at San Sebastian. There may then have been some more recording of zarzuelas but October was definitely spent in Paris, recording for Decca with John Culshaw, as engineer. The return to Madrid was at the beginning of November. He remained until the beginning of December, when after two performances of Beethoven’s 9th with the SNO, the OD and Consuelo Rubio, he travelled to Switzerland, to Paris, then back to Switzerland. It was unlikely he returned home for Christmas, New Year or Epiphany, when he was in Rome.

In late January 1954 Argenta was in Madrid for a Rodrigo concert, probably on the occasion of the award to the latter of the Gran Cruz de Alfonso el Sabio. Three weeks later, on 15th February 1954, an article was published, written by Argenta in Ateneo, a prestigious Madrid arts magazine, which was heavily critical of music under Franco. It spared few, including Joaquin Rodrigo himself. Rodrigo, clearly upset, responded in print in no uncertain terms. The furoure that resulted was so fierce that it was even reported in the American magazine, Time. Argenta, who was in Vienna with Yepes, was, in spite of much that he had written being true, forced by the Spanish musical and political establishment, particularly the Falange, to recant. Argenta’s whole career looked at that moment to be in jeopardy. In Spain it was certainly damaged. He was never apparently to work with Rodrigo again.

He returned only briefly to Madrid for one SNO concert before leaving for Switzerland for a first performance with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (OSR). After Switzerland he returned, again briefly, to Madrid for two concerts with noticeably Nationalistic content, and an Homage to Yepes, after which he disappeared for over a month to reemerged in Italy only on 11th May.

From Italy he probably travelled on to Paris before returning to Spain once more and the Sevilla Festival. There he conducted in high fever and was placed under medical supervision. He was clearly unwell as he took one more Madrid concert and went on to Granada, where Fonteyn was to return, he was to play the Aranjuez with Yepes and share the conducting duties with one of Spain’s other leading conductors, Toldra. Santander followed in August and there he was helped with the conducting by Golschman. The 1954 Madrid winter concert season started with a double concert by Argenta and the SNO in late October. He was then not to perform in Madrid until January 1955. His schedule took him to Paris for a concert and, possibly, recording, then to Switzerland for El Amor Brujo with the OSR and Iriarte. He then returned to Paris, met up with the SNO, travelled to Belgium for two concerts with Lorengar, returned to Paris yet again for another concert before continuing on to Vienna for a concert and recording. His next concert there was not until mid-January 1955.


The January 1955 Madrid four concert series culminated in a performance of Mahler’s 4th with the SNO and Lorengar but it also included Sainz de la Maza playing the Concierto de Aranjuez with Argenta for the first time for six years. They were not to play it together again. However, it was perhaps a catalyst for the release of recordings of the piece. The Sainz de la Maza concert may have coincided with the release of the first – the poor recordings of the work made by him in late 1948 or early 1949 with Argenta and the SNO. The second, reviewed in early May, was Argenta’s recordings of the same piece with Yepes and of Falla’s piano piece, Noches en los Jardines de Espana, with Gonzalo Soriano. The latter was highly praised in review. The former’s “evocative slow movement” was commented on and it was criticised for “falling down badly in the finale”. Both recordings were made with the MCO and not the SNO, which makes it difficult to pin-point when they were made. That they exist there is no doubt. When they were made is much more problematic. In general Argenta ceased publicly to work with the MCO after the autumn of 1952. More particularly there is no obvious evidence of Soriano working with either him or the MCO at all prior to 1955. Indeed their paths only seem to cross in May 1952. That was not the case with Yepes but to find a date for a recording with the MCO is still difficult. It might have been as early as April 1950, before Yepes left for Paris, when Yepes played in Madrid and Argenta had only one concert in a month, prior to taking the piece and the soloist to Paris with the SNO. It may also have been possibly in August or September 1951, when Yepes played the work at Santander with the SNO but Argenta was also involved in touring zarzuela with the MCO or in November 1951, after Argenta returned from Argentina, was working with MCO and when Yepes was known to be in Madrid. There was also a rushed possibility in November 1952, between Portugal and Scotland for Argenta, when Yepes and Argenta were possibly in Northern Spain at the same time.

If clarity of date is lacking, clarity of result, in the case of the Aranjuez, is not. From the review, particularly the remarking on the “evocative slow-movement”, Argenta and Yepes appear to have already created by 1952 a version of the piece that was not exactly as it had been known until then, nor, indeed, as it had been written by Rodrigo. Both may have incurred wrath for the changes but they were to have a fundamental effect on its popularity as a piece.

Between the release of the two versions of Aranjuez in 1955 Argenta had travelled to Rome, returning to work with the SNO for the first time with the Swiss soprano, Maria Stader and the Finnish bass-baritone, Kim Borg. Then for the next two months he seems to have oscillated between concerts in Madrid, and Switzerland. After the Aranjuez review he was again in Geneva to record with the OSR. Again he was unwell and this time confined to bed. The recording did not go well; much of it was rejected. However, he seemed to recover and moved on to the Strasbourg Festival, where with the SNO he performed with Lola Rodriguez de Aragon, to Paris to record and then to the 1955 Granada Festival. Soriano was there, perhaps as a result of the release of Noches en los Jardines de Espana, as was Elizabeth Schwarzkopf. At Granada Argenta again had to have help with the conducting from both Schuricht and Arambarri. He was then not to conduct in Spain for almost a year.

It is clear that even a June spent in Castro, as he did most years, was not enough for Argenta to recover. He attended the Santander Festival but not to conduct. It was announced he was not to perform due to ill health. However, it had not prevented him travelling to Luzern to the festival there to conduct Segovia. Nor was it to prevent him travelling to the Besancon for a recorded recital with Grumiaux, after which it was unclear whether he returned to Madrid or continued directly on to Switzerland for recording with the OSR. He then took a single concert with the SNO, but in Berne, before back in Madrid at the beginning of November a break for Argenta was announced, again because of ill-health. In fact the break was not to start until the beginning of December. He still took two concerts in Paris before returning to Spain and admission to a hospital not far from Los Molinos for the treatment of what was described as intestinal tuberculosis.

Argenta remained in treatment for five months, which included the death of Perez-Casas. He stayed away from the podium for just three months. In March 1956 he quietly travelled once again to Switzerland for an OSR concert. In Spain he began only to be seen in public at the beginning of April. He attended a concert, where Yepes played the Aranjuez in the presence of Rodrigo. He was also made a member of the Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. Argenta replaced Perez-Casas but was, noticeably, not made Director of the SNO.

Argenta was to take the last two concerts of the SNO season in May 1956. He was also at Granada for the festival, where he shared the conducting with Toldra and Loren Maazel. It was a curious mixture of an event. Gieseking was there, as was Fonteyn once more. Menuhin was there also. Argenta and he performed a recorded concert and it was rounded off with zarzuelas. However, there must still have been worries about his health as he did not appear at Santander at all. His next performance was not until the last week of September in Switzerland at Montreux. He did not take the baton in Madrid until the middle of October and then only for four concerts. Two were of Soriano playing Noches de los Jardines de Espana. The third was with the Cantores de Madrid. The fourth on 4th November 1956 was with the French pianist, Marcelle Meyer, at which it was announced that Argenta was "going abroad".

The departure had clearly been well-arranged. In two weeks Argenta was already in Paris for concerts and recording. He may have remained in Paris but he certainly did not perform anywhere until the end of December, when he was in London. He was there to record once more with Decca, now with Culshaw as its head of Classical Music, the stereo orchestral LP, Espana, plus Tchaikovsky with Alfredo Campoli and Liszt with Julius Katchen.

It was only in January 1957 Argenta returned to conduct the SNO in a spectacular series of double concerts; with Victoria de los Angeles, Jose Iturbi, in San Sebastian to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the OD, then in Madrid once more with Stader, Proctor, Offermans and Borg and the OD. They were followed with single concerts first with Cassado and with the Cantores de Madrid, before a double concert with Wayenberg. Then it was to Paris for concerts and a recording with Berganza, possibly a quick trip back to Spain, but not to Madrid, before travelling on to Geneva and Vienna. The schedule was once again unremitting.

Only at the end of March 1957, was Argenta back in Madrid; with the SNO for two concerts supposedly to end the season; the first with Soriano and the second with Kempff. In fact they were not to be the last concerts. There were two more with the SNO at the end of May after yet another dash to Geneva for concerts and recording and time spent at the house in Los Molinos, the family had acquired.

The concerts at the end of May featured, in the first, Yepes playing the Concierto de Aranjuez and Soriano playing Noches en los Jardines de Espana, and in the second Beethoven’s Heroica Symphony. All three pieces were recorded by the same orchestra and participants over the next few days. It was this recording of Aranjuez that was to be released in 1958 and become a "hit" Europe-wide, particularly because of the second movement, the Adagio, of the Aranjuez. This Yepes/Argenta version, just as in its first, in 1955 with the MCO, noticeably slowed the second movement by about 20%, compared not just with the original 1948/49 recording Argenta made with the SNO and Sainz de la Maza, but also with the version Rodrigo himself had made in 1956 with the Catalan guitarist, Renata Tarrago. The pace change altered the mood of the piece forever; making it the highly romantic piece that is played today. It was perhaps Argenta, as the conductor, who introduced the change but it is also noticeable, that the slowing actually occurs, mainly when Yepes is playing solo. It indicates that Yepes must be considered to have had at least an equal input.

At Granada in 1957 it was Argenta who was in control. He shared the conducting with no-one. Kempff wa there as were Cassado and Campoli, Victoria de los Angeles and the Paris Opera Ballet. He was also firmly in control at Santander, but not with the SNO but the OSR. He performed with Agnes Giebel, Norma Proctor, once more, Offermanns and Borg. He shared the conducting with Ansermet.

At the beginning of September 1957 Argenta returned to Besancon with Consuelo Rubio, from where he probably went on to Switzerland. It seemed as if the previous itinerary was to be repeated but instead he returned to Spain, to Segovia for a celebration on 13th October of his 20th wedding anniversary.

Argenta remained in Spain for the rest of October and the beginning of November. He had three concerts and a recording of Ernesto Halffter’s Sinfonetta before leaving for Paris until the end of the month, culminating in a concert with the OD, Munguia, Borg and Pilar Lorengar again. Then he left for Switzerland to perform with the OSR and Consuelo Rubio once more, returning after a short break to Madrid and two concerts with the up-and-coming harpist, Marisa Robles.

Robles was to be the last Spanish performer, with whom Argenta was to work. He may then have travelled to Switzerland for a concert but his next known engagements were two performances of Haendel’s Messiah on the 17th and 19th January 1958, featuring the voices once again of Norma Proctor, Maria Stader, Offermans and the German bass, Otto von Rohr. On the Monday following the second concert he is known to have successfully rehearsed with the SNO the programme for the following Friday’s concert. By the next morning he was dead.

Argenta's death in 1958

Argenta’s untimely death, in the house in Los Molinos, Madrid on the stormy, snowy night of January 20, 1958, was caused, it is said, by inhalation of carbon monoxide. He was said to have turned the heat on in his study and then returned to his car and switched on the engine and heater with the garage doors down.

His death, came just as he was likely, at the age of 44, to achieve major international success. It is said he had been chosen to succeed Ansermet at the head of the OSR and was about to leave Spain. His diary was full. He had also been, amongst other bookings, engaged to record the Brahms symphonies in Vienna when death intervened.

Ataulfo Argenta was given what was almost a state funeral, his body being carried through the streets buried in Madrid’s Almudena cemetery. Juana returned for the funeral from Switzerland, where she was receiving medical treatment. He was given the posthumous award of the Grand Cross of Alfonso the Wise. A statue of him by the sculptor Rafael Huerta was erected in the garden of Castro Urdiales in 1961, where it stands to this day. The auditorium of the concert hall in Santander is named after him.

Artistic legacy

Argenta’s talent seemed to combine Spanish artistry and an almost Teutonic search for perfection. He seemed equally at home with Southern and Northern European repertoire. As a conductor he was said to be a hard task-master, but one with very considerable charm.

Argenta recorded over 50 zarzuelas with Alhambra (Spanish Columbia), many of which are still available, including, in lead roles, singers, such as Berganza and Lorengar, who were to go on to international fame. He also was to record perhaps as many as 80 classical pieces. Many of the best of these were by Decca Records and have been reissued on CD and are now available on-line. Included is the famous stereophonic demonstration record of its day, España!, with the London Symphony Orchestra at Kingsway Hall in January 1957 featuring “Spanish” music by mostly non-Spanish composers. The album included Emmanuel Chabrier’s Rhapsody Espana as well as Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, Enrique Granados’ Andalusia, and Moszkowski's Spanish Dances. Also worth a listen and on Decca is Argenta’s version of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. There are also a number of other recordings on CD and on-line from other sources, not least his recording of Falla’s "El Amor Brujo" with Ana-Maria Iriarte, Rodrigo’s "Concierto de Aranjuez" with Yepes, Falla’s "Noches en los Jardines de Espana" with Soriano, and more obscurely his recordings of Escudero and Ohana.


*cite book
last = Fernandez-Cid
first = Antonio
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Ataulfo Argenta
publisher = University of Cantabria
date = 2003
location = Santander
url =
doi =
id = ISBN: 84-8102-336-1

*cite book
last = Fernandez-Cid
first = Antonio
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Ataulfo Argenta
publisher = Ministerio de Educacion y Ciencas
date = 1971
location = Madrid
url =
doi =
id =

*cite book
last = Wade
first = Graham
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Joaquin Rodrigo: A Life in Music Travelling to Aranjuez 1901-1939
publisher = GRM
date = 2006
location = UK
url =
doi =
id = ISBN: 9781901148084

*cite paper
author = ABC Madrid
title = ABC
version = Daily Editions
archive = British Library
date = 1940-1958
url =
format = microfilm
accessdate =

*cite paper
author = Arriba Madrid
title = Arriba
version = Daily Editions
archive = British Library
date = 1940-1958
url =
format = microfilm
accessdate =

*cite paper
author = Ateneo Madrid
title = Ateneo
version = Twice Monthly Editions
archive = Ateneo Digital Library
date = 1952-1955
url =
format = digital
accessdate =

*cite paper
author = Radiotelevision Espanola
title = Ataulfo Argenta
version = Biografias
archive = Instituto de Cervantes
date = 19--?
url =
format = Videocassette
accessdate =

*cite paper
author = Ataulfo Argenta
title = Various Recordings
version =
archive = British & Spanish National Libraries' Sound Archives
date = 1947-1958
url =
format = Vinyl & CD
accessdate =

External links

* [ Biography] and [ Timeline] on, the official web site of Ataúlfo Argenta (in Spanish). Retrieved 15 February 2008.
*Entry for [ Ataulfo Argenta] on the "All Music Guide". Retrieved 15 February 2008.
* [ of Ataúlfo Argenta] painted by the Cantabrian artist Gerardo de Alvear (1887-1964). Retrieved 15 February 2008.

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