Padre Antonio Soler

Composer Antonio Soler at desk with quill and composition

Biography of Antonio Soler

Antonio Francisco Javier José Soler Ramos, later known as Padre Antonio Soler, was born in Olot, a province of Gerona in Catalonia, on December 3, 1729. The registration of a newborn on the day of their birth was uncommon at the time, so there’s some uncertainty to the exact date of his birth. He began studying music at the Escolanía de Montserrat when he was six years old. During his time at the Escolanía he was a student of José de Nebra and studied the organ works of José Elías in great depth.

In 1752 Soler became the chapel master at Seo de Urgel cathedral in Lleida, Catalonia. He was appointed as the organist of El Escorial in Madrid later the same year. In 1757 he became El Escorial’s new chapel master after the death of his predecessor and the monastery became his home. The monastery also acted as a church, as well as a palace used by the royal family as a seasonal retreat, a cemetery for the royal family, and an archive of contemporary manuscripts.

After two decades of servingEl Escorial, Soler asked for permission to move to the monastery of San Jerónimo, Granada, located in the south of Spain. His request was denied, which caused him to feel trapped. This traumatic experience greatly impacted Soler. He died several years later on December 20, 1783 in El Escorial. He is remembered for his sonatas, organ compositions, and daring ideas on musical theory.

Padre Soler and the Pedagogy

Padre Antonio Soler became a music teacher during his time in El Escorial. He began teaching perhaps his most famous student, Infante Don Gabriel, the son of King Carlos III, in 1766. He dedicated many of his compositions to the infante. While this fact is well known, Soler had several other students prior to instructing members of the royal family.

In a 1765 letter, the Duke of Medina Sidonia asked Soler to teach Pedro de Santamant. The aristocrat paid for all of the 13 year old student’s expenses, including music lessons and room and board, which were provided by Soler. Pedro, who was originally from Catalonia, studied in Montserrat before moving to El Escorial. The duke ordered a clavichord to be made for Pedro who played a spinetta that was too poor quality for practice. Soler taught him composition and how to play the clavichord. He sent constant updates to the duke about the progress of his pupil.

Soler stopped teaching Pedro in 1771. The composer wrote to the duke in frustration asking him to recover a book of copies of his 40 sonatas that his former student had taken. Soler explained that someone else had stolen the original documents, which he formerly used “to teach more advanced students,” and that he could not remember his sonatas.

Soler was an advanced thinker and learner for his time. Apart from writing compositions, he experimented with creating musical devices. He crafted a small string instrument with several ranges of pitch to help people correctly tune an organ. He only built two tuning devices, or afinadores; one for Infante Don Gabriel and one for the Duke of Alba.

Padre Soler’s Influences

Antonio Soler was inspired by the sonatas of the Italian composers he studied during his childhood and teen years in Montserrat. He was also deeply interested in compositions for the organ and focused on the works of Spanish composers José Elías and José de Nebra, who was his professor. There are many elements of Spanish music in Soler’s sonatas.

Another significant influence was court musicians who spent a few weeks in El Escorial every year. This experience was critical for learning instruments, techniques, dances, and music that Soler didn’t have access to in the ecclesiastic environment of the monastery. One of his biggest influences was Neapolitan composer Domenico Scarlatti. It is possible that Soler was also exposed to some of the Haydn sonatas and works by CPE Bach, as they were popular at court in Madrid.