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Joaquín María Nin-Culmell

Joaquín María Nin-Culmell

Joaquín María Nin-Culmell (born 1908) became an American composer, pianist, and conductor. Nin-Culmell combined the features of national Spanish music he learned from his father, Cuban composer and pianist Joaquín Nin, and the neo-classical elements of modernist composition that he learned from Manuel de Falla.

Joaquín Nin-Culmell's father, Joaquín Nin, was taken from Cuba to Barcelona as a child to study music. In 1902 he moved to Paris, where he studied piano with Moszkowski and composition at the Schola Cantorum. In 1905, at the age of 26, Nin became a professor of piano at this institution, where later his son would also study. When he moved to Berlin in 1908 he retained an honorary professorship at the Schola Cantorum.

Joaquín Nin-Culmell was born in Berlin in 1908. His father moved the family to Cuba in 1910 and there created a concert society and a music magazine. Joaquín Nin toured Europe and South America as a concert pianist and returned to Europe for a long stay in the 1930s. His son, Nin-Culmell, studied at his father's alma mater, the Schola Cantorum, and he also studied composition with Dukas at the Paris Conservatoire in 1934. From 1930 to 1934 he studied piano, as well, with Alfred Cortot and Ricardo Viñes and composition in Granada with Manuel de Falla.

Joaquín Nin left Europe when World War II began in 1939. He was a well-regarded interpreter of Bach and of early Spanish music, and he argued against performing this repertoire on the harpsichord, notably with Wanda Landowska in a public exchange of views. His compositions combined Spanish baroque and French impressionist elements. His scholarly writings were collected and published in Spain, with biographical notes by his son, Joaquín Nin-Culmell.

Joaquín Nin-Culmell, meanwhile, had emigrated to the United States in 1936. He toured regularly as a concert pianist throughout the United States, Europe, and Cuba. He was named professor of music and chairman of the department of music at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, posts he held until 1950 when he took a position at the University of California at Berkeley. He was chairman of the department of music there from 1950 to 1954, and then professor of music. He conducted the university orchestra from 1950 to 1956. Nin-Culmell was named emeritus professor at Berkeley in 1974.

Joaquín Nin-Culmell's compositions use the Spanish melodies and rhythms of his compositional mentors, his father Joaquín Nin and his teacher Manuel de Falla. However, he combined these elements with modernist harmonies and the abrupt rhythms of neo-classical modernism, just as Igor Stravinsky employed elements of Russian folk music in his modernist style.

Nin-Culmell was soloist in his own Piano Concerto in 1946 at a concert with the Rochester Philharmonic in Williamstown. He also composed a Piano Quintet, an opera— La Celestina — a Cello Concerto, four books of Tonadas for piano, Jorge Manrique for soprano and string quartet, and numerous cycles of songs. He composed the Dedication Mass for mixed chorus and organ for the dedication of the Cathedral of St. Mary in San Francisco. A newly composed opera was scheduled to debut in Barcelona in 1999.

Further Reading

Articles on Joaquin María Nin-Culmell are in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London, 1980) and Baker's Biographical Dictionary, 6th edition (1978); Nin-Culmell wrote the biographical notes for his father's collected writings, Pro arte e ideas y comentarios (Barcelona, 1974). □

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