Ópera y Teatro musical

La Bruja

Miguel Roa García
jueves, 24 de junio de 2004
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Ruperto Chapí is one of the most important composers of Spanish music. His compositions range from stage pieces in the género chico and zarzuela grande styles and opera, to symphonic and chamber music. La bruja is both one of Chapí’s most representative works and one of the most emblematic in the history of zarzuela.

The composer

Ruperto Chapí Lorente was born in Villena (Alicante) on 27 March 1851, the fifth child of a humble family affected by the vicissitudes of the period and local disasters. Chapí began learning solfeggio at the age of four, before he could read and completed this process at age seven, following the death of his mother. At age eight he began playing the piccolo in the Agrupación Música Nueva and composed his first work. A few years later, he went on to play the cornet in the same association and after writing a Fantasía, he composed the zarzuelas Estrella del bosque and Doble engaño. In 1866, at age 16, he left Villena to settle in Madrid, in the care of his brother Eduardo, where he began studying at the Conservatory of Music. As a result of Joaquín Gaztambide’s help, he was employed as a cornet player but dismissed after only a few days. Given that his brother’s income as a barber did not go far, Chapí had to rely on the help of two friends, who brought him pupils. This was a period of great hardships, which was worsened by the ill health of his brother. Chapí returned to Villena with his brother and once the latter had recovered, he returned to Madrid, joining the Bufos Orchestra in 1869. The following year he was tenured at the Teatro Price, which gave him the financial stability to work on two new compositions. But he too fell ill, recovering thanks to the help of his friend Domingo Linzasoro and gained employment at the Sociedad de Conciertos. In 1871, his teacher, Emilio Arrieta, asked him to compose a zarzuela, Abel y Caín, which would be premièred two years later.

He secured a post as music director in the Artillery Regiment and was awarded first prize at the Conservatory, sharing this honour with Tomás Bretón. The prize led to a commission from Arderíus for an opera. At age 20 (1871), he was married and two years later, the death of his father led to a serious depression. Following the première of Abel y Caín he was awarded a scholarship from the Rome Fine Arts Academy for the composition of an opera, Las naves de Cortés, with a text by Antonio Arnao, successfully premièred the following year at the Teatro Real with an important cast led by Tamberlick.

During his period as a scholarship-holder in Rome, he completed various composition exercises including motets, the oratorio Los Angeles and two operas, La hija de Jefté and La muerte de Garcilaso, both with a text by Arnao. In 1876, La hija de Jefté was staged at the Real.

In February 1878, and once again at the Real, Roger de Flor was premièred and in September, after four inconvenient years dividing his time between Rome, Milan and Paris, he gave up the scholarship and returned to Madrid, also relinquishing his post as music director to concentrate on composition. On 27 April 1879, the Orchestra of the Sociedad Artística-Musical, conducted by Tomás Bretón, premièred his Fantasía Morisca, the Sinfonía en Re and the Polaca de Concierto.

In 1880 he took heed of Miguel Ramos Carrión’s advice and began composing zarzuela. Of the five works premièred that year, Música Clásica (Teatro de la Comedia, 20 September) is perhaps the most noteworthy. After the premières of three works in 1881 with moderate success, on 11 March 1882, the Teatro de la Zarzuela put on La Tempestad, which stamped its name on theatre bills and was one of his most successful works. He spent 1883 conducting this work all over Spain and the following year premièred one of his most beautiful and unknown stage works, El milagro de la Virgen, with notable success.

It was not until 1887, following many years of tireless work, that his masterpiece, La bruja, with a libretto by Ramos Carrión, was premièred at the Teatro de la Zarzuela. The work was a tremendous success, as the composer relates in a letter to Barbieri: “Following the success of La bruja, I am left with two real reasons to feel satisfied. Firstly, having topped up my pockets, which were starting to spring many leaks and secondly the work being a reply to the non-too amorous causes of so many stupid people who, in theory, want to change the world. Thus, given this circumstance, your letter is of inestimable value and deserves all my gratitude”. The work continued to be performed uninterruptedly from its première on 10 December 1887 until 25 March 1888.

The year 1888 bore witness to various premières that were of little consequence to the composer’s career. The following year, acting on Arrieta’s suggestion, Chapí competed in a competition involving the composition of a work for the coronation of the poet José Zorrilla in Granada. For the occasion, Chapí composed the symphonic poem Los gnomos de la Alhambra, which became very popular and is still heard on occasions today. Also significant during 1889 was the première of Las hijas del Zebedeo, a work which despite not having gone down in posterity as a whole, is remembered for its famous 'Carceleras', performed in innumerable recitals. 1890 marked a turning point not only in Chapí’s career, but in the direction Spanish music theatre would take over many years. The seven works Chapí premièred that year would bring him little glory, but one of them, Las doce y media y sereno with a libretto by Fernando Manzano, a work forgotten today, was presented at the Teatro Apolo. This led to two phenomena that take us beyond the purely theatrical: the mythical “cuarta de Apolo” (fourth, late-night session) and ticket resales, two factors that would definitively change the habits of Madrilenians and their relationship with theatrical management.

Another factor that mustn’t be overlooked in relation to this work is that it marked the introduction of reclaiming the presence of the composer and author on stage in the género chico, long after the première of Il Trovatore forced a very young Antonio García Gutiérrez onto the stage. Worthy of mention were also the premières of La leyenda del monje and Las tribulaciones de San Antonio that year. The year 1891 was marked by the appearance of El rey que rabió, a work gaining in appreciation on the Spanish stage. In 1892 La czarina once again led to situations such as those witnessed two years previously with Las doce y media y sereno.

In 1894 the composer premièred El tambor de granaderos, a work of uneven quality, with the 'Prelude' the only number to have remained in the repertory. This was a very important year in Chapí’s life, marking the beginning of a tremendous campaign against the publishing group led by Florencio Fiscowich. After five long years, the fight ended with a victory for Chapí and the foundation of the Society of Authors. One of the most famous episodes of this struggle, which caused much ink to flow, was Chapí’s being forced to give up setting La verbena de la Paloma to music and end his collaboration with the Apolo.

In February 1896 he commenced a productive period of collaboration with Carlos Fernández-Shaw, resulting in El cortejo de la Irene, just one of many masterpieces. On 25 November 1897, Chapí reached the height of his critical and public acclaim with the première of La Revoltosa, thus reducing the damage La verbena de la Paloma and to a lesser extent, Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente, did to his artistic pride. Apart from its tremendous value as a stage work, La Revoltosa holds the added merit of marking Chapí’s return to the Apolo.

1898 was the year of Curro Vargas, a magnificent work that curiously never gained the public’s complete support. Chapí spent almost the whole of 1899 resolving the problems with his editors and this year culminated with Fiscowich’s surrender, thus marking the beginning of a long and uninterrupted existence of the Society of Authors. 1902 was centred on the première of three memorable works: Circe, El puñao de rosas y La venta de Don Quijote. Over the next four years until 1906, Chapí continued to première works with changing fortunes and build his “art-music” repertory with the completion of his string quartets. In 1907, La patria chica, with its masterly 'Prelude', became a great success.

1909, Chapí’s last year of life, was centred around the première of Margarita la tornera, composed four years earlier with a libretto by Fernández-Shaw and premièred at the Teatro Real on 24 February. The Madrilenian public, always reluctant to accept the idea of Spanish opera, did not flock to the theatre, but the critics unanimously acclaimed the composer as an indisputable maestro. One month later, Chapí died as a result of a heart attack brought on by a bout of pneumonia.

The music

La Bruja is a peculiar score that reflects Chapí’s progressive mastery of composition. There are many aspects to consider. Firstly, the orchestra’s very prominent role. The orchestration, as given in the original manuscript1,  is as follows: piccolo, flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in A, 2 bassoons, 4 French horns, 2 bugles in A, 3 trombones, harp, timpani, percussion and full strings, with the addition of a rondalla at the end of Act I. The orchestra’s role is thus no longer one of mere accompaniment. Rather, it is directly integrated into the drama. As Luis G. Iberni points out:

Chapí defines his characters according to the models of classic zarzuela. Thus the role of Leonardo is written for a lyric tenor, that of the Witch for that peculiar type of soprano, which in this case is a high mezzo or a lirico-spinto soprano. The parts of Tomillo and Rosalía are comic roles, relatively limited voices (his more than hers). The Inquisitor is played by a basso cantante, the other roles being practically of little significance. In order to reinforce the drama, which Chapí necessarily assigns to the main duo, the composer looks to the chorus, which like the orchestra plays an important part in the work.
The librettist offers the composer many possibilities in the first part. A chorus with a popular character gives way to a Moorish romance (structurally very similar to the form in which the Princess of Eboli sings her Moorish romance in Don Carlo) in this case assigned to the comic soprano (whose role is notably demanding). Following a scene, the curfew allows the chorus to depart, which leads to the comic terzetto, an indispensable ingredient in the zarzuela of the time. The tenor makes his appearance with a racconto while the Witch’s first appearance occurs in a quartet (in conjunction with the comic voices and the tenor). The lyric-dramatic climax is achieved through a duet between the tenor and the soprano, in which the heroic sentiments of protagonists are laid to rest. The final scene, a very spectacular group scene in three parts, which includes the rondalla, is a jota with chorus. Act one is thus clearly written in function of the composer. The most important moments are reserved for song.
The spinners’ chorus falls within the tradition of the dramatic genre. It would have to be seen to what degree Chapí might have been influenced by the corresponding chorus from El Buque Fantasma. Although the popular treatment is similar, the chorus is much simpler in this case2.

 The influence of Wagner can be detected in various orchestral details and in its very conception, which is much more active than any previous example. In other cases, such as the Moorish romance, performed by comic soprano and chorus, it is in line with the Alhambrista trends of the period3.

But Chapí also looks towards the género chico and its combination with the género grande, as shown by the comic terzetto. Thus, Magdalena’s phrases are typical of the minor genre while the roles of Tomillo and Rosalía require notable dramatic-lyric qualities. As Luis G. Iberni explains in his above-mentioned biography of Chapí:

At some moments a notable lyricism is perceptible between the “less important” couple (to some degree they seem to be a copy of The Magic Flute. Thus Tomillo/Rosalía are equivalent to Papageno/Papagena and Leonardo/The Witch to Tamino/Pamina). Leonardo’s racconto is an example of the aesthetic embraced by Chapí. His is an eclectic musical language. French and German influences are perceptible in his orchestration, and use of motivic and melodic patterns respectively, while an Italian influence may only be seen in some cadences. The Meyerbeer of L’Africaine and the Gounod of Faust are the closest references. Chapí’s more characteristic language can especially be seen in the quartet. The popular element is much more evident than ever (Chapí had possibly heeded the criticisms that La Tempestad was too far removed from popular music), from the 5/8 of the beginning, following the rhythmic structure of the zortzico, to the Witch’s melody beginning in bar 39. But Chapí ultimately resorts to the trend of the Italian bel canto concertante, with parallel forms, which was already very outdated during this period. The duet, martial in character, is very Italian, with the brilliance typical of these works. The beginning of the Muy lento marks a change with the tenor solo, in which Chapí takes on his own language (the Spanish character is present in the violin turns in bars 120-ff) only to lose it again with the entrance of the soprano (bar 128). After a pasacalle played by the rondalla and a transition, the final scene, however, culminates with the jota, allowing the piece to end with a climax. Chapí’s ability is shown in that despite maintaining the Italian model of the concertante as an external form, he uses it in such a way that it seems to emerge from the popular form (verse and chorus). Act two contains various possibilities. After the opening chorus, various comic scenes and a pelota playing chorus, Leonardo’s arrival gives rise to an arietta of initial contact. In the middle of a popular scene, the Inquisitor’s arrival disconcerts the crowd. But there are two moments of climax. On the one hand, the duet between Leonardo and the Witch, one of the most ambitious written by the composer of La Tempestad up to that point, and on the other the scene in which the Inquisitor accuses Blanca of witchery with the final concertante.

The finale is one of the most heroic moments in the history of zarzuela, which has nothing to envy when compared to the European examples of the period. Chapí is possibly a little conservative at some points (at some points of tension the orchestra merely doubles the vocal line, as occurs in Italian models). Verdi’s influence is undoubtedly behind all the duets (even more so than Meyerbeer) although Chapí’s harmony is more advanced)”. The final scene follows the canons of the Italian end-of-act concertante. Even the Inquisitor’s melodic form recalls bel canto numbers (from Bellini to Verdi) for basso serio. The scene culminates with an Italian opera concertante with chorus, although at some points it is very close to being a choral scene of verisimo (bars 325-ff).

The works falls away in Act three, perhaps because Chapí was much more inspired by the more dramatic character of some fragments rather than their very musical one. Various choruses and a duet between the tenor and the soprano, which culminates once again in an Italian-style concertante, giving way to subsequent scenes that run along similar lines. Chapí excellent ability in regard to orchestration is maintained until the very end of the work.

The librettist

Miguel Ramos Carrión, Zamora, 17-V-1848; Madrid, 8-VIII-1915. Ramos Carrión possessed a gift for the theatre and was able to devise a work out of a simple thought, as occurs with El bigote rubio, or even complete dramas such as La bruja and La Tempestad. Ramos Carrión’s lyric works combine traditional elements with plots of a certain substance. The form of his works was always refined, which have led them to endure over time while many of his contemporaries have been forgotten. Although his greatest successes were obtained in the zarzuela grande, he also made successful incursions into the género chico, especially with the music of Federico Chueca in works such as El chaleco blanco and Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente.

In La Bruja, Ramos Carrión’s ability is shown in his capacity to profile each individual character, describing their antecedents to facilitate the end of an apparently simple zarzuela, but one consisting of serious and very animated dialogues over two very dramatic acts and a final third act in which there is a prevalence of comic elements.


Act I: The action takes place during the last three years of the seventeenth century, coinciding with the end of the reign of Charles II, the 'bewitched' king. The scene begins in a house situated in the valley of the Roncal, property of the nobleman Leonardo, who lives with Magdalena, his adoptive mother, and her daughter Rosalía. In the kitchen the servant boy Tomillo explains to a groups of young lads and lasses that that very night he has seen a witch, something the town has been talking about for some time. Tomillo provides details and describes how she helped him to wade across the river and rewarded him with a gold coin. Tomillo is in love with Rosalía and she returns his feelings but her mother is opposed to the relationship given that he is poor.

Leonardo arrives and Tomillo tells him his troubles, explaining what happened to him with the witch. Coincidentally, Leonardo has also known the witch for some time and blows his hunting horn three times when he needs to speak to her. The nobleman is sad because he has fallen in love with a very beautiful woman whom he once saw bathing in the river. He tried to follow her, but lost her. Even though he searches for her every day, he has never seen her again. Magdalena has promised him that if he is able to put together 100 coins like the one the witch gave him, he can marry her daughter. Encouraged by Leonardo’s story, he uses the hunting horn to call the witch, who is aware of his predicament and gives him a bag containing 100 coins and “a few extra”. Tomillo and Rosalía thank her and leave. Once they have been left alone, the witch reveals to Leonardo that it was her he saw bathing in the river and tells her story: she was a very beautiful woman and also rejected her numerous admirers. Spiteful, they all team up against her and called for the assistance of a witch, who converted her into a horrible old woman. The only way she could regain her former beauty was to find a man capable of making the greatest sacrifices and thus be worthy of her love.

Leonardo says he is that man and promises her he will comply. The witch urges him to leave for Italy to fight in the Spanish Regiment in search of fame and glory and gives him her ring to present to the General in Chief, the Duke of Savoy.

Act II: Years have gone by and the town has not spoken of Leonardo again, giving him up as dead. Rosalía and Tomillo, now married, have three children, who have managed to tame their terrible grandmother. Tomillo, who has progressed substantially, has bought a mill. The town erupts in celebrations and the traditional game of pelota is played. No one is aware of Leonardo’s arrival. He appears dressed in uniform and with his chest covered by the band of Regiment Captain. He sees Tomillo, whom he begs not to tell of his presence, as he wants to meet with the witch in order for her to recover her personality. He runs towards the castle. But a few moments later the Inquisitor and his guards arrive with the mission of arresting the much-spoken-about witch. Everyone, including the Priest, expresses their concern for the woman from whom they have received so many benefits. The Inquisitor orders the men of the town to accompany him. Frightened, they do so. Meanwhile, Leonardo has arrived at the castle. The witch appears after the horn is blown and she is thrilled by the young nobleman’s success. Tomillo and Rosalía arrive to warn them of the Inquisitor’s arrival. When Leonardo offers to defend her, she rejects his offer and locks herself in the castle. When the Inquisitor arrives, accompanied by the guards and men, they are met with silence until the doors open revealing the same beautiful young woman Leonardo had seen. She presents herself before the Inquisitor and all those present as Blanca de Acevedo, the daughter of the castle’s owner, who had passed away years ago in exile. Blanca explains that after her father’s death, she secretly returned to the castle, disguised as a witch and doing good all over the region. Her explanations rejected, she gives herself up to the Holy Office and the guards capture her to be tried for witchery. Leonardo swears he must rescue her.

Act III: Time has passed. King Charles II is dead and Philip V begins his reign. Blanca has been tried and sentenced to internment in a convent in Pamplona, close to Leonardo’s barracks. Disguised as an exorcist priest and dressing his colleagues as witches, the latter is able to rescue her with the help of Tomillo and Rosalía. In the convent, the nuns have constantly been seeing witches since Blanca’s arrival and are convinced that Blanca has been swept away into the air. The captain of the garrison reassures the Mother Superior that the witches will never reappear, since with the coming of the new king, the period of ghosts and witches is over.

The edition

Seven different sources have been used in putting together the present critical edition, which is the result of two years of exhaustive work, thus ensuring it is scholarly intact and leaving little margin for error.

The above-mentioned sources are:

1. A copy of the full score held at the Archive of the Sociedad General de Autores y Editores (SGAE) (three oblong-format volumes, call number MPO/408).
2. The original full score (Biblioteca Nacional, Legado Chapí, vol. 24).
3. Vocal reduction held at the SGAE (no. 2245) (Printed lithograph of a manuscript copy).
4. Vocal reduction by Valentín Arín printed by Casa Dotesio.
5. Piano reduction by Valentín Arín printed by Casa Dotesio with the text superimposed.
6. Orchestral parts held at the Archive of the SGAE (Material no. 15) (Printed lithograph of a manuscript copy).
7. An edition of the libretto: La Bruja. Zarzuela en tres actos con música de Ruperto Chapí y letra de Miguel Ramos Carrión. Madrid, Imp. La Esperanza, 7th ed., 1929. Archivo SGAE: CR 257/6088.

In editing the libretto, the text of the published libretto and the score were compared and contrasted, resulting in the identification of certain differences. In order to preserve the libretto in its original state as much as possible, it was decided not to make changes and to reflect these differences in notes. It was considered appropriate that those lines present in the score but not in the libretto be shown in square brackets. Oliva García Balbao’s work has been determinant in the completion of the critical edition of the text. I am grateful to her for her help in this terrain and her patience during the numerous consultations the gaps in my knowledge caused.

The present edition contains over 700 pages of music, which have been subjected to 32 processes of correction. The merit behind this is largely due to Juan Antonio Rodríguez and Miguel Oviedo, who with computer and photocopies respectively, have acted as basic support. I would also like to acknowledge the assistance of Oliva García Balboa.

The decision to publish this edition was taken due to deteriorated state of the orchestral material, making it almost impossible to use. The source chosen to begin the copying process, the famous oblong score held at the SGAE, turned out to be inappropriate. All the copies of this version were originally bound by an “executioner”, who then unmercifully guillotined them. The result is that in many instances the upper and lower staves are missing, with the obvious consequences. This delayed work by some six months. It was at this point that access to the original score was gained, which forms part of the Chapí Bequest held at the Biblioteca Nacional. Following the system of comparing all the sources, a basic score was established that allowed the work to be performed in Jerez de la Frontera using provisional materials. These were corrected during rehearsals and were subsequently used in the formation of the definitive edition.

The calligraphy of Chapí’s original score is among the most precise I have had the pleasure of studying, but such excellent notation is worsened by the poor state of conservation of the paper used, which inexorably affects the clarity and quality of the photocopies. Despite its perfection, the notation poses some problems in relation to its correction, probably caused by a lack of time, an endemic illness afflicting almost every Spanish composer. For example: Chapí follows a very unique system of indicating accidentals. If he writes F sharp in the first space of the staff in the treble clef, he takes it for granted that if there is another F in the same bar, whether this be an octave higher or lower, it is also sharp and no accidental is needed.

Throughout the score there is a very clear tendency to omit phrase marks, something that was very common during this period. The excellent performing-standards of the musicians –a fact demonstrated through the study of hundreds of orchestral materials–, to a large extent made up for the composers’ haste.

During the editing process, the sections referring to "defects" and changes of notes in the timpani have caused some doubt, so I will briefly refer to them. The use of "defects" in stage music was imposed by the Italian publishers, led by Ricordi, in their urge to contract the largest number of performances possible, thus saving the impresarios money in salaries. This led to the birth of the old practice of “in mancanza…”, that is “for want of…”, a process consisting of the substitution of the instruments originally given in the score for those present in the Orchestra, the harp and on-stage band being among those most affected. One need only review the old materials for Rigoletto or La Traviata to see this. The editor arranged the works, sometimes with the composer’s blessing and the expressions “in mancanza della Banda” or “in mancanza dell’Arpa” infallibly appeared in the materials.

In Spain this practice went even further, probably due to the fact that there were fewer orchestras. It was complemented by “filling in orchestrations”, which consisted of doubling the voices as much as possible, or as we used to say, “everybody playing everything”. When these works were performed in small cities, one never knew what one was going to encounter, apart from greedy impresarios. This practice endured until the 1950’s.

In the case of La bruja, Chapí gave in to imposition and in the 'Moorish romance' (no. 1-C), he notates the harp chords for the strings, possibly due to the reasons mentioned above. These “for want of” passages were later included in the notorious “egg”, a substitute for the classic “tacet”, clearly indicating the composer’s aim. Later, in the same number, he confides another harp passage to the flutes, oboes and clarinets, given that it is impossible to perform on the strings. The bars in question are, in the strings, 326 and 327; 333-340; 350-353; 363-366; 440-446 and 516-529, corresponding to bars 469-476 in the woodwinds. I have taken the liberty of omitting these “defective” or “alternative” bars, restoring the original notation to the score given that today the number of orchestras allows for the possibility of performing works as they were conceived without resorting to these substitutions. If the use of these “alternatives” were permitted, why not substitute the strings for the rondalla, given the difficulties of finding guitars and bandurrias in the majority of countries?

In regard to the timpani, I have opted to alter some passages in the belief that if Chapí had lived today, he would have taken full advantage of the possibilities offered by modern instruments. Observing the original passages in detail, it is clear that with the old keyed instruments, the musicians did not have enough time to make certain changes and Chapí had no other option but to select other notes of the chord or, at worst, another note near by.

The changes made, affecting No. 9, are: bar 47: G instead of D; bar 51: G instead of D; bar 56: E, E, E instead of D, A, D; bars 73-4: D instead of A.

Changes made for other reasons are listed below: No. 3: bars 112 and 114. Tomillo: Chapí uses two quavers for the words “hoy” and “doy”. I have opted for crotchets, so as to ensure a correct pronunciation and to avoid the hiatus. No. 13: I have changed the metre (¢ instead of C) as the tempo is very quick and the pulse duple. No. 19: Chapí uses a key signature of seven flats, which is very uncomfortable for the strings, so I have enharmonised it to five sharps.

In concluding this section, I am left with one unsolved problem. No. 8-A. From the beginning of this number, Chapí notates the rondalla (guitars and bandurrias) in E major, despite its key being D major. I have consulted the best specialists and none of them can explain why the composer has done so. Clearly, there must be a reason why this was done and why this was also reproduced in the parts. Writing this passage in this manner involved a significant amount of work and Chapí gives no explanation. In nineteenth-century music, no other similar case has been located to date. In the present edition I have rewritten the rondalla in the correct key (D major), just as Valentín Arín did in the piano reduction.

A long, dense and very lively work in regard to its orchestration, La bruja consists of a total of 23 numbers, including the Prelude and Finale. Chapí’s know-how is reflected in the insignificant number of errors detected and which are listed.


It would be ungrateful of me not to mention Professors Luis G. Iberni, whose publications have been fundamental to this study and who kindly granted me permission to use his texts here, and Emilio Casares, whose innate impatience and martial spirit were a great help in helping me to finish on time.

English translation by Yolanda Acker


Vol. 24 of the Legado Chapí held at the Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid.

The basis of this analysis is taken from Luis G. Iberni: Ruperto Chapí, Madrid, ICCMU, 1995, pp. 155-8.

See R. Sobrino: “El Alhambrismo en la música”, Madrid, 1993.

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