Nicanor Abelardo

Wind band
Sacred hymns
Religious music
by popularity
AmorosaAng Aking BayanAve MariaCavatina, Op.7Cinderella OvertureFantasia-ImpromptuHistorical PageantIkaw Rin!Kundiman for Violin and PianoKundiman ng LuhaMagbalik ka, Hirang!Mutya ng PasigNaku... Kenkoy!Nasaan ka irog?Nocturne No.1PanoramasRomanza, Op.8Sa Iyong KandunganVisayan Caprice
Nicanor Santa Ana Abelardo (February 7, 1893 – March 21, 1934) was a Filipino composer known for kundiman songs he wrote before the Second World War.
Nicanor Abelardo was born in San Miguel de Mayumo, Bulacan to Valentin Abelardo and Placida Santa Ana, on February 7, 1893 His mother belonged to a family of artists in Guagua, the Henson. He was introduced to music when he was five years old when his father taught him the solfeggio, the bandurria, and the guitar at 6. His quick mastery of the instruments has made him a prodigy in town. He could play his father's arrangement of Rossini's "William Tell Overture" on the guitar at age 6. He also learned the violin and other string instruments given to him by his father, and learned how to play quickly without much difficulty. In 1901, he wrote his first composition, "Ang Unang Buko" and dedicated it to his grandmother.
In 1902, Nicanor's uncle, the painter Juan Abelardo, took him to Manila to attend several schools. During this time Nicanor became the favorites among the haranistas who admired him of his skill at such a young age. This was also the time where he learned how to play the piano. He saw a piano for the first time at a factory of one of his uncle's clients, and immediately taught himself how to play it. By the time his uncle's job was finished, he can already play an air on the piano. The household was even more surprised when he started accompanying his cousin's singing on the piano. This has led his uncle to enroll him to a private lesson in voice under Enrico Capozzi, who was so impressed by Nicanor's abilities that he refused to accept any fee whatsoever. The same thing also happened when he started formally studied Bandurria under Jose Silos. By this time he was 13 years old, the famed pianist Francisco Buencamino took note of his skill in playing the piano, and helped him take a job at a saloon as a pianist.
However, in 1907, he returned to his hometown and finished his 6th grade there after which he was teaching music in various barrio schools around town. but after a year he went back to Manila permanently.
In 1908 he returned to Manila and took employment in various small theaters and cinemas. He soon climbed up to the bigger and better class theaters in the city. He eventually became the leader of Cine Majestic Orchestra, an orchestra from a famous cinema. During this time he met Sixta Naguiat at a cinema, which would become his wife in later years.
In 1916, Abelardo entered the newly-established University of the Philippines Conservatory of Music, taking courses under Guy F. Harrison and Robert Schofield. During his studies, he composed the melody of the university's official anthem, U.P. Naming Mahal in 1917. The Conservatory instantly noticed his musical ability and by 1918, he was appointed assistant instructor in solfeggio and harmony. He took lessons in piano under Jose Estella, violin under Bonifacio Abdon, and voice under Victorino Carrion. He continued conducting cinema orchestras and play the piano at saloons and cabarets during this time, and this is also the time where he learned to drink alcohol. in 1921 he finally received his degree in science and composition, and thereafter took a post-graduate course which he finished the next year. On 1924 he became head of the composition department of the conservatory, and at night taught private music lessons to some prominent families.
He wrote most of his important works while teaching at the conservatory. His graduation piece, a Piano Sonata in G Major, was the first Sonata made by a Filipino composer and his post-graduate piece, the Piano Concerto in B-flat minor, was the first concerto made by a Filipino composer. Almost all of his kundiman was written during his time as well.
He asked a leave of one year because "There is a greater demand in my activities which demand my whole personal attention." He resigned his post in 1930 only to be reinstated in the same year. In 1931 he received a grant to pursue advanced musical studies abroad. He accepted the offer despite his little savings, seeing his bright prospects in the future.
Abelardo began to drink in the early 1920s, and ever since then, he did not pass a day without drinking alcohol. In later years, his alcoholism became uncontrollable which affected his life. In one instance in 1923 he directed the Jazz Band at the Manila Hotel with himself at the piano, or he picked such instruments as he pleased. This greatly amused the people, but he did not stay long because he had lost control of his drinking, and became hospitalized for a month because of it. Another instance while rehearsing the Santa Ana Cabaret Orchestra, the manager found him in a corner drunk with a bottle of booze at one hand, which led him to be dismissed from the job. However the manager reinstated him, as no one can lead the orchestra as good as him.
In May 1931 he left Manila for Chicago and enrolled at the Chicago Musical College under Wesley LaViolette. During this time he got influenced by the musical innovations of the Second Viennese School, Hindemith, and other post-romantic composers of Europe. In barely a month he fully absorbed the new musical style he was exposed to, as evident in his Violin Sonata which he had written in 3 weeks after he started studying there. His music became popular in the college and with his Cinderella Overture, he was granted the LaViolette Scholarship award. But even with the scholarship, the depression-stricken Chicago, and his alcoholism made it hard for Abelardo to live in the city. He returned to Manila in 1932 without his diploma, because he did not have enough academic credits. He received the diploma after studying at the National University.
He resumed his teaching at the Conservatory after returning to Manila. While he was in Chicago, his family ran a boarding house near the conservatory to support him. He eventually ran the boarding house himself when he returned. The boarding house was nicknamed "The Little Conservatory" because he would teach the students there at night, among them the composers Lucino Sacramento and the future National Artist Antonino Buenaventura. His final large complete work, Requiem, was written in 1934 in memory of the composer Marcelo Adonay.
He died on March 21, 1934 to heart failure due to alcoholic causes. He was buried at the La Loma Cemetery. He left behind various sketches of unfinished music, among them a symphony and an opera.
Nicanor Abelardo, along with Francisco Santiago, is known for redefining the kundiman, bringing the form to art-song status. Abelardo's kundiman songs, such as "Mutya ng Pasig", "Nasaan ka, Irog?", and "Bituing Marikit" proved to be popular among the Filipino people, and his compositions are regularly played in concerts in the Philippines.
Nicanor's relative Richard Abelardo made a film in 1950 called "Mutya ng Pasig" which is based on Nicanor's kundiman of the same name.
The main theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the building housing the College of Music in UP Diliman (Abelardo Hall) were named in his honor and memory.
In E. Arsenio Manuel's Biography of Abelardo (1955), Manuel lists 149 works. Some works not included in Manuel's 1955 list is included here. His famous or important works are highlighted below.
Ang Liwayway (Dawn), Sayaw ng mga Diwata (Dance of the Nymphs), Ang Matanda sa Punso (The Old Man of the Anthill), Ang Sayaw ng mga Ita (Negrito Dance) The material for this suite was reworked from his sarswela Akibat. Originally called Mountain Scenes.
I. Sight of the Ship, II-IV. Untitled, V. Dance of the Bolomen, VI. Untitled, VII. Shields and Spears, VIII. Untitled, IX. Kumintang Dance, X. Untitled XI. Pasodoble for Exit, XII. Blood Compact.
Many of Abelardo's songs and kundimans were recorded during his lifetime by his friends and colleagues, such as Jose Mossesgeld Santiago and Jovita Fuentes. After the war his kundimans were frequently recorded by recording artists such as Sylvia la Torre, Conching Rosal, and Don David. The following is an incomplete list of recordings of some of his famous kundimans: