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Juan Hidalgo

September 28, 1614 - March 31, 1685
born in Madrid, Spain, composed during the Baroque period
Juan Hidalgo was a prolific composer of secular and theatrical songs, as well as of villancicos, both secular and sacred. He also produced several liturgical works, operas and so-called semi-operas. He is generally considered the most important Spanish composer of his time.

Hidalgo was born in Madrid on September 9, 1614. Little is known of his early years, but by the time he was fourteen or fifteen he had become accomplished enough on the harp to be appointed harpist at the royal chapel, a prestigious post for even a talented adult musician. He would work in one capacity or another at the royal chapel and Spanish Court for the rest of his life.

It appears that Hidalgo began writing for the theater in the 1640s, at least according to a written account by the composer himself. On what productions he worked it is not known, though he likely turned out a good many theatrical songs for subsequently lost projects. That speculation seems supported by the fact that around 1645 Hidalgo was appointed chief Court composer of theatrical and secular songs, as well as of villancicos. In addition, he was placed in charge of the Court chamber players.

Hidalgo was well-paid for his work at the Court chapel and probably for his theatrical activity, as well. It appears he also received handsome commissions or gifts from patrons: in 1655, for example, the Archbishop of Seville paid him 200 ducats, apparently for a commissioned work or for musical services.

In the 1650s Hidalgo's activity in the theater genre emerged more clearly, as he turned out music for a number of projects, including religious plays (autos sacramentales), spoken plays or comedias (for these he provided songs, such as for the 1656 production Pico y Canente), zarzuelas, as well as two operas and several semi-operas. He collaborated with librettist Pedro Calderon on some of the zarzuelas and on his only full-fledged operas, La púrpura de la rosa (1659-60) and Celos aun del aire matan (1660).

Hidalgo remained active nearly to the end of his life, his last works including the comedias, Icaro y Dédalo and Apolo y Leucotea, both from 1684. He died in Madrid in March, 1685.

Hidalgo was well-liked and highly respected in his time, and came to be regarded as a Spanish counterpart to his iconic near-contemporary in France, Jean-Baptiste Lully. ~ Robert Cummings, Rovi
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