One of the great Spanish composers from the 20th century lived and worked many years in Belgium, including those years of the Second World War.

This new book is the first publication about Oscar Esplá in his country of exile and it provides many details which have thus far escaped music history.


The Spanish composer Oscar Esplá lived in Belgium for almost fourteen years, including those of the Second World War. None of the generally available literature properly describes the life and work of this composer during the Belgian years before the war, during the German occupation, and in the hectic period following the war. Also, none of the standard reference works agree on the beginning and end of his stay, a situation which this publication clarifies.

Using an invitation to be on the jury of the first Concours Eugène Ysaÿe in 1937 as a pretext to leave a country ridden by fratricide, he came with his family to Brussels to sit out the Civil War. He could not foresee that the Spanish conflict would last three years and that the victors turned out to be a regime which considered Esplá an adversary and the composer could not return to his native country. When the Germans invaded Belgium he was in a deplorable financial state while having to feed his family.

One source of income for the composer was by being a music critic for the French language newspaper Le Soir "volé". His music chronicles and brilliant concert reviews provide a rather complete picture of Brussels concert life at the time since he documented the performances at the Palais des Beaux-Arts and at the Théâtre de la Monnaie. As the war progresses, we see an interesting evolution in the writing style of his concert reviews. Since everything officially published during the war was controlled by the German Propaganda Abteilung, Esplá suffered persecution when the country was liberated and though not convicted of collaboration, the genial composer, journalist, musicologist, engineer, and philosopher had difficult times to make ends meet.

While Oscar Esplá is one of the main composers of 20th century Spanish music, his popularity in Belgium suffered from his war-time journalism which is felt until this day. New light will be shed on some obscure issues such as the discrepancies in his year of birth, his political views, the invitation to come to Belgium, his position as director of the Madrid Conservatoire, the Junta Nacional de Música in Spain, and the Laboratoire Musical Scientifique in Brussels.

A description is given of Oscar Esplás life in Belgium, contacts with Queen Elisabeth, performances of his established and new compositions, the musical scene in occupied Brussels, press censorship, the relation and correspondence he had with leading musicians of the time such as Jean Absil, Léon Jongen and André Souris, attempts from the extreme right to put an end to his journalistic career, the projects he undertook with librettists and the broadcast service, his relation with the Brussels Conservatoire and the Belgian authors association Sabam, the friendships and cooperation with conductors Franz André, Godfried Devreese, Désiré Defauw, Enrique Jordá, pianist Eduardo del Pueyo, philosopher to be Paul de Man and playwrights Paul Willems and Joseph Weterings, the struggle for survival, the hardship, the hearings at the Military Court, and the problems endured in the preparation of his return to Spain.


Taking stock - Born in 1886? - Leaving Spain - Exile in Brussels - Living in Belgium - The press - The radio - Publicity - The 1937 Eugène Ysaye violin competition - Other competitions - Performances 1937-1940 - Journalism - Feedback from his readers - Performances 1940-1944 - Belgium liberated - Affiliation to SABAM - Performances 1945-1949 - Made in Belgium - Post war writings - Oscar Esplá about Manuel de Falla - The Laboratory - Returning to Spain - Articles published in Belgium on Oscar Esplá - The correspondence with André Souris - Other correspondence - Epilogue - Foreign language quotes Bibliography Index