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foto Juan Lémann

Revista musical chilena
ISSN 0716-2790 print version

Rev. music. chil. v.52 n.190 Santiago jul. 1998, pp. 124-125

Juan Lémann (1928 – 1998)
By Dr. Luis Merino Montero. 1998

Juan Lemann was born in Vendôme, France, on August 7, 1928, and died in Santiago Chile, May 16, 1998. Linked to the University of Chile from an early age, he studied piano at the National Conservatory of Music with Rosita Renard, René Amengual, German Berner and Alberto Spikin-Howard and composition with Pedro Humberto Allende, Juan Orrego-Salas and Gustavo Becerra. As a pianist he obtained the Conservatory’s highest honors, the Orrego-Carvallo (1949) and Rosita Renard (1951) piano awards.

In the academic year 1970-71 he was awarded with a Fulbright research grant for contemporary music studies at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. In 1996 a new journey, this time to Moscow, gave him the chance to make his own work known, exchange experiences with Russian composers and musicians, as well as showcase works by other Chilean composers.

He was a board member of the National Association of Chilean Composers, of which he was also its President, a full member of the Chilean Academy of Fine Arts of the Institute of Chile, and Professor of composition and Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Chile, among other positions.

Together with other colleagues, Juan Lemann carried out a commendable activity as a maestro and guide of the generation of Chilean composers who received their academic education in our country after 1973, and whose creative presence began to emerge in both the 1970s and the 1980s.

During the period between 1948 and 1960 (from ages 20 to 32), Juan Lemann had in Chile a brilliant career as a solo pianist. In addition to the piano he also distinguished himself as Choir Director. After 1960 he devoted himself primarily   to composing and teaching, following his strong pedagogical and creative vocation.

His creative work is preeminently instrumental. An outstanding example of his instrumental composition is the ballet music score Leyenda del Mar (Legend of the Sea), completed in 1977, which is based on the legend of Pincoya, goddess who personifies the fertility of marine fauna, taken from Chiloé,Archipiélago Mágico, by  Chilean writer  Nicasio Tangol. Together with Variables 0, I and II for piano, composed between 1977 and 1978, the Obertura de Concierto (Concert Overture) (1986) and the Fantasia Concertante para piano y orquesta (Concerting Fantasy for piano and Orchestra) (1987), these works illustrate the thorough mastery of contemporary language achieved by Juan Lemann, following his incursion in earlier compositions into a style with a strong neoclassical Stravinskian accent. Although the vocal music is proportionally less in number, it reflects other of his characteristic features, such as a deep religiosity, as evidenced in his choral Aleluya (Hallelujah) (1958). Along the same lines, the Misa Veni Domine (1964) and the Tantum ergo (1964) are forerunners of the liturgical music with Spanish text that burst on to the Chilean scene after the Second Vatican Council. In common with most of the composers of the 50s generation, Juan Lemann showed in his vocal music a special preference for Chilean poets, such as Max Jara in Ojitos de Pena (Sad Eyes) for choir (1958), Andrés Sabella in Cuatro Obras Corales (Four Choral Works) (1979), and later, Pablo Neruda in Maestranzas de noche and Puentes for female voice and instrumental ensemble (1987).

Another characteristic of many composers of his generation was the production of incidental music for plays and movies, thanks to the great opportunities existing at that time for Chilean creators. In the case of Juan Lemann this aspect bore fruit in music for the films El Cuerpo y la Sangre (Body and Blood) (1961) and the documentary Central Hidroeléctrica El Toro (El Toro Hydroelectric Power Station) (1970), for plays such as El Tony Chico (The Pint-Sized Clown) by Luis Alberto Heiremans (1964) and Topografía de un Desnudo (Topography of a Nude) by  Jorge Díaz (1968),  as well as the incidental music for  Pierrot, a work in mime created by Alejandro Jodorowsky (1952).

Besides being a famous piano improviser in genres such as jazz, bossa nova and samba, Juan Lemann stood out among national composers for his ability to express in his music a fine sense of humor. Fortunately this has been preserved in Ironías Musicales (Musical Ironies) (1952), which contains, in one of its sections, improvised variations on the theme La Vaca Lechera (The Dairy Cow), which in turn were to serve as the basis for the ballet La Vaca Cornelia (Cornelia the Cow), staged in 1970 by the Chamber Ballet of the University of Chile, with choreography by Gaby Concha.

Photography was another of his talents, as evidenced by the excellent portraits of national composers which illustrate the History of Music in Chile, written by one of his friends, musicologist Samuel Claro Valdés with Jorge Urrutia Blondel..

Therefore, following his unexpected departure, this final tribute must necessarily convey our sense of gratitude for his legacy and joy for the unforgettable memory he will leave among us and all those who were able to share with him so many moments of comradeship.