Friday, 29 November 2013

Short Biography of Filipino composer, Nicanor Abelardo

Nicanor Santa Ana Abelardo was born on the 7th of February, 1893 in San Miguel de Mayumo, Bulacan. He was a composer, pianist and teacher. He was the eldest of eight children born to Valentin Abelardo, a photographer, and Placida Santa Ana, a church singer. His father taught him solfeggio and bandurria when he was five. At six, he could already play the William Tell Overture on the guitar. He composed and dedicated a waltz, "Ang Unang Buko" (First Bud) to his grandmother, at age eight. In 1902, his uncle, Juan Abelardo, a painter, brought him to Manila where he studied in several primary schools. While working for his uncle, he learned to play the piano, and later studied voice under the Italian maestro Enrico Capozzi who refused to be paid for teaching such a talented boy.1 Upon the recommendation of composer, Francisco Buencamino, he was hired to play at saloons and cabarets at age 13. At barely 15, Abelardo took on a teaching job in barrio schools in San Ildefonso and San Miguel, Bulacan. 

In 1916, he studied at the University of the Philippines Conservatory of Music. While there, he composed the "U.P. Beloved", a school hymn which won first prize in an open musical contest in 1917. In 1918, he was appointed as an assistant instructor in solfeggio and harmony. He became a full-pledged instructor in 1919. He received his teacher's certificate in science and composition in 1923. He then became the head of the composition department the following year. 

Abelardo was a prolific composer of kundiman (art song). He redefined this genre and elevated it to artistic heights through his compositions like "Nasaan Ka Irog?" (1923); "Kundiman ng Luha" (1924), and "Paghanga" (1939). Abelardo also composed music for the sarswela - such as "Kawanggawa" (1918); "Dakilang Punglo" (1926); "Tayo'y Pakasal Na" (1930); "Kapabayaan o Bunga ng Masamang Hilig" (1918); "Sumilang", "Ang Tala ng Unibersidad", "Lucila" (1911); the operetta "Akibat" (1913); "Ang Likha ni Pierrot o Batik ng Kabihasnan" (1931); "Ang Mestiza" (1922); "Makabagong Dalaga" and "Batang Tulisan" (1934).  He also wrote in different musical forms such as the "Kung Hindi Man" (transcribed from a love song originally for voice, violin, cello and piano), "Ang Aking Bayan" (patriotic song), "Bonifacio Song", and "Naku...Kenkoy!" He also has works in the classical genre which include "Sonata for violin and piano", "Salve Regina Mater" (1932), and many others. 

After more than 140 works, Abelardo began to ail. He died in 1934 leaving behind several unfinished works. 

1 CCP Encyclopaedia.


  1. Hi Sharon,

    I really enjoyed reading your post! I was just wondering if you might have more information on the whereabouts of any scores of Abelardo's zarzuelas and operettas you mentioned above? I am a graduate student currently working on a project on early Tagalog zarzuelas and have done some research work in Manila (UP Libraries, Ateneo, CCP, and National Libraries) but have been a bit unsuccessful finding music for Abelardo's lesser known music theatrical works.

    Thanks in advance!


    1. Hi Isi,

      Im so sorry this response is more than a year late, as your comment was actually in my "hidden" spam folder. Ive just upgraded my google storage, and your message somehow showed itself. I hope you have found more info on Abelardo's other works. I'll post more if I find something. Thanks again for dropping by!