Xavier Benguerel was born in Barcelona in 1931. He and his parents went into exile in Santiago, Chile, at the end of the Spanish Civil War, and he only returned to Spain in 1954. This was to prove a key year in his artistic career, marking both his integration into the so-called Generation of 51 and the start of his studies with Cristòfor Taltabull, although he remained largely self-taught. As well as becoming part of the musical life of his native country, he soon began to become aware of the new advances and techniques that had developed in European music during the first half of the twentieth century, coming into contact with such innovative trends as those represented by composers like Bartók and Stravinsky, or by the works of the Second Viennese School.
Benguerel used serial techniques in his Cantata d’Amic i Amat (Cantata of a Friend and Lover, 1959), which was programmed at the 1960 ISCM (International Society for Contemporary Music) Festival in Cologne. Further highlights of his career include a concert dedicated to his works at Barcelona’s Palau de la Música Catalana (1972); the award of the Luigi Dallapiccola Prize (1977); commissions from the German city of Hagen, the Berlin Schütz Festival, Baden-Baden’s SWR broadcasting company, the Zagreb Biennale, the Orquesta Nacional de España, Orquesta de la RTVE and Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya, the Alicante (1990), Torroella de Montgrí and Sant Feliu de Guíxols festivals, and from Speyer Cathedral; and the 1984 première in Barcelona of his chamber opera Spleen, which was then staged by the Frankfurt Opera the following year.
The work that has most enhanced his international reputation is his Llibre vermell (Red Book), an oratorio for soloists, chorus and orchestra, based on the songs and dances found in the fourteenth-century codex of the same name, one of the treasures of the Montserrat monastery library. The oratorio was first performed at the Gran Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona in 1988 and has since been heard in various other European cities. The Gran Teatro del Liceu also hosted the première of a later work, Dos poemas de Charles Baudelaire (Two Poems by Charles Baudelaire), for baritone and orchestra. This was commissioned in 1991 as part of Catalonia’s millennium celebrations and was first performed the same year.