Santiago Masarnau Fernández

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Santiago Masarnau y Fernández (also known as Santiago Fernández de Masarnau or Santiago [de] Masarnau) (9 December 1805 in Madrid 14 December 1882 in Madrid) was a Spanish pianist, composer and religious activist for the poor. He established the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, an organization composed of laymen dedicated to serving the poor, in Spain. A cause for his canonization has been opened by that society.

Madrid Capital of Spain

Madrid is the capital of Spain and the largest municipality in both the Community of Madrid and Spain as a whole. The city has almost 3.2 million inhabitants and a metropolitan area population of approximately 6.5 million. It is the third-largest city in the European Union (EU), smaller than only London and Berlin, and its monocentric metropolitan area is the third-largest in the EU, smaller only than those of London and Paris. The municipality covers 604.3 km2 (233.3 sq mi).

Society of Saint Vincent de Paul organization

The Society of St Vincent de Paul is an international voluntary organization in the Catholic Church, founded in 1833 for the sanctification of its members by personal service of the poor.

In religious organizations, the laity consists of all members who are not part of the clergy, usually including any non-ordained members of religious institutes, e.g. a nun or lay brother.


Early life

Masarnau was born in Madrid in 1805 to Santiago Masarnau y Torres, a native of Copons in Catalonia and Beatriz Fernández y Carredano, from the Omoño sector of the town of Ribamontán al Monte in Cantabria, a family with close connections to the Spanish aristocracy and court. His mother died in 1808. At that same time, after the abdication of King Ferdinand VII of Spain and the subsequent outbreak of the Peninsular War, Masarnau senior was appointed the Secretary of the Royal Association of Nobility of Córdoba, in the service of the Count of Miranda, and the father moved with his three children to Andalucia. The son proved to be a musical prodigy in his childhood, and soon began the study of music under the organist of the Cathedral of Granada, José Rouré y Llamas. When King Ferdinand regained the throne in 1814, the father was appointed a secretary to the Chief Royal Majordomo (Camarero mayor) and the family returned to Madrid. [1] There the son was able to participate in the musical life of the Escorial, performing on the organ before King Ferdinand (including some of his own compositions) when he was only ten years old. Life at court was highly dependent on royal favour, and Masarnau's father was obliged, for unclear reasons, to quit his privileges as a Gentleman of the Royal Household in the 1820s.

Copons Municipality in Catalonia, Spain

Copons is a municipality in the comarca of the Anoia in Catalonia, Spain.

Catalonia Autonomous area of northeastern Spain

Catalonia is an autonomous community in Spain on the northeastern corner of the Iberian Peninsula, designated as a nationality by its Statute of Autonomy. Catalonia consists of four provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. The capital and largest city is Barcelona, the second-most populated municipality in Spain and the core of the sixth most populous urban area in the European Union. It comprises most of the territory of the former Principality of Catalonia. It is bordered by France (Occitanie) and Andorra to the north, the Mediterranean Sea to the east, and the Spanish autonomous communities of Aragon to the west and Valencia to the south. The official languages are Catalan, Spanish, and the Aranese dialect of Occitan.

Ribamontán al Monte Municipality in Cantabria, Spain

Ribamontán al Monte is a municipality located in the autonomous community of Cantabria, Spain.

Following the family’s eviction from the court, Masarnau abandoned his original intentions of a career in engineering, and went to study music in Paris. He may have been influenced in the decision to leave Spain by political sympathies with the liberal insurgency that sought to depose the king in these years. For twenty years Masarnau divided his life between Paris, London and Madrid. In both Paris and London he was close to the Spanish composer José Melchor Gomis (1791–1836), himself a Spanish rebel living in exile, who composed the Himno de Riego , since used as the national anthem by the various republican governments of Spain. He also wrote some successful operas in Paris and got some respectful reviews from Hector Berlioz, was also active in London, and perhaps introduced Masarnau to London musical life.

José Melchor Gomis

José Melchor Gomis y Colomer was a Spanish Romantic composer. He was born in 1791 in Ontinyent, Vall d'Albaida, Valencia Province.

The "Himno de Riego" is a song dating from the Liberal Triennium and named in honour of Colonel Rafael del Riego, composed by José Melchor Gomis to words by Evaristo Fernández de San Miguel. It was the national anthem of Spain during the Trienio Liberal (1820–1823) and the First (1873–1874) and Second Spanish Republics (1931–1939).

Hector Berlioz French Romantic composer

Louis-Hector Berlioz was a French Romantic composer. His output includes orchestral works such as the Symphonie fantastique and Harold in Italy, choral pieces including the Requiem and L'enfance du Christ, his three operas Benvenuto Cellini, Les Troyens and Béatrice et Bénédict, and works of hybrid genres such as the "dramatic symphony" Roméo et Juliette and the "dramatic legend" La damnation de Faust.

As a consequence of his studies and work in Paris and London, Masarnau became acquainted with Johann Baptist Cramer, Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny, Rossini, Paganini, and, it appears, Felix Mendelssohn, who is said to have admired Masarnau’s nocturne, Spleen. Three Scherzini by Masarnau were published in London in 1828, at a time when Gomis was also publishing Spanish-style keyboard pieces there. Masarnau also became a friend of the English pianist and teacher Henry Ibbot Field (1797–1848), and around 1834 became a close friend of Charles-Valentin Alkan (as evidenced by an exchange of letters extending over forty years). [2] Alkan dedicated to Masarnau his Trois études de bravoure op. 16 of 1837. While in Paris, Masarnau became, at Rossini’s recommendation, the music teacher of the daughters of the Infante Prince Francisco de Paula.

Johann Baptist Cramer British musician

JohannBaptist Cramer was an English pianist and composer of German origin. He was the son of Wilhelm Cramer, a famous London violinist and conductor, one of a numerous family who were identified with the progress of music during the 18th and 19th centuries.

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Felix Mendelssohn 19th-century German composer, pianist and organist

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Dedication to religion

In 1838 Masarnau had a profound religious experience which was to transform his life. As a consequence he determined to devote himself to the poor. In 1839 he came into contact with the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in the Parisian parish of St. Louis d'Antin. The Society had been founded in 1833 by a charismatic 20-year-old lawyer, Frédéric Ozanam (who was beatified by the Catholic Church in 1997), and was conceived as a Christian reaction to Saint-Simonism (which was attractive to many musicians including Ferdinand Hiller and Félicien David). The Society was dedicated to improving the lot of the poor; and although a lay Catholic organisation, it had a strictly male membership.

Frédéric Ozanam French scholar

Blessed Antoine-Frédéric Ozanam was a French literary scholar, lawyer, journalist and equal rights advocate. He founded with fellow students the Conference of Charity, later known as the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris in 1997, hence he may be properly called Blessed Frederic by Catholics. His feast day is September 9.

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Ferdinand Hiller German composer and conductor

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"The rules adopted were very simple; it was forbidden to discuss politics or personal concerns at the meetings, and it was settled that the work should be the service of God in the persons of the poor, whom the members were to visit at their own dwellings and assist by every means in their power. The service of the members was to embrace, without distinction of creed or race, the poor, the sick, the infirm, and the unemployed". [3]

Masarnau devoted himself to the Society and became treasurer of the St. Louis d'Antin chapter. During this period he turned more to the composition of Church music than of salon items.

When Masarnau returned permanently to Spain in 1843 he remained active in music, teaching in his brother's school, and contributing to a number of critical and artistic journals. But his main work was the establishment of the Society in his own country. This proved however not to be straightforward — the Spaniards were suspicious of this "foreign" organisation and of its apparently "secular" nature. Eventually in 1850 the Society in Spain was formally founded with the support of Pope Gregory XVI, after which it grew dramatically. Its success apparently aroused some political opposition — in 1868 the Society was forcibly dissolved by the Spanish state and its property seized. In 1874 the Society in Spain was allowed to re-establish itself, and Masarnau continued to lead it until his death.

Masarnau died in Madrid in 1882 and was buried in the Cemetery of the Sacramental of San Justo in Madrid.


On 13 May 1996, Masarnau's remains were exhumed and transferred to the National Church of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for Spain. To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Society in Spain, on 11 November 1999 the Vincentian Fathers, under whose spiritual guidance the Society serves, opened a cause for his canonization. [1]


The Alkan Society,Bulletins,Starting No.88,December 2012,Alkan's letters to Masanau


  1. 1 2 Candelas Antequera, María Teresa, H.d.l.C., Sor. "Santiago Masarnau, Primer Presidente". La Sociedad de San Vicente de Paúl en España (in Spanish).
  2. Now in the Spanish Historical Archives
  3. Catholic Encyclopaedia, Society of St. Vincent de Paul

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