The composer, Jose Antonio Santesteban was born in San Sebastian on the 18th of October, 1835.
He was an organist and composer. He received his first lessons from his father, Jose Juan Santesteban, and later on went abroad where he furthered and completed his first studies; he lived in Paris and Brussels and was counted amongst the scholars of Marmontel, David, Bazin, Godineau and Lemmens.
In the year 1863 he inaugurated the Cavaille-Coll organ from Paris, installed in the Parish of Santa Maria, San Sebastian, in which in 1879 he would succeed his father as organist and master of the chapel. He had previously held similar posts in the Basilica of Santiago in Bilbao.
He left to try a “Merklin” organ in Bayonne cathedral; he gave concerts at the World Exhibition in Paris on an instrument of the same make, which earned him highly favourable critics in the “Revue et Gazette musicale”, and he achieved great success in holding two recitals at the Trocadero in 1878 on the Cavaille-Coll organ.
A resident of San Sebastian, and an admirer of the folklore of his country, he started to publish a series of popular Basque Aires (songs and dances) that reached the number of seventy six, all correctly harmonised and arranged for piano, voice and piano and choir. With some he made a few sinfonic variations and a collection which he presented at the Vienna Exhibition of 1876 and which was awarded a prize.
Jose Antonio Santaesteban composed twelve Masses for large orchestra, two Misereres (one for four voices), Psalms, Motets, the Octet Hernaniri (“To Hernani”) and 24 Preludes for piano, op. 84, that have the dedication “To my friend Thomas Breton”; they are results of his pianistic studies in France; Pante praised them and in many of them – as in the fifth and the twelfth of the first book – it is easy to observe romantic influences, more akin to Schumann than Chopin.
Serafin Baroja, Donostian writer and engineer, whose distinctive, popular basque poems were set to music by Guelbenzu and the Santestebans, amongst others, gave Jose Antonio the libretto of the opera Pudente, made up of a series of scenes to which music of basque songs was paired, one of them, Gernikako Arbola.
It is made up of two acts, filled with fifteen musical numbers, completed with minute attention to detail and skill. Pudente, which was performed in San Sebastian and which was very favourably received, is the first basque opera. He died in San Sebastian in 1906.