Program Notes

by Rachael Fischer & David Schiller

Concierto de Aranjuez
Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999)
Instrumentation: piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, strings, and solo guitar.

With its rhythms, harmonies, and the unique tone color of the guitar all contributing to the effect, Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez is instantly identifiable as Spanish music. Yet the appeal of local color alone cannot account for its continuous popularity for almost eighty years; it is also a carefully crafted piece in the formal sense, one that reflects the blind composer’s thorough mastery of the concerto tradition and his affinity for a neo-classical idiom. The rhythm strummed by the guitar in the opening bars energizes the entire first movement and serves as its unifying motive. The second movement is brooding and romantic, with a long-breathed melodic line that is introduced by the English horn and then delicately ornamented and varied by the soloist. The third movement opens with the simplicity of a folksong but becomes increasingly complex in its counterpoint, climaxing with a virtuosic flourish. “The Concierto de Aranjuez is meant to sound like a breeze that stirs the treetops in the park,” Rodrigo has said, suggesting that this is music to be felt as well as heard.

El Relicario
José Padilla (1889-1960) arr. Longfield
Instrumentation: strings and percussion.

Spanish composer José Padilla was born in Almería, Spain, and studied music at the Madrid Conservatory and in Italy. By the time he was 17, he was already conducting for musical theatre companies in Spain and Argentina. He also began composing his own zarzeulas (Spanish musical theatre works with a mixture of sung and spoken dialogue) and individual songs around that same time. Padilla spent some time in Paris, where many of his songs, El relicario (1918) among them, were incorporated into shows at the Moulin Rouge. El relicario is a paso doble, or two-step, which was a popular Spanish dance in the 1920s. The title refers to a locket worn by a matador in Madrid that contains a small piece of his cape, which is intended to be placed on the ground to protect the path of a beautiful maiden. El relicario remains one of the most widely recognized Spanish melodies. This afternoon’s program features an arrangement for strings and percussion by Robert Longfield.

La Vida Breve Dance No. 1
Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)
Instrumentation: piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, percussion, timpani, 2 harps, celesta, and strings.

Manuel de Falla was born in Cádiz, Spain, and, like many of the composers featured on this afternoon’s concert, studied piano as a child, but he planned to make a career as an author. Nonetheless, he completed piano, harmony, counterpoint, and composition studies at the Madrid Conservatory, and while he wasn’t a star as a piano virtuoso, he was able to make a living composing zarzuelas. His first masterpiece, though, was a true opera, La vida breve (The Short Life), which was written very quickly from 1904-1905 for a composition competition. Falla won the competition by unanimous decision from the judges, but his hoped-for performance at one of Madrid’s theaters never occurred. Soon after, he settled in Paris, where he revised La vida breve in an attempt to have it staged and published. The work was finally premiered in Nice, France, on April 1, 1913, to critical acclaim. The plot of the opera is based on the poem “El chavalillo” (“The Little Lass”) by librettist Carlos Fernández Shaw, which is about a lover’s betrayal because of class distinctions. The Spanish Dance No. 1 heard this afternoon is one of the most popular excerpts from the opera, and is an exuberant expression of Spanish musical tradition. In the opera, this dance is performed as part of the marriage celebration of Paco and Carmela, the woman of his own noble class whom he marries instead of his beloved Salud.

Andalucia Suite
Ernesto Lecuona (1895-1963) arr. Jenkins
Instrumentation: two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, percussion, guitar, strings.

Cuban composer and pianist Ernesto Lecuona was born into a musical family, and as such, studied piano and began composing at a very young age. He attended the National Conservatory in Havana and after graduating in 1913, made his first public appearance as a composer-pianist. He toured the United States, Latin America, and Europe as the leader of a dance band, the Lecuona Cuban Boys. Lecuona composed over six hundred pieces, and his works frequently blend classical style with popular tradition, particularly through his incorporation of Afro-Cuban rhythms. The Andalucia Suite, a large-scale piano work inspired by the region of the same name in southern Spain, received its successful premiere in 1927. The suite contains six movements or sections: Córdoba, Andaluza, Alhambra, Gitanerías, Guadalquivir, and Malagueña, each with its own distinctive character. Of these, the Malagueña is the most well-known, having been orchestrated by a number of composers (Ferde Grofé and Morton Gould among them), and popularized in jazz and popular song form by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald.

Allegro non troppo from Symphonie espagnole, Op. 21
Édouard Lalo (1823-1892)
Instrumentation: piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, percussion, harp, strings, and solo violin.

Despite Édouard Lalo’s historically Spanish surname, his family had lived in Flanders and northern France since the 1500s. Lalo’s parents encouraged his musical studies from a young age, and he played both violin and cello as a child. However, his father vehemently opposed Lalo’s desire to become a professional musician. At 16, Lalo left his home in Lille, France, for Paris, where he studied violin at the Conservatoire and took private composition lessons. It wasn’t until the 1870s, with the creation of the Société Nationale and the support of fellow musicians like Pablo de Sarasate, that Lalo was able to pursue his compositional ambitions, after spending many years making a living as a violinist and teacher. Sarasate, the Spanish violin virtuoso, premiered Lalo’s first violin concerto in 1874, and was also the inspiration behind his next violin concerto, Symphonie espagnole, which was first performed in 1875. The concerto has a loosely-associative program, and it’s not uncommon to think of the piece as a musical postcard – five movements suggesting a set of travels through Spain. The first movement of Symphonie espagnole is featured on this afternoon’s concert. It is composed in a compact sonata form that opens with an orchestral statement of the main motive before the violin soloist presents the rhapsodic theme in its entirety. The movement is filled with restatements of the leaping fifth motive and brilliant passagework for the violin soloist.

Serenata Espagnola, Op. 181
Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909)
Instrumentation: three flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, and strings.

Piano virtuoso and composer Isaac Albéniz was one of the most influential figures in the Spanish music. Albéniz was a child prodigy who made his first public performance in Barcelona around the age of five. He took the entrance exam for the Paris Conservatoire, but the jury is said to have refused his admission to the school as they felt he was too immature. In May 1876, he enrolled at the Leipzig Conservatory, but he only stayed there for a couple of months before returning to Madrid and eventually continuing his piano studies at the Brussels Conservatory. He continued his compositional studies in Barcelona with Felipe Pedrell in the early 1880s. Much of Albéniz’s compositional output consists of works for piano, and by the late 1890s he was well-established as a pianist-composer with works in Spain’s leading publishers’ catalogs. Albéniz’s Suite Española is an eight movement work for solo piano, the first three pieces of which were composed in 1886. The remaining five were composed later and all were compiled in a posthumous publication in 1918. The Serenata Espagnola of this afternoon’s program is an anonymous orchestration of the fourth movement of the original suite, “Cádiz (Canción).” As the description suggests, the movement features a lyrical melody, accompanied by subtle flamenco-influenced rhythms.