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Program Notes
Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov
March 18, 1844, Tikhvin, Russia
June 21, 1908, Lyubensk
Capriccio espagnol,
Opus 34
Edouard Lalo
January 27, 1823, Lille, France
April 22, 1892, Paris
Symphonie espagnole
for Violin and Orchestra,
Opus 21
he allure of Spain, with its passionate spirit,
flamboyant rhythms, dazzling local color and exotic
aura, captivated any number of composers in the
late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Bizet,
Chabrier, Debussy, Lalo, Ravel and Rimsky-Korsakov, to
mention only a few. Rimsky-Korsakov, for all his world
travel as a professional sailor, ironically enough spent a
mere three days in Spain as a youth. Yet his
so ebulliently captures the flavor of the land that
a rumor circulated that he had taken out a three-year
lease on a Gypsy cave in Granada.
The composition had its genesis in a virtuoso fantasy
on Spanish themes for violin and orchestra, sketched
in 1886. But later Rimsky-Korsakov, realizing that in
such a form the orchestra could never fulfill its potential
for riotous color, recast the work for orchestra alone.
Nevertheless, elements of the original conception remain
in numerous solo violin passages, many replete with the
virtuoso’s arsenal of harmonics, triple stops and flying
arpeggios. At the premiere, on October 31, 1887, in St.
Petersburg, conducted by the composer, the audience
cheered so enthusiastically that the entire work had
to be encored. Two weeks later, Tchaikovsky wrote
the following accolade to his colleague: “I must add
that your Spanish Caprice is a colossal masterpiece of
instrumentation, and you may regard yourself as the
greatest master of the present day.”
vivid songs and dances
There are five short, connected movements.
with which the work opens, is supposed to be a gentle
romantic song sung under a lady’s window in the
morning, but Rimsky-Korsakov either didn’t know or
didn’t care, for this
sounds like no other. The
music is loud, garish and far more rousing than any
such song has a right to be! In a moderately contrasting
passage, the clarinet and violin play exuberant solos.
The second movement is more subdued, beginning with
a genial theme played by a horn quartet and followed by
five variations for, in succession, strings, English horn,
full orchestra, horns and cellos, and again full orchestra
with a flute cadenza as a coda. The third movement
returns to the dazzling opening
, with some
changes in the orchestration.
Scena e canto
(Scene and Gypsy Song), the fourth
movement, begins by offering a parade of cadenzas: for
brass ensemble, for solo violin, for flute, for clarinet,
and for harp and triangle. The
, or song, moves
with ever greater animation into the fifth movement,
Fandango asturiano
. This is a zesty, vivacious Spanish
dance in triple meter for one couple, accompanied with
guitar and castanets. Rimsky-Korsakov evokes the guitar’s
strumming effects with the entire string section, and the
castanets are likewise much in evidence.
2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes (1 doubling English horn), 2 clarinets,
2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba,
timpani, bass drum, castanets, cymbals, snare drum,
tambourine, triangle, harp and strings
ike Rimsky-Korsakov, Edouard Lalo too was
fascinated with Spain, and his only composition that
remains in the popular repertory is the one into which
he incorporated elements of Spanish music. The
Symphonie espagnole
belongs to that category of hybrid
works that don’t fit easily into any of the established
genres. Part symphony, part concerto, part suite, it has
nevertheless managed to maintain a firm hold on the
hearts of both violinists and audiences ever since its
premiere in Paris on February 7, 1875.
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