Along the Mediterranean | May 4, 2019 | Full Program Notes

Along The Mediterranean Concert Graphic

BORN: January 18, 1841, in Ambert, Puy-de-Dôme, France
DIED: September 13, 1894, in Paris
WORLD PREMIERE: November 4, 1883, at Théâtre du Château d’Eau for the Société des Nouveaux Concerts in Paris, Charles Lamoureux conducting

Emmanuel Chabrier is best known today for the orchestral showpiece España. His small body of work was consistently of high quality and had a strong influence on French composers in the beginning of the 20th century. Chabrier began piano lessons at the age of six and compositions of short works for the piano soon followed. His ability on the piano developed into a degree of virtuosity that would have composer Vincent d’Indy (1851-1931) compared him favorably with Liszt and Anton Rubinstein. Aline Charigot (1859-1915), wife of Renoir and a friend of Chabrier, wrote:

One day Chabrier came; and he played his España for me. It sounded as if a hurricane had been let loose. He pounded and pounded the keyboard. [The street] was full of people, and they were listening, fascinated. When Chabrier reached the last crashing chords, I swore to myself I would never touch the piano again […] Besides, Chabrier had broken several strings and put the piano out of action.

Although he identified with the avant-garde, Chabrier also was wary that its dogmatism might hamper his compositional individuality and freedom. His friendship with artist Edouard Manet (1832-1883) helped to align him with the progressives. Manet painted two portraits of Chabrier, who would eventually own 14 of Manet’s paintings. Chabrier also dedicated his Impromptu to Madame Manet, Suzanne Leenhoff (1829-1906).

From July to December 1882 Chabrier and his wife toured throughout Spain. His letters written from this time show his good humor, observations and reactions to the music and dance he came across. One letter to Charles Lamoureux dated October 25 has the composer stating that upon his return to Paris he would compose an “extraordinary fantasia” that would incite the audience to a high level of excitement.

Composed between January and August 1883, Chabrier originally titled the work Jota, but by October 1883 it became known as España. It was an instant success and an encore was required at the premiere. The work was praised by many composers including Manuel de Falla, who did not think any Spanish composer had succeeded in writing such a genuine version of the jota (folk dance of northern Spain) and Gustav Mahler, who told the musicians of the New York Philharmonic that it was “the start of modern music.” Chabrier merely described it as “a piece in F and nothing more.”

Chabrier built España on two characteristic Spanish dances: the sensuous malagueña and the lively jota, including a third ‘jaunty’ melody interjected by the trombones. He also experiments with polyrhythms in places where one section of the orchestra will play in 3/8 and the others are playing in 2/4. The rhythms and tone colors of España are infectious and intoxicating. Not only is Chabrier’s España a great concert opener, it also marked the inauguration of ‘Hispanic-flavored’ music that would later be heard in Debussy’s Ibéria, Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole and so many other compositions of the early 20th century.

HISTORY: There have been five previous Masterworks Series performances of this work by the DSSO: in 1937, 1955, 1963, 1970, and on May 16, 1986. It has also been played on Pops concerts including New Year’s Eve, 1993 (David Itkin, guest conductor) and on March 22, 2014 (with Dirk Meyer).

INSTRUMENTATION: Two flutes and piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, four bassoons, four horns, four trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (tambourine, triangle, cymbals, bass drum), two harps and strings.

CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS Piano Concerto No. 5 in F major, Op. 103 Egyptian
BORN: October 9, 1835, in Paris, France
DIED: December 16, 1921, in Algiers, Algeria (then under French rule)
WORLD PREMIERE: May 6, 1896, at Salle Pleyel, Orchestra de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, Paul Taffanel conducting, Saint-Saëns soloist – 50th anniversary of his debut perfomance in that hall (at the age of 10!)

Camille Saint-Saëns demonstrated perfect pitch at the age of two and started composing at four. When he was ten he made his formal debut in Paris, performing works by Mozart, Bach and Beethoven. During his adolescence he composed his first two symphonies. At the age of 72 he became the first major composer to write a film score and by the time he died, at 86, he had completed more than 200 musical works, in most every genre, and he was still performing as a concert pianist. Talk about an overachiever! He was also a travel writer, poet and playwright, he spoke several languages fluently and had a photographic memory. In 1969 the music critic and author Harold C. Schonberg wrote of Saint-Saëns, “It is not generally realized that he was the most remarkable child prodigy in history, and that includes Mozart.”

Saint-Saëns’ father died of consumption (tuberculosis) just three months after Camille was born. The baby Camille was also diagnosed with tuberculosis and spent the first two years of his life in a nursing home. After that he was brought up by his mother and her aunt, Charlotte Masson. He was taught piano from the age of three by his great-aunt and when he was seven he became a student of Camille-Marie Stamaty (1811-1870), who also taught the American composer and pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869). Saint-Saëns’ official public debut was in Paris at the Salle Pleyel, when he was ten, in a program that included Mozart’s Piano Concerto in B-flat, K450, and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3.

Saint-Saëns composed his Fifth Piano Concerto to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of his debut at the Salle Pleyel. It was composed in Luxor during one of his frequent winter vacations to Egypt, which explains the work’s nickname Egyptian. Also, it is heavily influenced by Middle-Eastern, Spanish and Javanese music, making it one of his most exotic compositions. The second movement contains the local color associated with Middle-Eastern music with its frequent use of the augmented second. The melody, according to Saint-Saëns, comes from “a Nubian love song that I heard sung by the boatmen on the Nile as I went down the river in a dahabieh [a type of large passenger boat].” Michael Stegemann, who did an in-depth study of Saint-Saëns’ concertos, noted surprising similarities between this movement and Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain, which was written a decade later.

Although it may seem that Saint-Saëns was using folk music or experimenting in program music, he was a strong proponent of ‘art for art’s sake’ and his roots were very clearly established. He didn’t allow anything to interfere with his style. “For me art is form,” Camille Saint-Saëns wrote. “Expression and passion seduce the amateur… for the artist it is different. An artist who is not fully satisfied by elegant lines, harmonious colors, and beautiful harmonic progressions has no understanding of art.”

HISTORY: The only previous DSSO performance of this concerto was on February 5, 1943 with Marjorie Church as soloist and Tauno Hannikainen conducting. Tonight’s soloist, Orion Weiss, appeared with the Orchestra on September 28, 2013 playing the Grieg Concerto (on the opening concert of Dirk Meyer’s tenure as Music Director).

INSTRUMENTATION: Two flutes and piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani and strings.

NIKOLAI RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Capriccio Espagnole, Op. 34
BORN: March 18, 1844, in Tikhvin, near the Russian city of Novgorod
DIED: June 21, 1908, in Lyubensk, near Saint Petersburg
WORLD PREMIERE: November 12, 1887, in Saint Petersburg, Imperial Opera Orchestra, Rimsky-Korsakov conducting

Rimsky-Korsakov seems to have been an indefatigable composer, especially during the 1880s. In 1881, after Mussorgsky’s death, Rimsky-Korsakov collected all of his friend’s manuscripts and began preparing them for publication. A gargantuan task was completing and orchestrating Khovanshchina, Mussorgsky’s last opera, and also creating a mostly new work of Night on Bald Mountain from drafts Mussorgsky left behind. Rimsky-Korsakov also started working on Borodin’s sketches for Prince Igor hoping that it would encourage his friend to finish his neglected opera. After Borodin died, Glazunov finished the vocal score and Rimsky-Korsakov orchestrated the entire opera. How then did he find time to compose Capriccio Espagnole, Scheherazade and Russian Easter Festival Overture?

The Russian introduction to Spanish music came when Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857), who spent two years in Spain, brought some of the music and style back with him when he returned in the 1840s. Capriccio Espagnole (Capriccio on Spanish Themes) is a brilliant example of Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestration that he himself considered to contain the finest examples of orchestral virtuosity he had written before he came under the influence of Wagner. Originally begun as a violin fantasy on Spanish themes, Rimsky-Korsakov abandoned that idea and instead created a fantasy for the entire orchestra. Tchaikovsky saw the score before the premiere and wrote to Rimsky-Korsakov in a letter that “your Spanish Capriccio is a colossal masterpiece of instrumentation, and you may regard yourself as the greatest master of the present day.”

He composed the Capriccio specifically for the Saint Petersburg Imperial Opera Orchestra and when the score was published he ensured that the dedication was to each and every one of the musicians, naming them individually. The musicians in the orchestra frequently interrupted the rehearsals with applause for the composer-conductor and at the premiere the audience demanded a full encore as soon as the first performance ended.

Capriccio Espagnole is in five movements that are played without pause:
I. Alborada, a morning serenade that begins with a brilliant outburst in the full orchestra and ends with quiet arpeggios in the solo violin.
II. Variazioni, a set of five variations on a theme introduced by the horn quartet ends with rapid chromatic scales in the solo flute.
III. Alborada, in a different key with a clarinet in place of the violin.
IV. Scena e canto gitano, introduced by cadenzas in the horns and trumpets, violin, flute, clarinet, and harp. The song that follows is combined with fragments from the cadenzas.
V. Fandango asturiano, a type of Andalusian dance in the full orchestra concluding with the opening Alborada functioning as a coda to the entire piece.

Two years after the premiere, in 1889, Rimsky-Korsakov presented Capriccio Espagnole in concerts at the International Exhibition in Paris. Two young Frenchmen in the audiences, a 27-year-old Claude Debussy and a 14-year-old Maurice Ravel, heard how brilliant an orchestra can sound with the proper orchestration.

HISTORY: This is the DSSO’s ninth Masterworks Series performance of this work. Heard in 1934, 1947, 1953, 1961, 1965, 1970, 1985, and on February 27, 1993, it has also been played on Young People’s Concerts over the years.

INSTRUMENTATION: Two flutes and piccolo, two oboes (one doubling English horn), two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, triangle, tambourine, castanets), harp and strings.

MANUEL DE FALLA Selections from The Three-Cornered Hat
BORN: November 23, 1876, in Cádiz, Spain
DIED: November 14, 1946, in Alta Gracia, Argentina
WORLD PREMIERE: July 22, 1919, at the Alhambra Theatre in London, Ernest Ansermet conducting; sets and costumes by Pablo Picasso, choreography by Léonide Massine

The Three-Cornered Hat is a ballet telling a story full of romance, humor and charm in the warm atmosphere of Andalusia. The plot tells of a miller and his beautiful wife, their flirtations and intrigues, and the trickery that ensues when a third party comes upon this situation. The couple is visited one day by a corregidor (the magistrate, whose three-cornered hat symbolizes his authority), and he quickly develops an eye for the beautiful young wife. He orders the miller arrested to clear his own path to the wife, but his flirtation ends in humiliation when he falls into a stream. The corregidor lays out his clothes to dry, and the returning miller discovers them and puts them on, then sets out in pursuit of the magistrate’s wife. It all ends happily: the police rush in and accidentally arrest their own magistrate, the miller and his wife swear their mutual devotion and the ballet concludes as the happy townspeople toss an effigy of the magistrate in a blanket.

At the premiere Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat was hugely successful and has remained one of his most popular works. Shortly after the premiere Falla created two orchestral suites, which were published in 1921, and today the work is mostly known by the suites with the full ballet being seldom staged.

The portions performed tonight are the Introduction, Afternoon and the Dance of the Miller’s Wife from the first act. The Dance of the Miller’s Wife is a fandango, a lively couples dance usually in triple meter and traditionally accompanied by guitars, castanets, or hand-clapping. Following these are the three dances that make up Suite II. The Dance of the Neighbors is a seguidilla, a dance form originating from Andalusia that is performed by pairs of dancers in a quick triple time. Usually the female dancer plays castanets. The Dance of the Miller is a farruca, an ancient dance of gypsy origin and a form of flamenco, traditionally danced only by men. The dance often has fast turns, quick intense footwork, held lifts and falls, and dramatic poses. It can also be danced with a cape. The Final Dance is a jota, a genre of music and dance known throughout Spain, often accompanied by guitar and castanets. The steps have an appearance not unlike that of a waltz, but with more variation, and the dancers hold their hands atop their heads.

The impact of The Three-Cornered Hat spread into the art and ballet worlds. Pablo Picasso designed the costumes and his ‘cubist’ sets were a liberating influence on Spanish art. The use of Spanish dance techniques choreographed by Léonide Massine made an impact on the classical ballet world. The Three-Cornered Hat turned Falla into a European celebrity to a degree hardly ever duplicated by another Spanish composer, either before or after him.

HISTORY: Selections from The Three-Cornered Hat. Most DSSO performances of music from this ballet have been of the three dances comprising Suite No. 2 (in 1938, 1953, 1961, 1968, 1974, and on January 21, 2012 led by Music Director candidate David Danzmayr). In 1981 Taavo Virkhaus (with mezzo-soprano soloist Claudia Lund) conducted a more complete version of the music. On March 11, 2006 (also repeated in Hayward, WI) Markand Thakar (with KrisAnne Weiss) did the complete ballet music. Suite No. 2 was the concluding music on the grand opening concert of the DECC’s Symphony Hall (then the Duluth Auditorium) on Saturday, August 6, 1966. Hermann Herz conducted the DSSO.

INSTRUMENTATION: Two flutes (one doubling piccolo) and piccolo, two oboes (one doubling English horn) and English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (xylophone, suspended cymbal, glockenspiel, bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, triangle, tam-tam, castanets), harp, piano, celesta and strings.

BORN: March 7, 1875, in Ciboure, Basses-Pyrénées, France
DIED: December 28, 1937, in Paris
WORLD PREMIERE: November 14, 1929, in New York, Arturo Toscanini conducting the New York Philharmonic; January 11, 1930, in Paris, Ravel conducting the Lamoureaux Orchestra

Ravel originally composed Boléro as a ballet commissioned by the Russian dancer Ida Rubenstein and it was a sensational success when it was premiered at the Paris Opéra on November 22, 1928. When Toscanini introduced the work as a concert piece in New York it elicited “shouts and cheers from the audience” according to a New York Times review. One critic declared that “it was Toscanini who launched the career of the Boléro” and another claimed that Toscanini had made Ravel into “almost an American national hero.” However, on May 4, 1930, during the New York Philharmonic’s European tour, Toscanini was conducting the work significantly faster than Ravel preferred and he signaled his disapproval by refusing to respond to Toscanini’s gesture during the audience ovation. One account tells of Ravel approaching Toscanini after the concert telling him, “That’s not my tempo,” to which Toscanini was reported to have replied, “You don’t know anything about your own music. It’s the only way to save the work. When I play it at your tempo, it is not effective.” “Then do not play it,” Ravel retorted. Months later Ravel attempted to smooth the waters and invited Toscanini to conduct the premiere of his Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, an invitation that was declined.

The great success of Boléro was a surprise to Ravel, who predicted that most orchestras would refuse to play it. Ravel may have written the first minimalist composition with Boléro; the hypnotic repetitive rhythm of the snare drum provides the ostinato for the two melodies played by different instruments of the orchestra. As it gets continually louder there’s a simple key change from C major to E major near the end that seems like a cataclysmic event. Ravel describes the work best:

It constitutes an experiment in a very special and limited direction, and should not be suspected of aiming at achieving anything different from, or anything more than, it actually does achieve. Before its first performance, I issued a warning to the effect that what I had written was a piece lasting seventeen minutes and consisting wholly of “orchestral tissue without music”—of one very long, gradual crescendo. There are no contrasts, and practically no invention except the plan and the manner of execution.

Nevertheless, Ravel’s Boléro is one of the most famous works ever written for orchestra. It’s even a favorite with those who claim to dislike classical music. The hypnotic rhythms, subtle shifts of instrumental color, absence of development and its cumulative power make Boléro a very visceral and exciting work.

HISTORY: Performed on numerous Pops, summer and Young People’s Concerts, Bolero has only been given on the DSSO’s Masterworks Series in 1936, 1940, 1944, 1956, 1997, and on April 30, 2011 with Markand Thakar (a concert repeated in Grand Rapids, MN the next day).

INSTRUMENTATION: Two flutes and piccolo, two oboes (2nd doubling oboe d’amore) and English horn, two clarinets, E-flat and bass clarinets, two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, four trumpets, three trombones, tuba, soprano and tenor saxophones, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, two snare drums, tam-tam), harp, celesta and strings.


Notes by Vincent Osborn