Program Notes – In the Gardens of Spain

The NRO takes a musical journey to Spain and Latin America in this concert, benefiting the Family and Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC). A portion of ticket proceeds will go to FIRC to help support the work they do in Summit County.

The score of Joaquin Turina’s Danzas Fantasticas is saturated in Spanish folk idioms—but also peppered with excerpts from a 1919 novella titled La orgia by fellow Sevillan, José Más y Laglera. Exaltation’s deceptively calm, flamenco-like introduction gives way to a boisterous Jota dance. Colorful writing for the harp, contrabassoon, and english horn show from the outset how cunningly Turina has orchestrated this music, which was originally written for solo piano. The second dance, Musing, draws its signature rhythm from a basque dance form, the Zortzico. Pairs of flutes give the innocent tune first, followed by turns in the other woodwinds, and a distant church bell can be heard. In the score for the final movement, Orgy, Turina includes this quote: “The perfume of flowers is intermingled with the odor of chamomile, and the bouquet of tall chalices filled with incomparable wine. From this, like incense, the dance rises.”

Manuel de Falla, like Turina, was forced to return to Spain from Paris when the Great War broke out. He spent part of the summer of 1915 in the lovely seaside village of Sitges, where he put the finishing touches on Nights in the Gardens of Spain. It is an extravagantly orchestrated series of symphonic impressions for piano and orchestra, each is named for a specific locale. The Generalife are the hillside gardens near the Alhambra palace complex in Granada, a place Falla had never seen when he wrote this music. (He would later reside in Granada for almost twenty years.) The second movement has the passion and swagger of the malagueño, a flamenco song form. It is joined to the third without a break, on the peak of a crescendo begun with rhythmic insistence from the piano. In this movement, Falla has the piano play an elaborated gypsy song in bare octaves, a device which serves to cut perfectly through the often thick orchestration.

In 1916, at age fifty, Enrique Granados was for the first time receiving international recognition. His first tour to the US included a premiere of the opera Goyescas at the Met in New York, and the Chicago Symphony premiered his symphonic poem Dante. His visit even elicited an invitation to meet and play for President Wilson at the White House. In order to attend, Granados was obliged to cancel his scheduled sailing back to Spain and take a later one instead, to England. From there he boarded a passenger ferry to cross to France, but this vessel was struck crossing the English Channel by a German torpedo. The boat did not sink, but many passengers were thrown overboard, including Granados’ wife. He jumped in to save her and they both drowned. Goyescas is his crowning achievement, and one little item extracted from it has become his most frequently performed work today. It is a simple setting of a haunting and hypnotic melody.

Though Spain had been a musical powerhouse from the Renaissance through the eighteenth century, the chaos it experienced in the nineteenth century decimated its musical institutions. Folk and popular traditions thrived, but conservatories, orchestras, and audiences to support them grew slowly. Neighboring France, on the contrary, enjoyed a period of musical near-hegemony in the latter half of the 1800s, which is precisely why the three Spanish composers on this evening’s program went there to find work and to study. Consequently, spanish-sounding music (or what sounded Spanish to the French, anyway) was suddenly on trend in Paris as the century drew to a close. The greatest of these French tributes is Claude Debussy’s Iberia, which is actually a triptych within a larger three-movement work for orchestra, Images II. Debussy wrote it having only crossed into Spain once, to see a bullfight in San Sebastían, and only for one night. The first of the three parts of Iberia evokes the commotion of a Spanish city on a hot afternoon. A dreamy nocturne takes the middle spot, and the whole string section functions as one fantastic guitar in the festive finale.

Mexican-born composer Arturo Márquez, who grew up partly in Los Angeles, studied composition in Mexico City, Paris, and California. His Danzón No. 2 has been adopted as an unofficial national anthem of Mexico. The composer tells of learning the rhythms of the danzón, a graceful ballroom dance, saying, “to understand that the apparent lightness of the danzón is only like a visiting card for a type of music full of sensuality and qualitative seriousness…which old Mexican people continue to dance with a touch of nostalgia and a jubilant escape toward their own emotional world.”


© Jamey Lamar 2018