Spanish Dance No.1 from La Vida Breve
Manuel De Falla
Born – November 23, 1876 in Cadiz, Spain
Died – November 14, 1946 in Alta Gracia, Argentina
The opera, La Vida Breve (Life is Short), was debuted on January 7, 1914 at the Théâtre National de l’Opéra-Comique in Paris.
The early decades of the 20th century were critical for Spain’s entrance into the European classical arena. During this time, France and Spain were developing a unique bond in which Spanish composers infused “sophisticated” French music into their more traditional folk idiom. The influence of Debussy, Ravel, Dukas, and Stravinsky refined De Falla’s compositional style, yet the enthusiasm and color from his Spanish roots were never dimmed.
De Falla studied music in Madrid and wrote his first major work there, an hour-long opera in two acts about the doomed affair of a passionate gypsy girl and her more refined -and unfortunately engaged – man of her dreams. The opera won first prize in a competition at the Academia de Bellas Artes in Madrid, but after the promise of a debut fell through, De Falla moved to Paris in hope of a more fruitful musical atmosphere. The bustle of workers and the ringing of the blacksmith’s anvil adds local flavor to De Falla’s lively opening village scene.
Elegie & Finale from Serenade for Strings
Peter Illich Tchaikovsky
Born – May 7, 1840 in Votkinsk, Russia
Died – November 6, 1893 in Saint Petersburg, Russia
This piece was written in 1880 and premiered on October 30, 1881 in Saint Petersburg, conducted by Eduard Napravnik.
In the latter half of 1880, Tchaikovsky began work on two extremely contrasting pieces. Commissioned for the unveiling of the Pushkin memorial, the 1812 Festival Overture was a “loud and noisy” work he claimed to be lacking any “warm feeling of love.” To the contrary, his Serenade for Strings was written from “inner compulsion, a piece from the heart.”
A performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni had introduced ten-year-old Tchaikovsky to the deep emotional power of music, and he wrote this Serenade with classical form in mind in homage to Mozart’s serenades.
The Elegie opens with a unison chorale theme that becomes more complex as it is passed around the orchestra. Delicate counterpoint floats above the melody in the violas, and later the somber and reflective theme is reiterated in the richness of the lower strings. In the Finale, a slow song of the Volga boatmen gives way to a bright folk tune, evolving in charming, unexpected ways before the regal conclusion.
El Camino Real
Born – January 25, 1921 in New York City
Died – September 17, 2005 in Miami, Florida
This piece was commissioned and debuted by the 581st Air Force Band on April 15, 1985 in Sarasota, Florida.
With over 200 works to his name – many of them for wind ensemble and concert band – Alfred Reed is one of America’s most prolific composers. At the time of his death, Reed had enough commissions to keep him busy until age 115!
During World War II, Reed played trumpet in the Air Force Band, and following his service he returned to study composition at Juilliard. He later became a music arranger for NBC and ABC, the conductor of the Baylor Symphony Orchestra, and the executive director of Hansen Publications, a music publishing company.
Subtitled A Latin Fantasy, Reed’s El Camino Real, (or “The King’s Highway”) perfectly captures the Latin and Spanish idiom. Inspired by the chord progressions of Spanish guitarists, it explores flamenco rhythms and harmonies. The opening Jota is a brilliant, fiery dance and the contrasting middle section invokes a Fandango.
Violin Concerto No.1
Born – January 6, 1838 in Cologne, Germany
Died – October 2, 1920 in Berlin, Germany
This concerto was first performed on April 24, 1866 in Koblenz by violinist Otto von Königslow with Bruch, himself, conducting. The official premier of the revised version occurred on January 5, 1868 in Bremen with violinist Joseph Joachim and Karl Martin Rheinthaler conducting.
Born only five years after Johannes Brahms, Max Bruch was a prolific composer of three symphonies, three operas, three violin concertos, and approximately a hundred works of choral and chamber music. Of all of these, his Violin Concerto in G minor is the most well known. After a less than satisfactory debut, violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim helped Bruch with revisions and commented that of the four great German violin concertos – Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, and Bruch – this was the “richest and most alluring.”
The form is non-traditional and the improvisatory stylings of the first movement set a fantasy-like mood, but the dialog and importance of the orchestra sets it apart as a concerto. As in the opening of Mendelssohn’s violin concerto, the soloist begins playing immediately. In the second movement, three beautiful themes are developed almost entirely by the soloist, except for a brief orchestral interlude in the middle. The lively third movement brings to mind a Brahms Hungarian dance, although Bruch’s concerto preceded Brahms’ violin concerto by ten years!
Symphony No.7, op. 131, in C sharp minor
Born – April 23, 1891, in Sontsovka, Ukraine
Died – March 5, 1953, in Moscow, Russia
Prokofieff’s final symphony was composed in 1952 and debuted on October 11 of that year in Moscow.
Commissioned by the Soviet Children’s Radio Division and frequently dubbed the “Simple Symphony,” Prokofieff‘s final major work was composed with a younger audience in mind. Although his reputation was that of an incomprehensibly modern pianist, his special skill was composing mature and charming music for children, including Peter and the Wolf and a set of 12 piano pieces titled Music for Children. At the time of the commission, Prokofieff was living in poverty and near starvation; his first wife had been arrested and exiled to Siberia, and Prokofieff, himself, was held in contempt for composing music not up to Stalin’s patriotic standards. The thought of writing for children re-kindled his nearly broken spirit.
The symphony alternates between two moods: one innocent and frivolous, the other ominous and fearful. In the first movement, a sinister murmuring introduces a nostalgic theme in the strings. Later, a “simple” theme presented by the flute and glockenspiel shines a ray of hope before the movement ends – again in minor.
Harkening to his ballets, the second movement is an imaginative waltz with comic bassoons and skittering strings. Some of Prokofieff’s most unabashedly sentimental music follows in the third movement, alternating dream and nightmare. The final movement mixes elements of dancing, marching and the earlier flute and glockenspiel theme, coming to an enigmatically quiet end. A few optimistic measures added to placate Soviet artistic demands were never intended to be published.