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Monday, February 10, 2020

España in Brass

From the Vault Dept.: I wrote a series of liner notes for the mch-lamented Dorian Recordings label back when they were headquartered in Troy, NY, producing superb-sounding CDs at the nearby Troy Music Hall. This is from one of the label’s final releases. Burning River Brass endures, however, and the group’s website is here.


SPANISH MUSIC IS INSTANTLY RECOGNIZABLE because of its unique rhythmic and textural characteristics, so much so that we even credit forays by the obviously non-Hispanic (Bernstein, Gershwin) as deserving of the appellation. Purists may object and hold the works included here by Georges Bizet and Tony DiLorenzo as that of outsiders looking in, but then you might as well say that Django Reinhardt didn’t play jazz. As soon as it leaves its native land, a musical style is owned by the world.

In the case of Spain, by the time of the Renaissance it was the source of many of the musical instruments popular throughout Europe, and many were dancing and singing to such Spanish musical forms as the chacona, zarabanda, españoleta, and canarios.

One form that resisted export was the zarzuela, a larger-scale entertainment that was  was created – or evolved into a recognizable form – in the mid-17th century, as a play with songs and dance, usually telling amusing stories of lower-class life. By the end of that century, Italian opera had infiltrated the form, increasing the amount of sung material. Combined with the ascension to the throne of Philip V, which started the era of Bourbon rule, Italian culture dominated Spain – to the point of favoring Italian over Spanish as the spoken language of the gentry.

With the Bourbons in power, political, religious, and economic boundaries shifted and Spain found itself without an international musical presence for some three centuries (England would have a similar experience). Only when the folk music influences were allowed to break into more formal compositions did Spanish music begin to regain that stature.

By the mid-19th century, Spanish music began to be refracted through the lenses of other countries, helped by a wave of Hispanophilia that spread through Europe, succeeding crazes for art from China and Greece. Chopin’s Bolero dates from 1833; Glinka’s Capriccio brillante, from 1845, was nicknamed the Spanish Overture and mimicked the Jota Aragonese; Glinka went on to write several other Spanish-inspired works. Schumann’s Spanisches Liederspiel is a set of twelve songs that date from 1849.

All of which set the stage for Spain’s own musical comeback. A composer whose music is largely forgotten was largely responsible: Felipe Pedrell (1841-1922), whose essay “For Our Music” propounded his belief that the music of the people needed to be honored, and whose students included Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados, and Manuel de Falla.
In selecting music for an ensemble like Burning River Brass, the main problem is one of arrangement, and it proves to have a straightforward solution. What hasn’t already been set for brass would get a setting, and percussionist Feza Zweifel took on the task, as he has done for previous Burning River Brass recordings as well as discs by the smaller Proteus 7 ensemble.

“For the most part,” says Zweifel, “it was a matter of condensing an orchestral score. I’ve always found it easier to reduce than to expand, because with a full score, the composer has already given you his full intentions in terms of orchestral color, dynamics, and harmonies.”

Zweifel both studies the scores and listens to recordings to determine the most important aspects of the pieces he’s arranging. “With a work like Falla’s ‘Three-Cornered Hat’ it’s very challenging, because there’s so much happening all the time in that piece.”

He had something of the opposite task in transcribing Sarasate’s Romanza Andaluza, originally written for violin and piano. “I really like the piece, so I set myself the challenge of expanding it. I found I had to go into a different thought process with it. Falla outlined everything he intended, but with the Sarasate, I had to hear new ideas and colors in my head before I started writing anything down.”

About the other arrangers, Zweifel notes that they’re both brass players. “In fact, they’re both trombonists. Roger Harvey played with the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, and after Jones retired he went on to direct the group, renamed the London Brass. Eric Crees was a principal with the London Symphony for many years, and he’s musical director of the London Symphony Orchestra Brass.”

BIZET: Carmen (Aragonaise, Les Dragons D'Alcala, Habanera, La Garde Montante, Danse Bohème) [arr. Roger Harvey]

Paris’s Opéra-Comique was more than concert hall: It was force in that city’s society, a place where parents met their children’s prospective spouses. So it was clear to some of the theater’s directors from the moment the project was announced that any adaptaion of Mérimée’s novel about a Gypsy cigarette girl would not be appropriate for this family theater.

This was the setting of the triumph and tragedy of Georges Bizet (1838-1875). The young Georges was a musical prodigy trained by musical parents who managed to get him admitted to the Paris Conservatoire before he turned ten. He was a brilliant pianist who took several prizes in that instrument but refused, all his life, to perform publicly.

Burning River Brass
He began a lifelong friendship with Charles Gounod while at the conservatory, and at the age of 17, Bizet agreed to make piano-duet reductions of some of Gounod’s works – including a symphony that Bizet liked so much it inspired him to write a symphony of his own, a work that would remain undiscovered until 1930.

His first attempt to win the Prix de Rome, in 1856, was stymied when the judges decided not to award a first prize. He took a second-place prize, however, and won a first the following year.

Travel to Italy proved so enjoyable that he stayed for three years, paying more attention to his social life than to composition; upon returning to France, he found himself working more for others, assisting Gounod and Louis Reyer with their respective operas.

Bizet also seemed to be a master of false starts. His operas Parisina, Esmeralda (after Victor Hugo), Le tonnelier de Nuremberg (E.T.A. Hoffman), Don Quichotte, L’amour pientre, Nicolas Flamel, Les templiers, and Clarissa Harlowe (after Samuel Richardson) are among his never-to-be-finished projects, and then there were the pieces plagued, like his first Prix de Rome, by bad circumstances.

The one-act La guzla de L’emir was on the verge of production at the Opéra-Comique when he was suddenly asked to set The Pearl Fishers for the Théâtre-Lyrique. The theater’s director, Léon Carvalho, had a been given an award to stage an opera by an unproduced Rome laureate, so Bizet was the ideal candidate. After weathering a change of terms from the publisher and an ill soprano, the opera premiered to bad reviews – Bizet was accused of “Wagnerism”! – and ran 18 performances.

Carmen came about as a commission in 1871 from the Opéra-Comique following the mixed success of a one-act opera, Djamileh. When the subject of the new opera was announced, one of the Opéra-Comique directors resigned in disgust. Rehearsals were marred by many changes of opinion on the part of all involved, and the piece didn’t hit the stage until March 3, 1875.

The critics lambasted it; the audience was unmoved. Even Gounod was offended, believing that Bizet had borrowed too liberally from his works. Depressed, the composer fell ill and retreated to the countryside, where he died three months after that premiere. The Opéra-Comique yanked Carmen from its stage shortly afterward, but within a few years it was on its way to becoming the most popular opera in the world.

SARASATE: Romanza Andaluza [arr. Feza Zweifel]

Yet another prodigy, Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908) began playing the violin at age 5 and first performed publicly three years later. He was sent on a scholarship to study in Madrid, and so impressed Queen Isabella II that she gave him a Stradivarius and funded further study in Paris. He became the star student of Delphin Alard, winning prizes in violin, solfege, and harmony, all of which pointed him toward composing as a career.

In 1859 he decided to try a concert tour, which was so successful that he scheduled another, then another – and stayed on the road for the next 40 years. His playing won intense audience loyalty – George Bernard Shaw once wrote that a Sarasate performance “left criticism gasping miles behind him” – as well as the admiration of other composers. Bruch wrote his Scottish Fantasy and Violin Concerto No. 2 for Sarasate; Saint-Saëns, Lalo, Joachim, Wieniawski, and Dvořák also plied him with concertos and other works that he tucked into his repertory. He championed Beethoven’s violin concerto, but refused to play the concerto by Brahms (he nevertheless enjoyed playing Brahms’s chamber music).

He was even beloved in fiction, which Sherlock Holmes took a break from investigating “The Red-Headed League” to see a Sarasate recital at St. James Hall. Notes Dr. Watson: “All the afternoon he sat in the stalls wrapped in the most perfect happiness, gently waving his long, thin fingers in time to the music ... ”

Writing in an age when opera paraphrases were all the rage, Sarasate added his own with a virtuoso whirl through themes from Carmen. His best-known work is Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs), the sobbing slow theme of which became a staple of melodrama. The eight Spanish Dances for violin and piano are named for a variety of forms and dances, with a fiery Zapateado the centerpiece of the set. Romanza Andaluza is the second of the set, a dreamy theme set over a throbbing rhythm that lends itself quite naturally to brass ensemble.

GIMÉNEZ: Intermezzo from El baile de Luis Alonso [arr. Feza Zweifel]
GIMÉNEZ: Intermezzo from La boda de Luis Alonso [arr. Eric Crees]

More than a decade after the Paris premiere, Giménez conducted the Spanish premiere of Bizet’s opera Carmen in Madrid. No scandal is attached to the event, but the Teatro de la Zarzuela wasn’t worried about polite society.

As a synthesis of musical theater and operetta, zarzuela borrowed popular songs and stories and wove them into larger tapestries. And Jerónimo Giménez (1854-1923) became one of the leading composers of the later era of that genre.

He began his musical career as a 12-year-old violin prodigy, and within five years began a distinguished conducting career, with both opera and zarzuela his specialties. A scholarship persuaded him to pursue studies at the Paris Conservatoire, where he bested Debussy, among others, in taking a first prize for harmony and counterpoint.

Upon his return to Spain he settled in Madrid and became director of the Teatro de la Zarzuela as well as the Madrid Concert Society. His best-known compositions come from the many zarzuelas he wrote or co-wrote between 1878 and 1920. He specialized in the género chico, a type of one-act zarzuela, and El baile de Luis Alonso (1896) and La boda de Luis Alonso (1897) are among his most endearing, portraying the bumpkin character of Luis Alonso, an Andalusian dancing master, as he goes through the travails of a wedding and ensuing confusion. The intermezzos from these two works are among his most lively and enduring works.

Giménez also wrote with collaborators, notably Miguel Nieto, with whom he produced a version of The Barber of Seville in 1901, and Amadeo Vives, with whom he wrote El húsar de la guardia (1904), La gatita blanca (1905), and the fascinating but unsuccessful Los viajes de Gulliver (1910), based on the Jonathan Swift novel.

He was elected to the Royal San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in 1914, but never took the position; he sought a professorship at the Madrid Conservatory but was turned down until just before the end of his life; it wasn’t enough to forestall him from dying in near poverty.

FALLA:  Three-Cornered Hat (Introduction, The Neighbor's Dance, The Miller's Dance, Final Dance) [arr. Feza Zweifel]

Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) is credited, along with Isaac Albéniz and Enrique Granados, as a founder of a Spanish nationalist style that gave his country’s music a worldwide prominence it hadn’t enjoyed for over 300 years.

Born in the southwestern city of Cádiz, the oldest in the Andalusian province, he made his concert debut at the age of 11, playing (with his mother) a piano-duet version of Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ. He also took part, as a pre-teen, in chamber music salons at the home of Salvador Viniegra, a wealthy amateur who helped expose the youngster to the classic repertory.

Falla decided by the age of 17 to become a composer. He was profoundly affected by the music performed a local orchestra, particularly the music of Grieg, with its Norwegian nationalist characteristics. He discovered an “intense desire to create one day something similar with Spanish music.”

While in his 20s he moved to the more cosmopolitan city of Madrid and entered the conservatory there, where he swept all honors in composition, finishing a seven-year course in two years. Chamber works he wrote during this time showed a strong Andalusian influence, but his progress was interrupted when his father went bankrupt. In order to raise money, he  composed zarzuelas, but it wasn’t a successful move, and his heart wasn’t in it. Falla sought lessons with Pedrell, whose influence shows in Falla’s one-act opera La Vida breve, which won an Academy of Fine Arts award in 1905 but which had production problems – first, because of its length, inspiring the composer to expand it to two acts, and then because of theatrical politics.

In 1907 he traveled to Paris for a week’s vacation and ended up staying for seven years. There he became chummy with Albéniz, Debussy, Dukas, and Ravel, whose newfangled approaches to music caused him to reassess his own compositional voice. La Vida breve was premiered in Nice in 1913, and at the Opéra-Comique shortly thereafter, but the stirrings of war sent Falla back to Spain.

He was incredibly productive, writing his Seven Popular Spanish Songs, the ballet El Amor brujo, Nights in the Gardens of Spain for piano and orchestra, and, in 1919, El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat), a Diaghilev-commissioned ballet based on an old Spanish folktale.

Falla’s style thereafter grew leaner and more neo-classical, as heard in the Fantasia bética for piano, the Harpsichord Concerto, and 1923 puppet opera Master Peter’s Puppet Show. He settled in Granada and wrote far less frequently, concentrating by the end of the 20s on a large-scale oratorio titled L’Atlántida. He stopped work during the Spanish Civil War, which he saw as a contest with two foolish opponents; he inscribed the word “peace” on his correspondence from then on.

Accepting an invitation to teach in Buenos Aires in 1939, he settled in the nearby sierra of Córdoba and wrote the orchestral piece Homenajes, saluting Debussy, Dukas, and Pedrell. Work on L’Atlántida continued haltingly, but by the time of Falla’s death in 1946 only about half of it was in finished form. Falla’s family asked Ernesto Halffter to finish the work, which eventually premiered in 1962.

GRANADOS: Andaluza - Spanish Dance No. 5 [arr. Eric Crees]

Enrique Granados (1867-1916) bridges the nationalist and the international; his first success was the zarzuela Maria del Carmen, produced in 1898 in Madrid; his breakthrough came with the Spanish Dances, a dozen characteristic pieces written between 1892 and 1900.

He was born in Lérida, although his family soon moved to Barcelona, where he began piano lessons; he made his concert debut at the age of ten.

After studying composition at the Madrid Conservatory, he found patronage enough to travel to Paris to enroll at the Conservatoire; upon arrival, he was too ill to pass the entrance exams, but managed instead to study privately with Charles de Bériot.

Back in Madrid, he founded his own conservatory – the Academia Granados, eventually headed by Alicia de Larrocha – and put in a lot of performance time, with Pablo Casals and Jacques Thibaud among his concert partners.

His piano suite Goyescas (1911), a musical portrait of paintings by Goya, was a massive success, and a 1914 Paris performance won him both the Légion d’honneur and a commission to expand it into a stage work for the Opéra-Comique.

The beginnings of World War I caused the production to be postponed. New York’s Metropolitan Opera offered to stage the premiere, which took place in 1916 and was the first Spanish opera performed in that house. Granados was thrilled, and wrote to a friend, “I have a whole world of ideas ... I am only now starting my work.”

Eager to return to Spain, he was deflected by a request from the White House for a recital for President Woodrow Wilson. The delay caused him to miss direct passage to Spain and instead placed him and his wife on a ship to England. They then took the Sussex across the channel, where a German submarine torpedoed and sank the boat. Granados was rescued by a lifeboat, but spotted his wife still struggling in the water and dived in to save her. Both of them drowned. Six weeks later a number of luminaries, including Casals, Fritz Kreisler, and John McCormack, staged a benefit at the Met on behalf of Granados’s orphaned children. Casals noted, “Towards the end of the concert, all the lights were turned out. A candle was placed on the piano. Then, with that solitary flame flickering on the stage in the great hall, Paderewski played Chopin's Funeral March.”

His Spanish Dance No. 5, subtitled Andaluza (Playera), is the best-known of the set, and has been transcribed for many solo instruments and ensembles. A staccato bass line decorated with rhythmic grace notes accompanies a melancholy melody that soon swells into a triumphant variation; the middle section is a sweet reworking of those themes.

CHAPI: Prelude to La Revoltosa [arr. Feza Zweifel]

Although he tried his hand at opera, Ruperto Chapi (y Lorente) (1851-1909) was most at home with the zarzuela, and he churned out over 150 of them during the last 20 years of his life. Born in Villena, in southeastern Spain, he became musically proficient enough to conduct the local band. At 16, he enrolled in the Madrid Conservatory, where he took prizes in harmony while supporting himself as a cornettist in a theater orchestra.

He was appointed musical director of the Spanish Artillery forces in 1872, which is about the time when he wrote his first zarzuela, Abel y Cain, and his first opera, La Naves de Cortés. The latter won him a government scholarship for study in Italy and France, during which time he wrote more operas but won little acclaim.

Back in Madrid in 1880, he went on that zarzuela-writing spree, with such a keen melodic sense that he was likened to both Schubert and Berlioz. La Revoltosa (The Mischievous) dates from 1897 and remains his most famous work, buoyed by the celebrated Prelude.

DI LORENZO: The Blade of Spain (Habiba, Navarre, Dance of Death)

It’s hard to say whether Anthony DiLorenzo is busier as a composer or as a much-in-demand trumper player. He has written music for ABC's Wide World of Sports and has scored movie trailers for more than 70 films, including Forrest Gump, 101 Dalmations, Toy Story and Crimson Tide. His concert works have been performed by the San Francisco, Utah, Louisiana and Colorado Symphony Orchestras. As a performer, DiLorenzo has soloed with the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, and Boston Pops Orchestras. A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, he has held positions as principal trumpet for the Utah Symphony and Santa Fe Opera Company, as well as second trumpet with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

His music can be heard on Dorian recordings of Proteus 7 (including his compelling “Dracula” ballet) as well as on earlier Burning River Brass CDs

– Burning River Brass, Romanza España, Dorian DOR-90316

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