Concert Notes

Symphonie espagnole

Jocelyn Morlock
b. St. Boniface, Manitoba, Canada / December 14, 1969

The composer has provided the following note.

Recently I've been experimenting with large-scale mosaic textures in my orchestral writing. In Earthfall, I have tried using them as both a source of momentum, and of stability. This insidiously pulsing, slightly creepy piece originates in cumulative textures built up from relatively simple, metrically stable materials. Later the textures become more gnarled, registrally extreme, and rhythmically complex, wreaking vociferous havoc on the stable structures that were first created. After some tense moments, Earthfall ultimately settles itself, and steals off to a relatively peaceful conclusion. 

Symphonie espagnole, Op. 21
Edouard Lalo
b. Lille, France / January 27, 1823;
d. Paris, France / April 22, 1892

Lalo belongs to that group of composers who are known by a single work. In his case it is the colourful and melodious showpiece for violin and orchestra that will be performed at these concerts. If you enjoy it, you might also appreciate his ballet Namouna and his opera Le Roi d’Ys (The King of Ys).

His talent bloomed late, resulting in his winning acclaim only in the final 20 years of his life. This was due above all to French musical tastes of the era, which favoured lightness and grace over substance. A serious, high-minded fellow such as Lalo was bound to get the cold shoulder from listeners, critics and fellow composers with an outlook such as this. Indifference to his music was so strong and prolonged that he actually gave up composing for a number of years. A supportive marriage buoyed his spirits and rekindled his muse. 

The folk music idioms of foreign lands held strong appeal for Lalo. His catalogue includes a Concerto russe (Russian Concerto) for violin, and a Rapsodie norvégienne (Norwegian Rhapsody) for orchestra. Spain also drew his attention, not surprisingly since he, like his younger fellow Frenchman, Maurice Ravel, traced his ancestry to that country.

The Symphonie espagnole (Spanish Symphony) has a further Spanish connection. In 1872, the artistry of Spanish violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate (who had lived in Paris since the age of 11) inspired Lalo to create his Violin Concerto, one of his first popular successes. Their collaboration continued the following year with the Symphonie espagnole.

Lalo was quite sure that he wanted to call it a symphony, instead of a concerto. “I kept the title,” he wrote, “first because it conveyed my thought – that is to say, a violin solo soaring above the rigid form of an old symphony – and then because the title was less banal than those proposed to me. The cries and criticisms have died or will die down; the title will remain.” As further evidence of his intentions, Lalo initially gave his piece four movements instead of the three which had long been typical for a concerto. He later added a fifth section, Intermezzo. Be it symphony, concerto or suite, Symphonie espagnole is enchanting music.

The first movement is the most serious and substantial of the five. The remaining sections offer a sampling of Spanish songs and dances: playful, passionate, tender and witty, respectively. A luscious episode in the style of a habanera serves as the central episode in the finale.

Symphonie espagnole, Op. 21
1. Allegro non troppo
2. Scherzando: Allegro molto
3. Intermezzo: Allegretto non troppo
4. Andante
5. Rondo: Allegro 

Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120
Robert Schumann
b. Zwickau, Germany / June 8, 1810;
d. Endenich, Germany / July 29, 1856

Schumann’s career spanned the early heyday of Romanticism, with its increased expression of emotion through music, and its search for new ways to do so. He and many of his contemporaries continued to compose symphonies, for example, but each of them also helped expand the horizons of what a symphony could express, and how it might achieve that goal.

Hungarian composer Franz Liszt took extreme steps along this path of experimentation. He developed the symphonic poem, a form of music inspired by extra-musical concepts. In order to increase its cohesiveness and flow, a symphonic poem is based upon the transformation and interrelation of a handful of themes. 

Schumann’s most extreme use of Liszt’s method came in Symphony No. 4. He completed the original version in 1841, just two months after the première of Symphony No. 1 (the “Spring” Symphony). As with one of Liszt’s symphonic poems, he based it on a small group of themes, and he intended to have it performed as a continuous whole. He retreated from that approach, instructing that only the last two movements be played without interruption. The indifferent response to the première led him to shelve the piece.

Following the successful launch of Symphony No. 3 (“Rhenish”) in February 1851, he felt confident enough to perform a “rescue mission” on the Symphony in D Minor. His revisions included changes in orchestration and a strengthening of the interrelationships between themes. He also decided to carry through on his original intention, directing that all four movements be played without breaks between them. He also settled on calling it Symphony No. 4.

Virtually all the materials for the entire work appear in the slow, unsettled introduction to the first movement. An urgent allegro follows. The ensuing romance offers strong, lyrical contrast, dotted with expressive passages featuring oboe, cello and violin. The scherzo is a rustic, strongly rhythmic affair. The uncertain mood of the following bridge passage is firmly resolved by the arrival of the exuberant finale. 

Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120
1. Ziemlich langsam – Lebhaft…
2. Romanze: Ziemlich langsam…
3. Scherzo: Lebhaft…
4. Langsam – Lebhaft


Programme Notes © 2017 Don Anderson

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