Concert Notes

Ravel's Boléro

El amor Brujo: Suite
Manuel de Falla
b. Cádiz, Spain / November 23, 1876;
d. Alta Gracia, Argentina / November 14, 1946

Falla’s music blends Spanish folk roots with the impressionism of Debussy and Ravel. The first half of this concert presents his two most popular works involving an orchestra. He composed the ballet El amor brujo (Love, the Magician) in 1915, shortly after his return to Spain from a period of study in France. Only the dancers found it to their liking, leading Falla to make major revisions. It is the second, more compact and more colourfully orchestrated version that has been performed ever since.

The scenario revolves around the gypsy girl Candélas, whose former lover was a handsome but evil man. Since his death, his ghost has driven away anyone who’s interested in her. Carmélo, a young gypsy determined to win Candélas, arranges a midnight ritual of exorcism. As this is taking place, in a cave illuminated by torchlight, Carmélo persuades another gypsy girl to divert the ghost’s attention. This gives him the chance to convince Candélas of his love for her. When they kiss, the power of the ghost is broken, and as dawn breaks the lovers are free to spend a happy life together.

El amor Brujo (Love, the Magician): Suite
1. Introduction and Scene
2. In the Cave
4. The Apparition
5. Dance of Terror
6. The Magic Circle
7. At Midnight: The Magic Spell
8. Ritual Fire Dance
9. Scene
10. Song of the Will-o’-the-wisp
11. Pantomime
12. Dance of the Game of Love
13. Finale: The Bells of Sunrise

Nights in the Gardens of Spain
Manuel de Falla

Falla’s original intention for Nights in the Gardens of Spain was to write a set of three nocturnes for solo piano, but he developed it into a work for piano and orchestra instead. It is not a traditional concerto, but an orchestral work where the keyboard takes the role of principal advocate of the music’s shimmering Impressionist colours.

The title of the opening section, In the Generalife, refers to a garden in the Alhambra, the lavish palace in Granada where the Moorish caliphs spent the summer. Distant Dance, the second movement, brings a brace of animated rhythms, suggestive of an evening festival. This spirit continues, without pause, into the finale, In the Gardens of the Mountains of Córdoba. The music gradually winds down, fading gently and nostalgically into the night.

Nights in the Gardens of Spain
1. In the Generalife
2. Distant Dance…
3. In the Gardens of the Mountains of Córdoba

Rapsodie espagnole (Spanish Rhapsody)
Maurice Ravel
b. Ciboure, France / March 7, 1875;
d. Paris, France / December 28, 1937

Born in the Basque region of southern France, Ravel traced half his ancestry to nearby Spain, on his mother’s side. He regularly paid tribute to that country, in such exotic works as the two you will hear at this concert.

Rapsodie espagnole (Spanish Rhapsody, 1907), his earliest work to show this influence, is in effect a four-movement dance suite. It can also be taken to portray various times of the day. The opening section, Prelude to Night, paints a misty, sensuous portrait of a warm, star-filled night. An example of the Malagueña, a flamenco-style Spanish dance, offers contrasting animation in the following brief, scherzo-like segment. Next comes Habanera (an Afro-Cuban dance form), a largely quiet interlude that moves languorously forward on a slow, sinuous dance rhythm. It evokes a hazy mid-day, near siesta time. The concluding section, Feria, is the longest and most spectacular of the four. In this riotous portrait of a Spanish folk fair, Ravel finally unleashes the energy which has remained largely pent-up during the preceding movements.

Maurice Ravel

In 1928, dancer Ida Rubinstein commissioned a new ballet score from Ravel. He planned to answer her request with orchestrations of piano music by a composer he admired, Spaniard Isaac Albéniz. Discovering to his dismay that the transcription rights had already been spoken for, he decided instead to create an original work with his beloved Spanish flavouring. Oddly enough for someone well versed in Spanish music, he chose as the title a form – the traditional folk dance the boléro is a lively step – which bears little relation to the music he wrote.

He also used the opportunity to conduct a musical experiment. As he put it, the score would be “uniform throughout in its melody, harmony and rhythm, the latter being tapped out continuously on the drum. The only element of variety is supplied by the orchestral crescendo.” Instrumental colouring plays a major role, as well, an area in which Ravel had attained supreme mastery.

His suggestions for the ballet’s decor and choreography involved a factory, a group of male and female workers, and an amorous, eventually murderous rendezvous between one of the women, a toreador, and her jealous lover. Instead, choreographer Bronislava Nijinska set it in a Spanish inn. A woman (Rubinstein) danced alone atop a table surrounded by men. As her steps grew more and more animated, her observers became increasingly excited, eventually pounding the table in rhythm to the music. At the climax, knives were drawn and a brawl broke out.

The first, wildly successful performance took place in Paris on November 22, conducted by Walther Straram. The music quickly won popularity in the concert hall, as well. Ravel was surprised and somewhat embarrassed by the whole affair. Composer Arthur Honegger recalled that “Ravel said to me, in that serious, objective manner which was characteristic of him: ‘I’ve written only one masterpiece, Boléro. Unfortunately, there’s no music in it.’” Audiences beg to differ. It may not be wise to hear Boléro too often, but when everything falls into place, it has the power to mesmerize the senses and quicken the pulse more effectively than any other piece of music.

Rapsodie espagnole (Spanish Rhapsody)
1. Prelude to Night
2. Malagueña
3. Habanera
4. Feria


Programme Notes © 2018 Don Anderson

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