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8.555957 - Preludes and Choruses from Zarzuelas
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Preludes and Choruses from Zarzuelas

The zarzuela, the historic Spanish musical comedy, endures, known throughout the world for its distinctive characteristics. For some years now it has been winning new recognition both in Spain and abroad.

The form had humble and popular origins. Its first representatives, Hernando, Oudrid, Gaztambide or Soriano Fuertes, lacked the technical resources to create anything of value. When Rafael Hernando began to add music to little comedies and the people of Madrid saw its life reflected in light, dynamic, cheerful theatrical performance, the zarzuela triumphed. From that moment the form moved in two directions; on the one hand the zarzuela ‘grande’, openly Italian in style, and on the other the ‘género chico’, completely Spanish, with its name ‘chico’ (little) referring only to the length of the works, always in one act, as opposed to the usual three acts of the zarzuela. Gradually what we may call ‘Gran Zarzuela’ succumbed to foreign influences, so that at one of the heights of its achievement, in the nineteenth century, with its melodic contours, ambience and libretti it offered entertainment to the patrons of French comic opera, Viennese operetta and, on a larger scale, Italian opera.

The smaller form, the género chico, for its part, when foreign influence gave way to national popularism, is full of what is purely Spanish, that is the use of turns of phrase, idioms and inflections of popular speech. In much the same way the musical language followed suit, adapted, perforce, to the letter and spirit of the libretti. It was, however, not only popular Spanish songs that became part of lyric theatre in Spain, but foreign melodies that were made Spanish, or even Madrilenian, such as the schottisch, the polka or the mazurka. In this way it came about that the people brought to the género chico musical and literary elements, and correspondingly the writers and composers gave back to the people these elements translated and amplified in a repertory that audiences would make their own and that would pass definitively into popular currency.

That national popularism led also to sainete (farce), a theatrical form splendidly defined by Don Ramón de la Cruz as that of portraying ourselves to ourselves, depicting our types, customs, language and surroundings. While the zarzuela continued its connection with the sainete, our lyric theatre reached its zenith with an overwhelming profusion of works; when sainete ceased to be fashionable, the zarzuela reached its weakest point and had to attempt a revival through association with French and Viennese operetta, even in the twentieth century, although there would be no lack of composers, such as Sorozábal, who continued the true Spanish tradition until the 1950s.

The most brilliant period of the zarzuela corresponds, in fact, to the last ten years of the nineteenth century. The process had its origin in Madrid, then the capital of painters and of local artistic styles, self-indulgent and almost narcissistic in nature, which explains the Madrilenian character of the zarzuela, absorbing regional and other folk influences, as from Andalusia, Aragon with its jotas or those of Spanish territories overseas, with their tangos, habaneras, huajiras, and so on. It must be added, however, that the zarzuela still lives through the music of Barbieri, Chueca, Bretón, Chapí, Fernández Caballero, Giménez, Serrano, Vives and Luna, while also owing a good part of its success to its librettists. The present recording offers a rich orchestral and choral sample of the zarzuela.

Fully Italian in style in his Jugar con fuego (Playing with fire) (1864), Barbieri moved gradually towards Madrid popular theatre. El barberillo de Lavapiés (The Little Barber of Lavapiés) (1874) and excerpts from Pan y toros (Bread and Bulls) (1864) represent the beginning of a process that would change Barbieri into the true creator of the género chico.

The Madrilenian music of Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente (Water, Sweet Cakes and Brandy) (1897) by Federico Chueca better illustrates the Madrid of that time than reading a book on the subject. Chueca succeeded in transforming his work into themes that the people accepted as their own. El chaleco blanco (The White Waistcoat) (1890) and El bateo (1901) are zarzuelas that are purely Spanish in character, full of natural charm and wit.

El rey que rabió (The King Mad with Rage) (1891) by Ruperto Chapí was one of the composer’s great successes. His El tambor de Granaderos (The Drummer of the Grenadiers) (1894) is a real musical delight. Its rhythmic and catchy overture is one of the best examples of the style of Alicante and, for its intrinsic value, deserves to be included in every zarzuela anthology.

Andalusia comes to life in the historic works of Jerónimo Giménez referring to the Cadiz master of dance Luis Alonso: El baile de Luis Alonso (The Dance of Luis Alonso) (1896) with text by Javier de Burgos and its sequel La boda de Luis Alonso (The Marriage of Luis Alonso) (1897). Fernández Caballero is in sparkling form in his El dúo de La Africana (The Couple of L’Africaine) (1893), in which the strength of the music makes us forget the feeble plot.

At the beginning of the twentieth century one of the names of importance is that of Amadeo Vives, who was concerned with problems of instrumentation and form. Here is included the fine entr’acte from Bohemios (1904). In this work Vives achieves a light and attractive type of musical comedy with songs that find their place in the new century, operetta. At the height of this form the Aragon composer Pablo Luna takes us from Madrid to Aleppo and from there to India in the score of El niño judío (The Jewish Boy) (1918), in the inspired prelude to which the trumpet plays the famous theme of the national anthem, distinctly patriotic and even chauvinist. Soutullo, from Galicia, and Vert, from Valencia, worked together on a Castilian legend in La leyenda del beso (The Legend of the Kiss) (1924), an important work reveals two talented composers. This lyrical and passionate entr’acte is known to everyone. Three years later they staged a regional zarzuela, La del soto del parral (The Bower of the Parral) (1927); the dialogue between the women’s and men’s chorus here included is one of the most famous parts of this work.

The prelude that opens the second act of El caserío (The Country House) (1926) by Jesús Guridi, one of the most interesting composers, is a splendid orchestral composition. In it we hear the txistu, an instrument that evokes the folk-music of the Basque country. The balance of its elements and the strength of instrumentation place the work beyond the traditional limits of the zarzuela.

Another Basque composer, Pablo Sorozábal, is important in the revival of the Madrilenian sainete. He has modernised the form through the realism of his libretti, witnessed by his Don Manolito (1942), a sainete in two acts.

The excerpts included in the present release provide examples of an art that endures, the zarzuela, as every day it is brought to new life.

Manuel García Franco

English version by Keith Anderson


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