About this Recording

Boléro and Other Spanish Favourites

The music of Spain retains its exotic attraction, with its individual blend of regional and national elements, influenced by the colourful traditions of the country and of its former colonies. It was in the nineteenth century, with the growth of nationalism, politically and culturally, that Spanish musical identity became established internationally as something apart from the main European cultural traditions of which Spain had for centuries formed apart.

It was natural that something of this fascination with things Spanish should make an early appearance in neighbouring France. The French composer Emmanuel Chabrier had spent the early part of his career as a civil servant, resigning his position only in 1880 in order to devote himself to music. Chabrier lacked the thorough training of the Conservatoire, but had been able to study music with some assiduity as a private pupil of a number of teachers of distinction, while mixing socially with a circle of well known musicians, painters and writers. In 1881 Charles Lamoureux made him chorus director and organizing secretary for the new concerts that he was promoting in Paris, his first professional musical employment. It was a journey to Spain in 1882 that aroused Chabrier's interest in the music of that country. Returning to Paris, he composed a fantasia for piano, based on the melodies he had collected, and played it through to Lamoureux, who encouraged him to orchestrate it. The result was the orchestral rhapsody España, first performed under Lamoureux on 6th November 1883. Chabrier won immediate fame, although his continuing operatic ambitions never brought him the success that he wanted. España, a vivid evocation of Spain, uses the contrasting elements of the jota and the malagueña in a colourfully orchestrated work.

Manuel de Falla, born in Cádiz in 1876, was the leading Spanish composer of his generation, writing music that captured the essence of all that was Spanish, while proving acceptable internationally. His ballet The Three-Cornered Hat, originally a pantomime under the title El corregidor y la molinera (The Magistrate and the Miller's Wife), is based on a story by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón. The plot concerns the jealousy of the miller, whose attractive wife has been subjected to the attentions of the elderly Corregidor. The ballet was first staged in London in 1919 by Dyagilev's Ballets russes, with décor by Picasso and choreography by Leonid Massin. The excerpts included here start with the Fandango for the miller's wife, followed by a Segnidillas for the neighbours, a Farruca for the miller and a final Jota.

Manuel de Falla's opera La vida breve (‘Short Life’) was completed in 1905, before the composer left Spain for Paris, and was first staged in Nice in 1913, a year before de Falla's return to Spain. Its plot concerns the betrayal of the gypsy girl Salud by her lover Paco, who marries a girl of richer background. Salud, appearing with a companion to dance for Paco and Carmela's wedding­-guests, falls down dead, as she moves forward to accuse Paco. An Interlude marks night-fall, leading to the well known Spanish Dance of the wedding-­guests, familiar from arrangement after arrangement.

El amor brujo (‘Love the Magician’), staged in Madrid in 1915, made full use of the traditions Spanish gypsy music. It tells the story of a gypsy girl Candelas, haunted by the spirit of her dead lover, which she summons up in her ritual fire dance, in the original version the Dance of the End of the Day.

A dominant figure in French opera towards the end of the nineteenth century, Jules Massenet based his opera Le Cid on the play on the subject of the Spanish hero by Corneille. The opera was first staged at the Paris Opéra in 1885. The Spanish dances on which much of the present reputation of Massenet's opera depends come in the first scene of the second act, a contrast to the tragic events that have taken place. At the heart of the drama is the conflict in the heart of Chiméne, whose lover Don Rodrigue, El Cid, has killed her father. Massenet offers, in his ballet scene, a series of characteristic dances.

Composers in the newly developed Russian nationalist tradition also had recourse, as Glinka had done, to the exotic, whether to bordering countries, to the ethnic minorities of the Russian Empire or to remoter Spain. Rimsky­-Korsakov's famous Capriccio espagnol began as a Fantasia on Spanish Themes, for violin and orchestra, and was eventually completed in its present form in 1887. The work won immediate acclaim, above all for the brilliance of its orchestration, an achievement from which the composer drew great satisfaction.

The French composer Maurice Ravel was the son of a Swiss father and of a mother from the Basque country. He was familiar from childhood with Spanish culture and language and had occasion to make use of this element in his background in a number of compositions. Boléro, which he himself described as an orchestrated crescendo, was written for Ida Rubinstein, whose ballet troupe staged it in 1928, with choreography by Nijinska. Its two thematic elements are linked by the continuing percussion rhythm that gives the work its hypnotic fascination.

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