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8.557631 - GURIDI: Sinfonia Pirenaica
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Jesús Guridi (1886-1961):
Sinfonía pirenaica • Espatadantza from ‘Amaya’

Jesús Guridi was born in Vitoria in 1886, and began his musical training in Bilbao. He left Spain to continue his studies in Paris, Liège and Cologne, and on his return was appointed director of the Bilbao Choral Society for whom he wrote a number of works, most notably the collections of Basque folk-songs and one of his masterpieces, Así cantan los chicos, for chorus and orchestra. The years that followed saw the first performances of his “symphonic idyll” Mirentxu, the tone poem Una aventura de Don Quijote and the epic Basque opera Amaya (1920). His zarzuela El caserío (1926) proved to be one of his greatest successes, and he followed it with other such works, including La meiga y La cautiva. He achieved international renown with the Diez melodías vascas, the Sinfonía pirenaica, the Homenaje a Walt Disney for piano and orchestra, the String Quartet in A and the Seis canciones castellanas. As well as writing many highly regarded pieces for organ, including the Tríptico del Buen Pastor, he also wrote a number of scores for stage and screen performances. Organ professor of the Madrid Conservatory for some years, Guridi was appointed its director in 1956, remaining in the post until his death in 1961.

The Pyrenean Symphony was composed in 1945 and given its premiere the following year by the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra and Jesús Arámbarri. This musical evocation of the soul of the mountains, and the danger they represent, is purely abstract and unprogrammatic, yet at times touches on the narrative style of a tone poem. Each of the symphony’s three movements is composed in a variation on sonata form. The work’s soundworld is characterised by a particular modality present in many Basque folk songs: altered thirds and sevenths in a major key. The orchestral and instrumental textures are carefully chosen for their expressive qualities; in the first movement, for example, the music stays locked in the lower register for a long time, becoming gradually more transparent as we imagine an ascent of the mountains. The work abounds in descriptive effects, portraying the infinite sounds of nature, from the light and silence of the peaks to the storms that at times rage around them.

The first movement opens with an Andante sostenuto section formed by a fragmented first theme in G major, although the key is ambiguous. This theme appears in full in the second section, Allegro molto moderato, in a chorale-like passage for the strings, before being passed between the various orchestral families, whose “voices” are grouped together like organ registers. In a way, the second theme, in D major, is a variation on the first, being similar melodically. Its harmonies are different however, and their dark, restricted nature marks the beginning of the difficult ascent towards the light at the work’s summit.

The play of different orchestral colours is central to the second movement, Presto non troppo, in which subtle tonal changes result in the most beautiful effects. There are two principal thematic ideas. The first is created by a harmonic structure built on G minor and E flat major triads, and a dance rhythm which is taken up initially by the requinto [a type of guitar] and then switches between 3/4 and 6/8 time. A passage for harp and celesta follows, preceding the second theme, which is distantly reminiscent of plainchant and is played first by muted violas then restated in a close dialogue with the cellos.

Guridi’s use of changing time signatures brings rhythmic variety to the main theme of the Allegro brioso in G major, whose opening acts as a recurrent motif throughout the movement. As in the first-movement Allegro, the second theme acts as a kind of variation of the first, retaining some of its melodic characteristics, while altering the third and seventh notes of the scale. A brilliant final apotheosis, composed with consummate skill, crowns this high point in Guridi’s career.

Guridi’s opera, Amaya, was the Basque equivalent of the attempts made in most other European countries to create a “national opera”. It is a musical reflection of increasingly nationalistic feelings in that it tells a story based on the history, mythology and literature of the Basque Country, and in so doing makes use of vigorous, typically Basque forms of popular music. Since traditional Basque music takes the form mainly of song and dance, opera is a perfectly suitably medium through which to present it.

The Espatadantza or Sword Dance, (Act II, Scene IV), is the most spectacular scene of the entire work. This is a striking, warlike dance which is always performed on great occasions involving the Basque people. The dance is written in a characteristic combination of 2/4 and 3/4 rhythms and is led, at least at the outset, by two of the most representative instruments of Basque folk music: the txistu (flute) and the tambril (side drum).

Santiago Gorostiza
(Translations: ~ and Susannah Howe)

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