About this Recording
8.570192 - SARASATE, P. de: Violin and Piano Music, Vol. 2 (Tianwa Yang, Hadulla)
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Pablo Sarasate (1844-1908)
Music for Violin and Piano, Vol. 2


The great Spanish violinist Pablo Sarasate was born in Pamplona in 1844, the son of a military bandmaster. After study in Madrid with Manuel Rodríguez Sáez, a pupil of Jules Armingaud, the leader of the quartet of which Edouard Lalo was a member, he entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of twelve, with the aid of a scholarship from Queen Isabella and the Province of Navarre. Here he became a pupil of Jean-Delphin Alard and also embarked on the study of composition. He won first prize for violin in 1857 and the following year for solfège, and in 1859 for harmony as a pupil of Henri Reber. By the age of fifteen, however, Sarasate had launched himself on a concert career, at first winning a reputation in Spain and France, before more extended tours to North and South America and throughout the rest of Europe. Composers who wrote for him included Saint-Saëns, Bruch, Lalo, Wieniawski and Dvořák, and he remained distinguished for the purity and beauty of his tone, perfection of technique and musical command. He refused, however, to play Brahms's Violin Concerto, claiming that the only proper melody in the work was given to the oboe. His playing was in contrast to that of his older contemporary Joseph Joachim, who represented a more characteristically German attitude to performance.

For his own use Sarasate wrote a number of works for violin and piano or violin and orchestra, including, as might be expected, compositions based on Spanish themes and rhythms. Following the common practice of his time, he also wrote concert fantasies based on themes from popular operas of the day, of which the best known remains his Carmen Fantasy.

The great violinist Carl Flesch described Sarasate's music as 'like a fresh, rosy-cheeked peasant girl'. It is music of infinite charm and elegance. There is also the element of passion and virtuosity, and at times, great imagination. As a composer, Sarasate was prolific. His works can be divided into five general groups. The first group contains compositions in the folk idiom, the second consists of opera fantasies, the third group are 'original' compositions and the fourth group are some excellent transcriptions, with the last group consisting of a few cadenzas to violin concertos.

Opera was the most popular form of entertainment during the nineteenth century. In order to capitalise on this, instrumental composers vied with each other to write the most brilliant opera fantasies. They chose the tunes, and let their imagination take flight. Some composers were content merely to select tunes and connect them with some sauce. Others, like Franz Liszt, plumbed the depths with musical psychoanalysis, as in Réminiscences de Norma. In all, there was ample room for brilliant virtuoso display. Sarasate turned early and often to the medium of the opera fantasy. In his formative years, his repertoire was almost exclusively "operatic". The well-worn fantasies of his teacher, Delphin Alard, are proof positive. From his earliest callow attempts to the works of his mature genius, Sarasate was truly the most successful violinist of all time. He certainly made more money than any other violinist.

Let us briefly examine the variety and breadth of his creations based on other people's music. The listener will quickly discover how fast Sarasate mastered his craft – to the delight of his worldwide audiences.

[1] Homenaje a Rossini, Op. 2, was written in conjunction with Sarasate's classmate and friend Louis Diémer. Sarasate was a frequent guest at the famous soirées of Rossini. The great Italian composer was delighted with the young Sarasate. This early work is in the pastiche form of opera fantasy. The themes are from Il barbiere di Siviglia, Moïse, and Otello. Because of Diémer, the piano part is outstanding. This is party music at its best, charming but inconsequential. The title declares its raison d'être.

[2] Souvenir de Domont, Op. 8, a valse de salon, calls upon the violinist to play with the greatest of élan. Here Sarasate demonstrates his most famous attributes. The listener is urged to compare the stretto finale with some of Sarasate's Jotas.

[3] The Fantaisie de concert sur Martha, Op. 19, on the opera by Flotow, begins with a dramatic introduction recalling Liszt's Réminiscences de Norma. The introduction is more orchestral than pianistic. Sarasate wisely uses the famous tenor aria 'M'apparì' as his central theme. The variations are sublimely elegant. The variation in harmonics is unique for Sarasate as it recalls the writing of Paganini. In all, this is a delightful masterpiece.

[4] The Gavota de Mignon, Op. 16, on the opera by Ambrose Thomas was one of Sarasate's most famous compositions. It is prime Sarasate. At every turn, the violinist is called upon to sing in the most bel canto manner. The finale is breathtakingly elegant.

[5] Mélodie roumaine, Op. 47, is based on two panpipe tunes from Transylvania. The arrangement is bewitching. Listen to this piece with the lights turned dim and prepare yourself for a magical experience. There is one very humorous anecdote relating to Sarasate's character while he was in Rumania and was being entertained by the Queen. She engaged the finest Rumanian gypsy orchestra to play for Sarasate. The Queen, who was very proud of the ensemble, asked Sarasate his opinion. His reply was succinct and ruthlessly indifferent. He said simply: "It was pretty bad".

[6] Mosaïque de Zampa, Op. 15, on the opera by Hérold, is a most clever title. The opera itself is based on a rather ludicrous story. Sarasate, however, manages to keep the selections serious.

[7] Sarasate was extremely popular in Tsarist Russia. My father, who was in Odessa at the time, told me that Sarasate's death was quite the topic of conversation in that city. So great was his popularity, that, in his heyday, he played solos during the intermissions at the opera. Moscovienne, Op. 12, is a fabulous concert piece and has been unduly neglected.

[8] The Fantaisie de concert sur La forza del destino is an early work and finds Sarasate writing more in the style of his teacher Delphin Alard. The patented elegant virtuosity of Sarasate was to come soon after. Nonetheless, all his themes flow seamlessly and easily.

The second volume of this Sarasate overview presents history's most successful violinist in hitherto unknown repertoire. Always at the forefront are singing melodies, virtuosity at its most elegant, complete artistic balance in composition and tasteful accompaniment. It is no wonder that the greatest of all Spanish musicians was so popular.

Joseph Gold


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