About this Recording
8.573264 - GRANADOS, E.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2 - Dante / La nit del mort / Goyescas: Intermezzo (Barcelona Symphony, González)
English  Spanish 

Enrique Granados (1867–1916)
Orchestral Works • 2

 

To mark the centenary of Granados’s death in March 1916, Naxos has joined forces with the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya and Pablo González to make a series of recordings of the composer’s orchestral music. This second volume brings together a selection of works that vary widely in style and character, from the intense drama of the famous Intermezzo from Goyescas and the reworking of gypsy and Andalusian music in the two dances, to the Modernism of La nit del mort and the Wagnerian influences discernible in the symphonic poem Dante, one of the masterpieces of early twentieth-century Spanish orchestral music.

“In Goyescas, rhythm, colour, a portrait of quintessentially Spanish life and a sense of emotion that leaps from the amorous to the passionate, the dramatic or even the tragic, all mingle together, just as in Goya’s works you find aspects of both love and tragedy, and both quarrels and flirtations.” This is Granados’s own description of his Goya-inspired opera, which grew out of the original Goyescas, a suite for solo piano he composed in 1910. The opera dates from 1915 and is still one of the few Spanish works in the genre to have achieved success on an international level, thanks largely to the fresh feel of its eighteenth-century-style melodies and the composer’s own prestige, and not to the undistinguished Valencian writer Fernando Periquet’s clichéd and badly constructed libretto.

Cast in one act and three scenes, Goyescas includes an orchestral intermezzo which is both Granados’s most popular work and one of the best-known pieces in all Spanish music. Barely five minutes long, it is a work of intense lyricism, with a direct, heart-on-sleeve melodic appeal. It was composed in a single night, just days before the world première of the opera at the “old Met” in New York, on 28th January 1916, where it formed half of a double bill with Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. Granados wrote the Intermezzo to accommodate a longer than planned scene change between Scenes 1 and 2; very soon, however, it acquired a life of its own, and over the years it has been arranged and adapted many times for a wide range of instrumental combinations.

A few days after the New York première of Goyescas, another Granados work also received its first performance, at the city’s Maxine Elliott Theatre, as part of an evening of dance given by flamenco artist Antonia Mercé, known as “La Argentina” (1890–1936). Danza de los ojos verdes (Dance of the green eyes—a title with pre-echoes of the poetry of Lorca) was written for and dedicated to Mercé. A conventional piece of writing, it does not stray beyond the nineteenth-century gypsy-tinged orientalism that so marked—and restricted—Spanish music in particular at this time. The dance opens with an introduction based on a pizzicato passage for strings reminiscent of the Scherzo of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. Melodic and unpretentious, the piece is enlivened by the use of tambourine and castanets and the inclusion of flamenco-style augmented intervals. The Danza’s lively rhythms and festive atmosphere seem to evoke the gypsy celebrations held in the Sacromonte district of Granada. Or, at a distant remove, the considerably more ambitious dances in Strauss’s Salome.

The Danza gitana (Gypsy Dance) is similar in feel to the Danza de los ojos verdes. Dating from the spring of 1915, it was dedicated to another dancer, Tórtola Valencia (1882–1955), one of the most attractive and enigmatic artists in early twentieth-century Spain. The score, whose opening is marked “Allegretto rítmico, con nobleza y donaire” (Rhythmical Allegretto, with nobility and grace), was conceived for sizeable orchestral forces, thereby limiting its opportunities for performance.

The symphonic poem La nit del mort (Night of the dead man) was written in 1897, making it one of the first of Granados’s mature works—the composer was thirty by this time, and the work is steeped in the Modernism that was so influential on Catalan music at that time. Written for tenor, chorus and large orchestra, this evanescent piece, influenced by Franck and Debussy, is headed “Very slowly, with great calm”. However, the initial serenity soon takes on an a certain epic quality, and the orchestration becomes grandiloquent and bombastic, within an unmistakably descriptive and sombre ambience, reflecting Granados’s subtitle, “poem of desolation”.

Dante is the most ambitious and substantial of the works on this album. Far removed from the superficial Hispanic elements of the two dances, it is, as Carol A. Hess has pointed out, a vast and sombre work with little hint of the traditional images of a lively, sunlit Spain. It was premièred in June 1908 at Barcelona’s newly built Palau de la Música Catalana, inaugurated just a few months earlier, and soon gained widespread popularity. Granados went on to make a series of revisions to the score, and before long the definitive version was gaining ground outside Spain as well: on 9th September 1914 it was given in London by the Queen’s Hall Orchestra under the baton of Sir Henry Wood, and it was also performed twice the following year, on 5th and 6th September, by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and their music director, Frederick Stock, with a very young Sophie Braslau as the contralto soloist. American critics praised the new work, calling it a “revelation”, and comparing it favourably with Elgar’s very successful Symphony No. 1, also written in 1908.

Dante focuses on two episodes from The Divine Comedy, although Granados said his original inspiration had come from the work of artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, as well as from the Italian poet’s life and work. He added, “When writing Dante, it wasn’t my intention to mirror The Divine Comedy line by line, but to give my impression of a life and a work: the lives of Dante and Beatrice and The Divine Comedy are, for me, one and the same thing.” Dante is a large-scale, narrative symphonic poem in two parts, the second of which includes a vocal line for mezzo-soprano. Although it was originally intended to be four-part work, only the first two movements were ever completed: Dante e Virgilio and Paolo e Francesca, the latter based on Canto V of The Divine Comedy. A third movement, La laguna Estigia (The Stygian Lake), survives in sketch form only.

The score’s imposing orchestration steers away from nationalist Spanish elements—instead, the influences of Franck, Fauré and, in particular, Wagner, can be heard, the latter notably in the sustained chromatic writing that adds a mysterious, Tristan-esque colouring to certain passages. Despite the success it achieved in the years immediately following its première a century ago, Granados’s Dante then fell inexplicably into neglect. As one of the most significant Spanish orchestral works of its time, it fully deserves to be revived by today’s performers and programmers.

© Justo Romero
English translation: Susannah Howe


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