7:30pm Mansfield Theater
Journey to Mexico and Spain through Copland’s El Salon Mexico and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol, both inspired by folk music and dance. Buenaventura’s Lakambini takes us to the Philippines with our own principal flutist,
Why You Shouldn't Miss It
Our February concert brings some much-needed warm weather: favorite travel destinations brought out some of Aaron Copland's and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's most brilliant orchestral writing.
Norman Menzales, the Great Falls Symphony's own principal flutist, honors his Filipino heritage with his flute adaptation of Alfredo Buenaventura's Lakambini concerto.
El Salon Mexico
Aaron Copland | 1900 – 1990
As we pointed out in a 2019 GFSA program note, “Copland’s musical style has become almost synonymous with America.”
But reaching this iconic status took time–while by no means unsuccessful earlier, he would be into his 40s before becoming a household name. Again, from 2019:
Copland would spend much of his 20s and 30s piecing together a career at various schools, journals, and concert series in New York. It would be a set of three ballets [Billy the Kid, Rodeo, Appalachian Spring] written in quick succession that made Copland’s name, eventually proving to be among his most popular and enduring compositions.
El Salón México comes from Copland’s
pre-fame days, after his return to the US in
1924 from his studies in Paris with esteemed
and prolific pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. The program from the GFSA’s 1979 performance
of the work provides more context:
Aaron Copland ranks as one of the most distinguished of modern American composers. [Note the present tense–Copland died in 1990.] During the 1920s and 1930s, he was in the vanguard of modern music. Because of his intimacy with the most recent trends in music his early compositions were mostly in the jazz idiom. Yet, as the 1920s passed, he felt he had exhausted the possibilities of jazz as a medium for large scale orchestral works.
His style had become austere and esoteric. Reorienting his views he wrote, “I felt that it was worth the effort to see if I couldn’t say what I had to say in the simplest possible terms.”
El Salón México received its initial inspiration from a trip to Mexico City in 1932. Fellow composer Carlos Chávez brought him to a club called El Salón México which Copland’s tourist guidebook described as a “Harlem-type nightclub for the people, grand Cuban orchestra. Three halls: one for people dressed in your way, one for people dressed in overalls but shod, and one for the barefoot.” (The club would stay open until 1960.) The dance hall stayed in Copland’s imagination for years, and he developed the piece that would become El Salón México up through 1936. The melodic material is based on four Mexican folk songs, in particular “El palo verde.” Other tourists will pull out their snapshots to show you what a country looks like, but a composer wants you to know what a country sounds like.
El Salón México premiered in Mexico City in
1937 with Chávez conducting and has been performed and recorded countless times since.
From the 1979 note:
A new Copland style emerged in El Salón México, in which he exhibited precision and lucidity and was not fearful of using catchy melodies and rhythms. The bulk of the score consists of Mexican folk music which Copland puts together like beads on a string. The whole composition pants with excitement and vitality.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov | 1732 – 1809
Scena e canto gitano
A Cliffs Notes version of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s biography will tell you two basic facts: 1) He was a member of the 19th-century Russian nationalist group of composers called the Big Five, and 2) he was a master of orchestration.
Given that he literally wrote the book on the subject (Principles of Orchestration; 1913), the latter statement is undoubtedly true, and Rimsky’s ability to write satisfying parts for orchestral instruments has certainly contributed to the popularity of works like Capriccio espagnol –this is the GFSA’s fifth performance of the work.
But one gets the sense that Rimsky took offense to being typecast as an orchestrator. Some insecurity may have come from his non-musical upbringing. From our 1980 program:
In our age, musical genius is recognized. [Debatable–ed.] Today, many musicians
and composers are well paid and socially acceptable; [Even more debatable –ed.] however, in nineteenth-century Russia,
music was not considered a suitable career
for a member of the aristocracy. Thus,
Rimsky, scion of a prominent and wealthy aristocratic family, followed tradition and entered the Imperial Navy.
Unfortunately, seawater and sixteenth notes did not mix. His responsibilities as a naval officer demanded most of his time. In the 1860s, he traveled to London, New York, Rio de Janeiro, and Cadiz. By the mid-1870s, he began to study music seriously, In 1871, despite no formal musical training, he was appointed Professor of Practical Composition and Instrumentation at the St. Petersburg Conservatory.
Trained or not, his decades as a professor would help him hone his skills. According to his memoir, in 1887 Rimsky “took into [his] head to write a virtuoso piece for violin and orchestra, this time on Spanish themes. However, after making a sketch of it [he] gave up that idea and decided instead to compose an orchestral piece with virtuoso instrumentation. [It] was to glitter with dazzling colors.”
Our 1997 program declared this effort a success: “Rimsky loved orchestral color and used it with the virtuosity of a great painter whose native gift has been strengthened and refined by years of patient analysis and study.” And Tchaikovsky agreed: “Your Spanish Caprice is a colossal masterpiece of instrumentation, and you may regard yourself as the greatest master of the present day.”
But Rimsky objected to this narrow if effusive praise:
“The opinion reached by both critics and the public, that the Capriccio is a magnificently orchestrated piece, is wrong. The Capriccio is a brilliant composition for orchestra. The change of timbres, the felicitous choice of melodic designs and figuration patterns, exactly suiting each kind of instrument, brief virtuoso cadenzas for instruments solo, the rhythm of the percussion instruments, etc., constitute here the very essence of the composition and not its garb or orchestration.”
But he couldn’t have objected to the work’s enthusiastic reception, with the audience demanding an encore of the entire piece at the premiere in St. Petersburg on October 31, 1887. Our 1980 note describes the piece thusly:
The five movements of the Capriccio are played without pause. The first is an Alborada (a morning song) with two principal themes in the orchestra, followed by the “Variations” movement, with five variations on a theme.
A solo flute reintroduces the Alborada for the third movement, although in a different key and with different orchestral treatment. The fourth movement is called “Scene and Gypsy Song,” and increases in intensity and frenzy and comes to a whirlwind climax. The final movement, “Fandango Asturiano,” is a dance that rises in fury to maddening abandon: at the peak of its excitement the music suddenly changes to the warm incandescence of the first movement and ends.
Program notes by Grant Harville
Violin Concerto "Lakambini"
ADAPTED FOR FLUTE
Alfredo Buenaventura | b. 1938
Musicondalla OPC and Musicondalla Music Publishing – Philippines
Adapted for flute by Norman Menzales
Like many composers, Alfredo Buenaventura studied music from a young age, focusing on piano and singing, particularly Gregorian chant. But few can claim that they were professional church organists and band conductors at age 13, two positions which Buenaventura took on during World War II in his home province of Bulacan in the Philippines.
After completing studies in many musical fields, including composition, conducting, organ, and sacred music, he firmly established himself as a leading figure in Filipino classical music, ultimately receiving many of that country’s most prestigious musical awards. As organist at the Manila Cathedral–the cathedral for the capital city of the country with the third-largest Catholic population in the world–he had a claim to being one of the most important musicians in the Catholic world, and he represented the Philippines at the International Congress of Sacred Music in 1961.
As student and professor, Buenaventura resisted specialization, and as a composer he has produced works in many classical genres, including five operas. Many of his works employ Filipino themes.
Despite its relatively recent date of 1982, the concerto may remind listeners of the tuneful Romantic-era concertos of Saint-Saens.
Buenaventura himself said, "The compositions
of Chopin, Puccini, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, and some Filipino composers are influential in my compositional style.”
The Violin Concerto was world premiered by Carmencita Lozada, a Filipina international concert violinist, based in Europe.
Alfredo Buenaventura wrote the following in correspondence with our soloist, Norman Menzales, who adapted the piece for flute:
...This concerto was commissioned by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) for exclusive use and distribution to all conservatories of music, public schools and for the listening pleasure of the Filipino people. Unfortunately the primary purpose was defeated because the concerto was PIRATED by a foreign recording company for international marketing. The CASE was settled amicably.
My inspiration for writing this concerto is the coming into this world (birth) of my first grandaughter and the honor of being commissioned by CCP for a very noble purpose. The title “Lakambini,” which means MUSE, is a fitting word for her, thus the use of traditional form and idiom were applied.
The first movement may be described as firm, noble, elegant, determined, etc. The second is a display of melancholic emotions. The third movement is joyful and triumphant. Unlike other Rondos, it differs by having a slow movement in the middle.