Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34 – Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
- Alborada – festive, exciting Asturian dance to celebrate sunrise + new day
- Variazioni – lyrical melody in the horn section imitated throughout
- Alborada – a repeat of the first movement but in a different key and orchestration
- Scena e canto Gitano (Scene and Gypsy song) –five unique solo cadenzas over percussion rolls followed by a Sevillana/Seguidilla that flows into:
- Fandango Asturiano – energetic dance from the Asturia region ending with a restatement of the Alborada
What better way to begin a program than with a dance that is traditionally played to celebrate the sunrise and the start of the new day! Each movement in this five movement masterpiece is a relatively short vignette of a particular piece of Spanish culture or music unique in character, and all are played straight through without pause. Praised by critics for its unique usage of advanced playing techniques and percussion instruments, the composer himself even said of the piece once: “…the Spanish themes, of dance character, furnished me with rich material for putting in use multiform orchestral effects.” This thematic material was certainly inspired by the growing interest in Spanish “exotic” culture in the musical world – just 12 years before Capriccio Espagnol premiered, Bizet’s opera “Carmen” opened in Paris. It prominently featured many Spanish dances and musical forms, and was just one example of late 19th century experimentations in “Orientalism” and “exoticism” that changed the musical landscape.
What to Listen For:
- Percussion – Rimsky-Korsakov makes brilliant usage of many percussion instruments in this piece. They prominently feature in the instrumental cadenzas of the 4th movement, and each also add distinct character to the dances they are associated with, i.e. castanets in the fandango, tambourine in the alborada.
- Rhythms – Many times in this piece cross-rhythms exist. Mvt. 4 is in 6/8, but some parts of it go into 3/4 time while the 6/8 meter is still going. This is a very popular characteristic of Seguidilla and Sevillana forms of dance; the cross-rhythms create unique accents and stress points.
- The influence of the guitar – often times in this piece, the string instruments are asked to either play in the style of the guitar with their hands, literally “quasi guitara,” or they have little motives that sound like chords being strummed on a guitar.
Dance Forms You Will Hear: Mvmt. 1 + 3: Alborada; Mvmt. 4: Sevillana, Seguidilla, Flamenco; Mvmt. 5: Fandango
Blue Tango – Leroy Anderson (1908-1975)
At the height of his musical career in the mid-1930s, Leroy Anderson began arranging pieces for Arthur Fiedler’s Boston Pops Orchestra. Fielder later encouraged him to write his own compositions for the Pops, which resulted in over 50 new pieces! All unique in quality and character, they helped define the sound of the American pops orchestra, with famous pieces such as “Sleigh Ride,” “The Syncopated Clock,” “The Typewriter,” and tonight’s piece “Blue Tango.” Anderson’s tribute to the blues and the tango was a #1 hit in 1951, putting a charismatic and charming melody over a traditional tango rhythm with blues figures and chord progressions throughout.
Dance Forms You Will Hear: Tango
An der schönen blauen Donau (On the Blue Danube), Op. 314 – Johann Strauss II (1825-1899)
Johann Strauss II’s famous 1867 waltz originally premiered as a choral-orchestral piece with text that invoked images of castles, mermaids, loving couples, and most importantly, Austrian national courage. It was not well received. The text that Strauss hoped would become a point of national pride following their defeat in the 1866 Seven Weeks War with Prussia actually made it seem comical and ironic. Unsurprisingly then, once the orchestral version premiered it was an immediate success and grew in popularity and importance. In fact, it became so esteemed that when Johannes Brahms was asked to sign an autograph for a Strauss family member, he quickly sketched out the opening measures of Strauss’ waltz and underneath it wrote “unfortunately, not by Johannes Brahms.” Today, Strauss’ Blue Danube has become a yearly tradition at the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s concerts, and is featured on countless programs around the world.
What to Listen For: The Blue Danube waltz is in five sections each with an introduction of varying length. Each of these has a different form, character, and orchestration, which means the waltz is constantly changing and evolving. More importantly, the entire piece is highly reflective of “Viennese style,” with the pulse being stretched in certain places, sudden shifts in dynamics and tempos, and early placement of the second beat in each measure of a slower, lyrical section. After the fifth section is a Coda section which highlights the main themes of the preceding sections, ending with the first section’s most recognizable melody before racing towards the end of the piece in a thrilling finish!
Dance Forms You Will Hear: Viennese Waltz
Music from “The Lord of the Dance” – Ronan Hardiman (1961 – ), arr. Larry Moore
Irish composer Ronan Hardiman studied classical piano as a child, and at age thirteen became fascinated with rock music. Unable to make a career in music, he worked in a bank for twelve years before returning to music. Hardiman’s hit CD The Lord of the Dance has sold more than 1.5 million copies since its release in 1996. Its Irish flavor provided the soundtrack for Michael Flatley’s acclaimed dance extravaganza of the same name. It was awarded the title “Best Traditional Album” of 1997 by the Irish Recorded Music Association.
What to Listen For: Shortly after the piece begins, a unique instrument finds its way into the orchestra – the pennywhistle. It won’t be playing the theme from “Titanic.” Rather, the main theme of Hardiman’s “Lord of the Dance,” the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts that Aaron Copland also used in his “Variations on a Shaker Melody.” The piece then transitions into a traditional “Slip Jig” in triple meter featuring the percussion section’s unique textures of congas and hand drums, and the flute/other woodwinds pitch-bending, elongation of certain notes and grace notes. Finally, once the piece transitions into the final section in 4/4, it is now an energetic Irish “reel” with traditional Irish-style fiddle playing.
Dance Forms You Will Hear: Two forms of Irish Stepdance: Slip Jig, Irish Reel
Symphonic Dances from “Fiddler on the Roof” – Jerry Bock (1928-2010), arr. Ira Hearshen
Including: Tradition, Wedding Dance #1 (Bottle Dance), Perchik and Hodel Dance, Chava Sequence, To Life
Although this unique medley does not include many of the famous numbers from the show, such as “If I Were a Rich Man,” “Sunrise, Sunset,” or “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” it does showcase the variety and importance of folk dances in the show. As the musical is about the customs and lives of a small Jewish town in Imperial Russia, the show includes both traditional Jewish and Russian cultural dances. Ira Hearshen’s unique arrangement fuses many so-called “dance breaks” into one orchestral medley that is a fitting tribute to the show’s enduring charm.
What to Listen For: A lot of the music in the show is based on a certain mode in music known as “Phrygian.” It is easily identifiable in its use of melodic intervals, and is most often associated with Klezmer music with a strong influence of the clarinet. Listen for the clarinet solo in the beginning of the “Bottle Dance” to recognize this Phrygian mode. This section transitions into a quick polka (“Perchik and Hodel’s Dance”) and is a complete change of character. Unsurprisingly in the show, Perchik admits to Hodel that he “learned this dance in Kiev!” where the polka would have been quite popular at the time. After the polka, the music takes a dramatic turn with the “Chava Sequence.” After the final transition we are dancing along to a variation of a traditional Hopak (Gopak) in “To Life.” This traditional dance from the Ukraine is known for its distinctive acrobatic male dance steps.
Dance Forms You Will Hear: Wedding Bottle Dance, Polka, Hopak, Ballet
Pavane, Op. 50 – Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Originally a piece for solo piano, today Fauré’s “Pavane” is known for its orchestral identity (with optional chorus). The name of the piece itself is a type of dance that Fauré based his composition on. The roots of the Pavane are somewhat debatable, with some historians saying it originated in the court of the Italian city of Padua during the Renaissance (then called the “danza Padovana”). Others maintain it is most well known for being a slow Spanish court dance (Pavón = peacock in Spanish), but one does not preclude the other. Although the dance was famous in Spanish courts for its dignified and elegant style, with the male displaying exuberant gestures of affection (in today’s terms, “peacocking”), it almost certainly has its roots in Italy in Padua.
What to Listen For: Fauré’s Pavane ebbs and flows from a series of harmonic and melodic climaxes, conjuring up an elegance associated with the French courts. His harmonic language was incredibly modern for the time, and innovative in its use of the 9th and 11th scale degrees. The middle section of the piece – identified by its loud and present chords with sweeping runs over the top – are most associated with the image of the grand gestures that males would perform during this dance.
Dance Forms You Will Hear: Pavane
Polovtsian Dances, from “Prince Igor” – Aleksandr Borodin (1833-1887)
The “Polovtsian Dances,” as they are commonly known today, are actually the Finale to Act 2 of Aleksandr Borodin’s 1890 opera “Prince Igor.” It is the scene after which the Polovtsian Khan Konchak captures the title character during battle. The Russian name “Polovtsy” refers to the Cuman/Kipchak people from the region that today would occupy Turkey, Kazakhstan, and other portions of the surrounding areas. Although one of the Khan’s prisoners, Igor is treated as a guest due to his rank and title, and the two lament about how they were not born to be allies. The Khan summons the court, captured prisoners and other servants to entertain Igor and his closest officers. What follows next is the Polovtsian Dances scene. It is one of the brightest moments of “Prince Igor,” which was actually completed by other composers after Borodin’s death in 1887 before its 1890 premiere. The opera premiered as a nationalistic success due to its content matter, and has maintained that status ever since. Today, the full opera maintains a presence on the global opera stage, but orchestras around the world perform the Polovtsian Dances as a stand-alone showpiece.
What to Listen For: This piece is a beautifully written set of contrasting sections. We start with a depiction of the captured Russian soldiers/families as they sing of their homeland – a heartbreaking melody shifts between different solo instruments before being taken up by the whole orchestra. Suddenly, the texture changes into a Hopak! The Khan’s servants and staff try to entertain the captured Prince Igor and his officers. It is a brisk, lively dance featuring a big clarinet solo that represents the Eastern folk roots of this dance. The piece then shifts to a grand moment – the glorification of the ruling Khan by all of his court and servants! It is ushered in by the timpani that establishes the main rhythmic material. A variation on a mazurka with strong accents on the second beat, the use of chromatic notes, step-wise motion and brassy textures are a direct representation of the “Polovtsians” by Borodin – every time they appear in the opera, they are accompanied by this style of composition. It is quite different from the opening homophonic melody. Once the glorification of the Khan is complete, we dive into an extremely energetic Cossack’s dance known as the “dance of the men.” It is very similar in style to a Gopak with acrobatic leaps and large movements, but is now in a different meter and has more of a militaristic quality to it. Once this theme is established, Borodin begins to combine all of the previous themes together to form an incredibly rich mix of sonorities and rhythms through the end of the piece. Can you hear the Cossack’s dance over the top of the return of the initial theme? How about the Hopak later? The piece continues to build and get more energetic, leading to an incredible finale!
Dance Forms You Will Hear: Hopak, Mazurka (variation), Cossack Dance, Ballet