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Notes by Bill Pearce

Emperor’s Fanfare Antonio Soler (1729 – 1783)

The Spanish composer Antonio Soler is usually referred to today as “Padre Antonio Soler” because he took holy orders at the age of 23. This was not so unusual in the 18th century, when a substantial amount of music being composed was associated with religious occasions (Vivaldi comes to mind), and even Liszt, one of the great 19th century composers did this, although considerably later in his life. Soler’s life was not wholly dedicated to religious activities, however, as he was also a mathematician and inventor. His best-known works today are his keyboard (harpsichord) sonatas and his Six Concertos for Two Organs. This fanfare appears in the 6th of these concertos.

Overture to “The Barber of Seville” Gioacchino Rossini (1792 – 1868)

Rossini is one of the great figures of early nineteenth century Italian opera, though he had completed all of his thirty-five operas by 1829. During the next thirty-nine years he enjoyed great popular fame and acclaim and composed some sacred vocal music but no more operas. Though a number of his operas are cast in the traditional “opera seria” form, that is a tragedy based on classical, historical or mythological themes, it was “opera buffa” in which Rossini excelled. This form is sometimes loosely referred to as “comic opera” in contrast with the tragedies, but the term does not do justice to Rossini’s masterful sense of musical characterization. A comparison with Shakespeare’s comedies, which are rich tapestries of human life and foibles, is not inappropriate.

“The Barber of Seville” (1816) is probably Rossini’s masterpiece in this style. The overture displays his characteristic rhythmic vitality and skillful writing for the orchestra, particularly the woodwinds, but really has nothing to do with the rest of the opera. In accord with the fairly common practice at the time, Rossini borrowed this overture from an earlier opera seria, “Aurelino in Palmira,” which he had composed three years earlier. The only connection with Spain is that Seville, where the opera takes place, is located in southwestern Spain.

Concierto de Aranjuez Joaquin Rodrigo (1901 – 1999)

The “Concierto de Aranjuez” for guitar and orchestra, written in 1939, is the best-known work of the 20th Century Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo. Blind from the age of three as a result of diphtheria, Rodrigo enjoyed early success as a composer, receiving a number of grants and honors which enabled him to study with Paul Dukas, among others.
During the 1930’s he lived and studied in Paris and Germany, returning to Madrid after the Spanish Civil War in 1939.

The highly successful premiere of the “Concierto de Aranjuez” given in Barcelona on November 9, 1940, assured Rodrigo’s status as one of the leading Spanish composers of his era. The name of this work is taken from the town of Aranjuez, located about 30 miles south of Madrid, where for several centuries, starting in the 1700’s, the kings of Spain maintained splendid palaces for summer residence purposes.

Although he wrote a substantial number of other works, they are not well known outside of Spain, with the exception of the “Fantasia para un gentilhombre,” composed in 1954 for the great Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia, and certain of his pieces for solo guitar. Rodrigo’s music is influenced both by French music, in particular by the works
of his teacher Dukas, and also by such Spanish Nationalist composers as his friend and contemporary Manuel de Falla. Contrary to the Nationalists’ approach of seeking to enter into and assimilate the spirit and style of native Spanish folk music, however, Rodrigo worked to create a Spanish ambience, using the folk music background more as an element of musical color than actually trying to assimilate it in an organic way. As far as the significance of the role of “inspiration” in the creation of an artistic work, Rodrigo has perhaps said it best himself: “The greatest source of inspiration is hard work. Of course, I also believe in inspiration itself, but sometimes you have to provoke it, call on it repeatedly, even though it may take a while.” Although his influence on Spanish music was considerable during the 1940’s, it was a somewhat transitory phenomenon and he has had no direct disciples or followers.

The Three Cornered Hat Manuel de Falla (1876 – 1946)

Manuel de Falla’s score for the ballet “El Sombrero de tres picos” (“The Three-Cornered Hat”), based on a story by the 19th Century Spanish poet Pedro Antonio de Alarcon, was commissioned by the great Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev, after hearing a performance of the Spanish composer’s music in Barcelona in 1917. The premiere was given by Diaghilev’s company in London in 1919, starring the legendary Leonide Massine and Tamara Karsavina, with sets by Picasso, and the music has been one of Falla’s most popular works ever since. The dances are cast in various traditional forms, such as the seguidilla, an ancient Spanish dance in triple time, usually with castanet accompaniment, that is probably of Moorish origin. The best-known seguidilla is probably the famous one in Act I of Bizet’s “Carmen.” Other dance forms that occur in the ballet are the “farruca,” an Andalusian dance of gypsy origin, the “fandango,” an 18th Century Spanish dance in moderate triple time, and the “jota,” another Spanish dance form in rapid triple time originating, in the northern part of the country.

The action of the ballet revolves around the attempted seduction of a village miller’s young and beautiful wife by the local governor. When she teases him by continuing to hold a bunch of grapes just out of his reach, he finally lunges for them and trips, making a public fool out of himself and storming off in a rage. He decides to have his guards arrest the miller so that he can have free access to the wife. When he seeks to embrace her in the dark outside the miller’s house, he slips and falls into the river. In a typical mix-up reminiscent of a comic opera, the governor ends up in the miller’s clothes and the miller, having escaped from prison, ends up in the governor’s clothes. When the guards arrive on the scene again, they, of course, arrest the wrong man, and the governor ends up disgraced and humiliated, to the great mirth of the village populace.

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