Print this page

Notes on the Program
by Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Manuel de Falla

Suite No. 1 from The Three-Cornered Hat
Manuel de Falla
 (b. Cádiz, Spain, 1876; d. Alta Gracia, Argentina, 1946)

Composed in 1917 and 1919.
Premiered on July 22, 1919 in London, conducted by Ernest Ansermet.
Instrumentation: piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, celesta, piano and strings.
Duration: approximately 10 minutes.

The dazzling Parisian success of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballet Russe that began in 1909 came to a jarring halt when the Guns of August tore across Belgium and France to begin World War I in 1914. Diaghilev, Leonide Massine and some of the company took refuge in Switzerland and Spain, while Nijinsky and others fled to America. Diaghilev arranged a season in Spain for 1917, and, always on the prowl for new talent, took the opportunity to look up a musician Stravinsky had met in Paris in 1910. Stravinsky described his Spanish colleague as "even smaller than myself, and as modest and withdrawn as an oyster... unpityingly religious, and the shyest man I have ever met." His name was Manuel de Falla.

Falla, a meticulous worker who composed slowly, had completed only a small number of works by 1917 — most notably Nights in the Gardens of Spain, the opera La Vida Breve and the ballet El Amor Brujo — and was little known outside of his homeland. When Diaghilev and Massine presented themselves to him in Barcelona, he took them to see a one-act farce set in the early 19th century about the attempted seduction of a miller's wife by the local governor for which he had provided the music, El corregidor y la molinera ("The Corregidor and the Miller's Wife"). The script for this "pantomime" was by Gregorio Martinez Sierra, who based it on a short novel by Pedro de Alarcon published in 1874 as El sombrero de tres picos. Alarcon was said to have heard the story in turn from an old goatherd who hired himself out as an entertainer for local weddings and feasts. Of Falla's score, Massine wrote that it "seemed to us very exciting, and its blend of violence and passion was similar to much of the music of the local folk-dances. Both Diaghilev and I felt that the story and the music offered us the potentials of a full-length ballet." Falla accepted Diaghilev's proposal to revise and extend his score for production when the war was over, but gave the provision that he be allowed enough time to study Spanish folk music and dance styles to assure the correct atmosphere for the finished work. Diaghilev thought this a capital idea, and he, Massine, Falla and Felix Fernandez Garcia, a locally celebrated dancer who was enlisted to instruct the company in Spanish dance styles, set off for a leisurely tour of the country.

The four pilgrims visited Saragossa, Salamanca, Toledo, Seville, Cordova, Granada and many small villages, eyes and ears constantly open for material for the new ballet. Falla and Massine both collected a wealth of ideas, and snippets from several of the melodies that the composer discovered ended up in the score, including one he heard by chance from a blind man walking the streets near the Alhambra chanting tunes to the accompaniment of his battered guitar. Falla took up the ballet score again after his grand Iberian tour, added to it two dance numbers and expanded the instrumentation from the original seventeen-piece chamber scoring to full orchestra.

It was not until World War I ended that the production of The Three-Cornered Hat could be staged as part of the 1919 London season of the Ballet Russe. Diaghilev commissioned Pablo Picasso to design the decor; it was the great painter's first ballet assignment. Massine choreographed the work with the help of the Spanish dancer Felix, who was brought to London to train the company for the premiere. (Sadly, the pressures of artistic life in a big city were more than the man could bear, and he lost his reason soon after he arrived, dying in a British asylum in 1941.) The first performance, on July 22, 1919 at London's Alhambra Theater conducted by Ernest Ansermet, was a great success (Spanish dance schools sprang up all around London within weeks), and The Three-Cornered Hat was an important milestone in establishing Falla's international reputation.

The racy story of the ballet has its roots in the folk traditions of Spain. The curtain rises on the sunny esplanade beside a mill. The miller and his pretty wife are busy about their chores. A stately procession enters carrying the elderly Corregidor (the local magistrate) and his wife. The Corregidor is attracted to the miller's wife, and slips back after his retinue has left to make his advances. The wife tells her husband to hide and watch her spurn the old man's attempts at love. She dances a brilliant fandango and further tantalizes him with a bunch of grapes. He chases her, trips, and becomes aware of the teasing intrigue between husband and wife. The Corregidor departs, and the miller and his wife cheerfully resume the fandango.

Part II of the ballet takes place that evening, St. John's Night. The miller and his wife are joined in celebration by their neighbors, and together dance the popular seguidillas. The miller performs a virile farruca. The festivities are interrupted by the local constabulary, who have come to arrest the miller on a charge trumped up by the Corregidor to get him out of the way. The Corregidor appears as soon as the miller is led away, but falls into the millstream as he is pursuing the girl. She runs off in search of her husband, while the Corregidor removes his sodden clothes, including his three-cornered hat — the symbol of his office — hangs them on a chair outside the mill, and jumps into the absent girl's bed to ward off a chill. Meanwhile, the miller has escaped from his captors to return home, sees the Corregidor's discarded clothes and believes himself betrayed by his wife. Vowing to get even, he exchanges his garments for those of the official, scribbles on the wall "The wife of the Corregidor is also very pretty," and runs off in search of his conquest. The Corregidor emerges from the bedroom to find only the miller's clothes. He puts them on just in time for the police, hunting their escaped prisoner, to arrest him by mistake. The miller's wife returns, followed by the miller, and the two are happily reconciled in the joyous final dance while the villagers toss a straw effigy of the Corregidor in a blanket.

Falla's masterful score captures both the dramatic action of the story and the colorful milieu of its setting. Gilbert Chase said of The Three-Cornered Hat that, like the best of Falla's music, it is "an unceasing quest for the musical soul of Spain." There are bits of many traditional Spanish melodies threaded through the score, but it is far more than a mere quodlibet of traditional tunes. Falla penetrated to the heart of the music of his homeland — the fiery gypsy cante jondo, the vibrant melodies and rhythms of Andalusia, the flamenco — and distilled them into a style that marks him as "a poet of Spanish emotion," according to Georges Jean-Aubrey: The Neighbor's Dance is a seguidillas, The Grapes is a fandango, The Miller's Dance a farruca, and The Final Dance a jota. Enrique Franco's summary of Falla's style applies with special relevance to The Three-Cornered Hat. "Falla was no revolutionary," Franco wrote, "but what he created was entirely new. His powerful originality depended not on matters of technique — even if in this he made startling innovations — but on substance.... It is as if Falla developed and exhausted all the possibilities of Spanish nationalism."

Falla derived two orchestral suites from the complete score for The Three-Cornered Hat. They parallel the action of the ballet, but omit some of the connecting tissue. The Introduction to the First Suite, a brazen fanfare for drums and brass, was added just before the London premiere so that the audience would have time to admire Picasso's decor. Afternoon portrays the sultry midday heat through which passes the procession of the Corregidor (solo bassoon). The Dance of the Miller's Wife accompanies the girl's fiery fandango, observed by the Corregidor. The Corregidor comments briefly (again solo bassoon), and the miller's wife replies with a few sweet strains before beginning the extended scene of The Grapes.

Joquin Rodrigo

Concierto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra
Joaquín Rodrigo

(b. Sagunto, Valencia, Spain, 1901; d. Madrid, 1999)

Composed in 1939.
Premiered on November 9, 1940 in Barcelona, with Regino Sainz de la Maza as soloist.
Instrumentation: piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets and strings.
Duration: approximately 24 minutes.

Though Joaquín Rodrigo, born on November 22, 1901 at Sagunto, Valencia, on Spain's eastern coast, lost his sight when he was three from diphtheria, he early showed a pronounced aptitude for music. His parents enrolled him in a school for blind children in the nearby city of Valencia, and at age eight, he began formal lessons in harmony, piano and violin; his teachers in composition included Francisco Antich, Enrique Gomá and Eduardo López Chavarri. During the 1920s, Rodrigo established himself as a pianist with performances of challenging recent works by Ravel, Stravinsky and other contemporary composers, and he began composing seriously in 1923 with the Suite para Piano and the Dos Esbozos ("Two Sketches") for Violin and Piano. His first work for orchestra, Juglares (written, like all of his scores, on a Braille music typewriter and then dictated to a copyist), was played in both Valencia and Madrid in 1924; his Cinco Piezas Infantiles, also for orchestra, won a National Prize the following year. In 1927, he followed the path of his compatriots Albéniz, Granados, Falla and Turina, and moved to Paris, where he enrolled at the Schola Cantorum as a pupil of Paul Dukas. Rodrigo immersed himself in the musical life of the city, befriending Honegger, Milhaud, Ravel and other Parisian luminaries, receiving encouragement from Falla, and enjoying success with a performance of his orchestral Prelude for a Poem to the Alhambra, whose subject matter and distinctly Spanish idiom established the style that consistently characterized his creations. In 1933, he married the Turkish pianist Victoria Kamhi. A Conde de Cartegena Grant the following year enabled him to remain in Paris to continue his studies at the Conservatoire and the Sorbonne. The outbreak of civil war in Spain in 1936 prevented Rodrigo from returning home, and he spent the next three years traveling in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and living in the French capital. He returned to Madrid after the Spanish Civil War ended in 1939, and established his position among the country's leading musicians with the premiere of the Concierto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra the following year. His prominence in Spanish musical life was recognized with many awards, honorary degrees and memberships, and, in 1947, the creation for him of the Manuel de Falla Chair at the University of Madrid. In addition to teaching at the University, Rodrigo also served as Head of Music Broadcasts for Spanish Radio, music critic for several newspapers, and Director of the Artistic Section of the Spanish National Organization for the Blind. Though best known for his series of concertos for one, two and four guitars (Concierto de Aranjuez, Fantasía para un Gentilhombre, Concierto para una Fiesta, Concierto Madrigal, Concierto Andaluz), flute (Concierto Pastoral), cello (Concierto como un Divertimento) and harp (Concierto Serenata), Rodrigo also composed a ballet, a zarzuela, an opera, numerous orchestral works, music for the cinema, many songs, and solo numbers for piano and guitar. He died in Madrid on July 6, 1999.

The small town of Aranjuez, thirty miles south of Madrid on the River Tagus, is a green oasis in the barren plateau of central Spain. In the mid-18th century, a palace, set amid verdant forests and parks, was built at Aranjuez as a summer retreat for the Spanish court. Generations of Spanish kings thereafter settled into Aranjuez every spring, when the countless nightingales would serenade them from the cedars and laurels, the court ladies would promenade in the cooling shade, and the men would hone their equestrian skills with the famous cream-colored Andalusian horses bred nearby. When Rodrigo sought inspiration for a new concerto in the difficult, war-torn year of 1939, it was to the elegant symbol of by-gone Spain represented by Aranjuez that he turned. "Having conceived the idea of a guitar concerto," he recalled, "it was necessary for me to place it in a certain epoch and, still more, in a definite location — an epoch at the end of which fandangos transform themselves into fandanguillos, and when the cante and the bulerias vibrate in the Spanish air." He further stated that he had in mind the early decades of the 19th century when composing this Concierto de Aranjuez. Of the work's mood and the character of its solo instrument, the composer wrote, "Throughout the veins of Spanish music, a profound rhythmic beat seems to be diffused by a strange phantasmagoric, colossal and multiform instrument — an instrument idealized in the fiery imagination of Albéniz, Granados, Falla and Turina. It is an imaginary instrument that might be said to possess the wings of the harp, the heart of the grand piano and the soul of the guitar.... It would be unjust to expect strong sonorities from this Concierto; they would falsify its essence and distort an instrument made for subtle ambiguities. Its strength is to be found in its very lightness and in the intensity of its contrasts. The Aranjuez Concierto is meant to sound like the hidden breeze that stirs the tree tops in the parks, and it should be only as strong as a butterfly, and as dainty as a veronica."

The Concierto de Aranjuez has enjoyed a great popularity since it was introduced in 1940, having been recorded many times, made into a ballet, and set in an array of popular, jazz and even commercial arrangements. With few precedents to guide him, Rodrigo created a work that not only embodies the essential qualities of his musical style and the spiritual ethos of Spain, but also solves the difficult technical problems inherent in combining an unamplified solo guitar with a full orchestra. Rodrigo adapted the three traditional movements of the concerto form to reflect different aspects of the soul of Spanish music — the outer movements are fast in tempo and dance-like, while the middle one is imbued with the bittersweet intensity of classic flamenco cante hondo ("deep song"). The soloist opens the Concierto with an evocative, typically Spanish rhythmic pattern of ambiguous meter that courses throughout the movement. The orchestra, in colorful fiesta garb, soon enters while the guitar's brilliant, virtuoso display continues. The haunting Adagio, among the most beautiful and beloved pieces ever written for guitar, is based on a theme of Middle Eastern ancestry, given in the plangent tones of the English horn, around which the soloist weaves delicate arabesques of sound as the music unfolds. The finale's lilting simplicity (one commentator noted its similarity to a Spanish children's song) serves as a foil to the imposing technical demands placed on the soloist, who is required to negotiate almost the entire range of the instrument's possibilities.

Like all of Rodrigo's best music, the Concierto de Aranjuez bears the unmistakable stamp of his craftsmanship and stylistic personality, of which the noted Spanish composer Tomás Marco wrote, "His aim has been to create a Spanish ambiance, full of color and agreeable tunes, where folklore is a picturesque element and references to art music of the past consist of distilled 17th and 18th-century mannerisms." This masterful Concierto is glowing evidence of Rodrigo's ability of capture the spirit of his native land in music that is both immediate in appeal and lasting in value.

Antonin Dvorak

Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Opus. 95, "From the New World"
Antonín Dvorák
(b. Nelahozeves, Bohemia, 1841; d. Prague, 1904)ê

Composed in 1892-1893.
Premiered on December 16, 1893 in New York, conducted by Anton Seidl.
Instrumentation: piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion and strings.
Duration: approximately 42 minutes.

When Antonín Dvorák, aged 51, arrived in New York on September 27, 1892 to direct the new National Conservatory of Music, both he and the institution's founder, Mrs. Jeanette Thurber, expected that he would help to foster an American school of composition. He was clear and specific in his assessment: "I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies. They can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition to be developed in the United States.... There is nothing in the whole range of composition that cannot find a thematic source here." Dvořák's knowledge of this music came from Henry Thacker Burleigh, an African-American song writer and student of his who sang the traditional melodies to the enthralled composer. Burleigh later recalled, "There is no doubt that Dr. Dvorák was very deeply impressed by the Negro spirituals from the old plantation. He just saturated himself in the spirit of those old tunes, and then invented his own themes."

The "New World" Symphony was not only Dvorák's way of pointing toward a truly American musical idiom but also a reflection of his feelings about his own country. "I should never have written the Symphony as I have," he said, "if I hadn't seen America," but he added in a later letter that it was "genuine Bohemian music." There is actually a reconciliation between these two seemingly contradictory statements, since the characteristics that Dvorák found in Burleigh's indigenous American music — pentatonic (five-note) scales, modal minor keys with a lowered seventh degree, rhythmic syncopations, frequent returns to the central key note — are common to much folk music throughout the world, including that of his native Bohemia. Because his themes for the "New World" Symphony drew upon these cross-cultural qualities, to Americans, they sound American; to Czechs, they sound Czech.

The "New World" Symphony is unified by the use of a motto theme that occurs in all four movements. This bold, striding phrase, with its arching contour, is played by the horns as the main theme of the sonata-form opening movement, having been foreshadowed (also by the horns) in the slow introduction. Two other themes are used in the first movement: a sad, dance-like melody for flute and oboe that exhibits folk characteristics, and a brighter tune, with a striking resemblance to Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, for the solo flute.

Many years before coming to America, Dvorák had encountered Longfellow's epic poem The Song of Hiawatha, which he read in a Czech translation. The great tale remained in his mind, and he considered making an opera of it during his time in New York. That project came to nothing, but Hiawatha did have an influence on the "New World" Symphony: the second movement was inspired by the forest funeral of Minnehaha; the third, by the dance of the Indians at the feast. That the music of these movements has more in common with the old plantation songs than with the chants of native Americans is due to Dvořák's mistaken belief that African-American and Indian music were virtually identical.

The second movement is a three-part form (A–B–A), with a haunting English horn melody (later fitted with words by William Arms Fisher to become the folksong-spiritual Goin' Home) heard in the first and last sections. The recurring motto here is pronounced by the trombones just before the return of the main theme in the closing section. The third movement is a tempestuous scherzo with two gentle, intervening trios providing contrast. The motto theme, played by the horns, dominates the coda.

The finale employs a sturdy motive introduced by the horns and trumpets after a few introductory measures in the strings. In the Symphony's closing pages, the motto theme, Goin' Home and the scherzo melody are all gathered up and combined with the principal subject of the finale to produce a marvelous synthesis of the entire work — a look back across the sweeping vista of Dvorák's musical tribute to America.

Back to Top


©2015 Dr. Richard E. Rodda