April 14, 2018 • ¡GOOOOAL!
Concert program notes by Betsy Schwarm
¡GOOOOAL! brings a variety of mostly Central and South American flavored works. Spain is also here, as is American composer Aaron Copland. However, Copland traveled to Mexico and Falla spent his last years in Argentina, so it all has a south of the border connection.
José Pablo Moncayo (1912–1958)
The huapango is a traditional Mexican dance/song performed on a raised wooden floor and featuring strummed accompaniment of guitars and violin. Brisk tempos and strong rhythms are the norm, as is the practice of two singers mimicking one another’s lines. In his orchestral recollection of the form, Guadalajara-born José Pablo Moncayo evokes these characteristics through changeable meters, frequent echoing between instruments and variations on dance melodies known along Mexico’s Gulf coast. The work premiered in 1941 with the Mexico Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Moncayo’s composition teacher, the composer Carlos Chávez (1899–1978).
Silvestre Revueltas (1899–1940)
A semi-documentary film from 1938, Redes (The Wave) dealt with the lives of actual Mexican fishermen. Its score by Silvestre Revueltas draws on the rhythms and instruments of his nation’s folk music to capture the scenes at hand. He does this so vividly that the score was well-suited to adaptation as an orchestral concert suite.
The opening scene is of the fishermen themselves, alternately bold, anxious, and even pensive: it seems a fisherman’s life is not always a happy one. Plaintive moods arrive next, with a child’s funeral; then, as the fishermen set out on the ocean, high spirits return with much danceable energy. A subsequent fight scene seems to end badly, since the suite’s final scene is sorrowful, with gently pulsing background rhythms supporting moods of increasing anxiety. Throughout, Revueltas turns to the trumpet — sometimes muted — for solo roles; he likely was thinking of that instrument’s prominence in the folk music of the coastal regions.
El Salón México
Aaron Copland (1900–1990)
American composer Aaron Copland once observed, “Other tourists will pull out their snapshots to show you what a country looks like, but a composer wants to show you what a country sounds like.”
The statement sums up the inspiration his El Salón México: we were not traveling with him on that visit, but that fact does not prevent us from enjoying his musical reminiscence. The title was borrowed from the name of a dance hall Copland visited on a trip to Mexico City, where he remembered seeing cautionary placards asking guests, for the sake of barefooted women visitors, not to throw lighted cigarette butts on the floor. The composer admitted that he borrowed many of the themes from a collection of Mexican folk songs, hence the work’s authentic flavor. El Salón México premiered August 1937, with the Mexico Symphony Orchestra and conductor Carlos Chávez (1899–1978).
The Three-Cornered Hat Ballet – Suite no. 1
Manuel de Falla (1876–1946)
The Three-Cornered Hat by Spanish composer Manuel de Falla is a ballet telling of a local politician, the corregidor whose determined pursuit of the miller’s pretty young wife leads to him being out of power and in prison. The hat of the title alludes to the corregidor’s traditional uniform. Just as the ballet’s story is Spanish in character, so its melodies and rhythms reflect Falla’s heritage.
Suite no. 1 from The Three-Cornered Hat has a short and brassy opening, leading to sultry themes suggestive of a hot and humid day in the sunshine. The brief bassoon solo late in this movement is apparently suggestive of the corregidor himself, as the spotlight often comes to the bassoon when that character is on stage.
The second movement Dance of the Miller’s Wife is a vibrant fandango with brilliant splashes of color from the percussion.
The third movement represents a brief encounter between the miller’s wife and the corregidor, he represented by the bassoon, she by graceful flute and strings.
For the closing movement, The Grapes, it’s easy to imagine the “grapes” may actually be wine, as the music is exuberant in character. There are many solo spotlights for woodwinds and, most frequently, for trumpet, and all charge excitedly to a close.
Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5 – aria
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887–1959)
Brazilian-born Heitor Villa-Lobos grew up with a fascination for the folk music of his native land, but had enough formal training in composition to observe that the ways in which melodic lines are combined in folk music were sometimes similar to techniques used by the Baroque master Johann Sebastian Bach. This synchronicity of stylistic features led Villa-Lobos to imagine a series of works combining elements of both ideas under a title meant to evoke that pairing: Bachianas Brasileiras = Bach in the style of Brazil.
Villa-Lobos would compose nine different Bachianas Brasileiras suites, each for a different combination of performers. The fifth of the nine suites usually requires soprano soloist and a string ensemble solely of cellos; Villa-Lobos himself played the cello. Occasionally, the cello parts are rearranged to a full string ensemble with music for each of the different sections. Some of these arrangements also bring the soprano part into instrumental form, and that is the case here. Its graceful moods are meant to suggest a lady gazing into the moonlight as the birds fall silent: even without the participation of a singer, the instrumental parts do a fine job of suggesting that nocturnal scene.
Astor Piazzolla (1921–1992)
Born in Buenos Aires but raised in the Little Italy neighborhood of New York City, Astor Piazzolla grew up to become an expert in the art of tango. That Piazzolla himself played the accordion-like bandoneon, so crucial to the spirit of tango, helped him to understand its moods; that he had studied in France with Nadia Boulanger (1887–1979), who also numbered Copland and Bernstein amongst her students, gave his works a greater degree of finesse than they might have had if he had stayed home. Tango purists insist that Piazzolla took too many liberties with their art form, but concert audiences continue to be intrigued and enraptured by the sultry flavor of Piazzolla’s compositions.
Composed in 1982 for director March Bellocchio’s film Enrico IV, Oblivion is Piazzolla’s most often heard work. You may not hear it exactly as he originally wrote it, for a genuine tango ensemble; however, even in orchestral form Oblivion’s sensuous building of anticipation readily communicates with audiences.
Estancia ballet suite
Alberto Ginastera (1916–1983)
An estancia is an Argentine ranch, and who better to compose a ballet set at such a place than Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera? The ballet tells the story of a city boy in love with a rancher’s daughter. At first, the love affair is only one-sided — she finds the intrepid gauchos, or cowboys, far more interesting. Yet by the final scene, the hero wins her heart by beating the gauchos at their own game.
The one-act ballet was commissioned in 1941 by the American Ballet Caravan, though by the time Ginastera finished the music, that dance company had disbanded. It took until 1952 for the work to reach the stage complete with dancers and choreography. Meantime, Ginastera had crafted four dances from the score for use as a concert suite which premiered May 12, 1943, in Buenos Aires.
The suite’s first movement opens with the driving rhythms that characterize much of the work, as repetitive motifs rise in pitch and intensity. Although the emphasis is on strings and brass, woodwinds add occasional decorative phrases.
The far gentler second movement begins with lyrical flute phrases floating over string accompaniment, with a high violin solo of similar mood later in the movement.
For the third movement, the powerfully rhythmic energy returns, driven along by strings, brass, and percussion.
Woodwinds become more prominent in the final movement, with a sense of frenetic urgency. As the movement nears its conclusion, a repetitive rising phrase with irregular accents takes charge and dominates into the utterly exuberant closing bars.