Edgar Varèse (1883 – 1965)
Édouard Lalo (1823 – 1892)
Symphonie espagnole d-Moll op. 21 für Violine und Orchester
Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918)
Images pour orchestre
19th-century France had been in love with Spanish culture even before Louis Napoléon married a Spanish princess in 1853: Victor Hugo wrote two Spanish-themed dramas in the 1830s, and Prosper Mérimée penned his celebrated novella Carmen in 1845. The rich and distinctive music of Spain, and particularly of Andalusia, was prized for its exotic appeal, conjuring up images of unbridled emotion and enticing sexual danger.
Édouard Lalo had distant Spanish roots himself, but his musical interest in Spain was piqued by his friend Pablo de Sarasate, the virtuoso violinist. The Symphonie espagnole is in truth a violin concerto, but in an expansive ﬁve-movement form that showcases a series of attractive Spanish melodies. The habanera dance of the third movement, for example, may trigger memories of the most famous habanera of all, in Bizet’s Carmen. Both were inspired independently from the same source, and Lalo’s Symphony was premiered a month before Bizet’s opera. In the case of Debussy’s Iberia, however, the derivation of the Spanish material caused the composer some grief: in fact, he was accused of copying from Ravel’s Spanish pieces. Indeed,
Ravel had begun writing Spanish-style pieces earlier and was seen as the more authentic exponent (being of part Spanish descent). The scandal led to a long rift between the two composers.
In the thirty years between Lalo’s and Debussy’s Spanish works, the very idea of how to use exotic material changed. While Lalo was brought up on Germanic notions of symphonic development (as his Scherzo in D Minor illustrates clearly), Debussy tried to create a unique orchestral setting appropriate to each melody, with lush timbres and luxuriant harmony. Debussy’s circle in Paris also contained several Spanish composers, most prominently Albeniz, Granados and Viñes who cultivated a Spanish manner together with their French colleagues. Iberia, the best known of Debussy’s orchestral Images, is framed by two pieces that also use folk material: Gigues explores the potential of an English sea shanty, while Rondes du printemps
uses two French children’s songs. This will be clear to all who know the tunes well, but so seamless are the sophisticated orchestral textures that other listeners will simply take pleasure in the overall eﬀect.
At the beginning of the concert, you will hear the familiar soundscape of the orchestra tuning up. But why even mention this? You might be puzzled when the orchestra then repeats the whole process as if caught in a wave of collective amnesia. This is actually the opening piece, by Edgar Varése, begun in 1947, then abandoned when he realised the commission was for slapstick comedy. It was completed by Chou Wen-Chung, and the result can be very funny or more subtle, depending on the orchestra’s mood.
Marina Frolova-Walker FBA,
Professor of Music History, University of Cambridge
Mit freundlicher Unterstützung durch: Vontobel-Stiftung