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Fandango Picante Program Notes

Fandango Picante Program Notes


A piece of music that is based on another culture is called exoticism. Likewise, a composition that showcases a composer’s own culture is an example of nationalism. Although the terms came about during the nineteenth century, there have always been music that fits into these categories.

This program features music from both the old and new worlds that celebrate Hispanic culture. The music spans nearly 150 years (1875-2001) and hails from France, Russia, and Mexico.

Bizet, whose music from Carmen is impeccably Spanish, never visited Spain, but was born only 600 miles from Barcelona. Rimsky-Korsakov went to Spain but was born almost 2000 miles away. Both composers captured the essence of Spanish culture as an example of exoticism.

Arturo Márquez is Mexican and explores in his music the many types of sounds from his country. Mariachi and orchestral music exist equally in his works. It is a unique form of nationalism that captures the rich and multilayered cultural heritage of Mexico.


Program Notes for Fandango Picante
©2021 Orpheus Music Prose & Craig Doolin

Selections from Carmen
– Georges Bizet

Born October 25, 1838, in Paris
Died June 3, 1875, in Bougival, France

The work was first performed on March 3, 1875, at the Opéra-Comique in Paris. It is scored for two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, harp, and strings.

As in many fields, the world of music has a highly specialized lexicon of terms – many of which have different meanings than might be expected. French opera in the nineteenth century provides an interesting example. The two leading opera houses were the Opéra and the Opéra-Comique. The latter did not exclusively present comedies, nor did the former offer only serious subjects. The distinction rested in the convention of including recitative (sung dialogue) in some operas, while others utilized spoken dialogue (much like operetta or musical theater). Only those with recitative were given at the Opéra, while dialogue was permitted only in the Opéra-Comique. Because of this segregation, Bizet’s Carmen, originally with spoken dialogue but ending with a brutal murder, was produced at the Opéra-Comique.

Interestingly, Georges Bizet arrived on the musical scene at a time when the musical world was also divided into factions. On one side were the traditionalists, who felt that music should serve as entertainment and diversion, providing enjoyment and even occasional profundity but not bearing any political message. The opposition to this view was espoused by the disciples of Richard Wagner, who advocated the Gesamtkunstwerk (total art work), in which all elements of theatrical production were integrated – staging, music, sets, costumes, etc. Along with Wagnerianism went the concept of social change, even revolution, through music, especially opera. Surprisingly, Bizet was often accused of adherence to these beliefs. With the exception of his use of recurring melodic motives (such as the Fate motive in Carmen), a practice in which even the outspoken anti-Wagnerian, Giuseppe Verdi engaged, Bizet was much more aligned with Wagner’s opponents. Where the German master usually composed in a continuous gesture of music throughout a work (he called this ‘endless melody’), Bizet organized his operas into arias and scenes, which were divided by dialogue, either spoken or sung.

The music of Carmen is among the most popular ever composed – complete with many familiar melodies. It is quite difficult to watch a production and imagine a time when this string of ‘hits’ was not part of the standard repertoire. However, the premiere on March 3, 1875, received a lukewarm response. The title character shocked audiences as she smoked cigarettes and smoldered in her blatantly sexual taunting of the male characters. The success of the opera was gradual, but by Bizet’s death just a few months after the premiere, it was already his most frequently performed work. Six months after the Paris premiere, Carmen was staged in Vienna, this time with recitatives composed for the occasion by the composer’s friend Ernest Guiraud. The production was such a success that the opera’s fate was sealed. Since its premiere, it has become one of the most frequently produced operas in history, have over 2700 performances in the Opéra-Comique alone between 1875 and 1951.

Based on a story by the author Prosper Mérimée, the plot is as seductive as the title role. Carmen, a Bohemian woman who works in a cigarette factory in Seville. She seduces the soldier Don José, who is helpless under her spell. When she is arrested, he helps her escape – an action that lands Don José in a jail cell. Although he is released for prison, he cannot get Carmen out of his head. He searches for her, finding Carmen at the tavern of Lillas Pastia. He decides to join Carmen and her smuggler friends, although he knows this action means the end of his military career. Don José breaks under the pressure. He is called home by his girlfriend Michaela to care for his dying mother, but vows to Carmen that she will never be able to leave him. When he eventually returns, he finds that Carmen has taken the toreador Escamillo as a lover. She no longer cares for him, so Don José kills her.

The seven excerpts on this concert are drawn from several sections of the opera, but do not follow the story chronologically.

I. The rebellious tone of the exotic Spanish-tinged Prelude to Act I opens the opera. It introduces the Toreador theme which is interrupted by Carmen’s theme.

II. A lively Entr’acte to Act IV is based on the “Aragonaise,” a triple-meter Spanish dance that uses castanets. It begins with a vigorous flourish, but soon subsides into bottled quietness with a sultry oboe solo. After a brassy climax, the section ends quietly.

III. The Prelude to Act III is simply called “Intermezzo” but it is really a nocturne based on Michaela’s later aria as she delivers a message to her former lover, Don José, in a camp in a mountain pass. It begins with solo flute and harp, which are soon joined by strings and other woodwinds to create a gentle and tender mood.

IV. Bizet’s spicy “Seguidilla” is the fourth movement. Featuring a solo viola, this barnburner evokes the wild abandon of a Flamenco celebration.

V. “Les Dragons d’Alcala” is the Entr’acte before Act II. The word “dragon” here means “dragoon,” or “soldier.”

VI. “Marche des Contrebandiers” opens Act III as smugglers are going to their mountain lair. A flute solo shifts to strings and two themes alternate to set the scene.

VII. The finale is the famous march of “Les Toréadors” with its loud, festive, and distinctly Iberian flavor.

Danzon No. 2
– Arturo Márquez

Born 1950 in Alamos, Sonora, Mexico

This work was premiered in 1994, in Mexico City, under the direction of Francisco Savin. It is scored for pairs of woodwinds, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, piano, and strings.

Marquéz’s most popular works are his series of six danzons, based on a sultry and elegant Cuban folk dance that is also popular in the Mexican state of Veracruz.  Marquez describes Danzón No. 2:

“The idea of writing the Danzón No.2 originated in 1993 during a trip to Malinalco with the painter Andrés Fonseca and the dancer Irene Martínez, both of whom are experts in salon dances with a special passion for the danzón, which they were able to transmit to me from the beginning, and also during later trips to Veracruz and visits to the Colonia Salon in Mexico City. From these experiences onward, I started to learn the danzón’s rhythms, its form, its melodic outline, and to listen to the old recordings by Acerina and his Danzonera Orchestra. I was fascinated and I started to understand that the apparent lightness of the danzón is only like a visiting card for a type of music full of sensuality and qualitative seriousness, a genre which old Mexican people continue to dance with a touch of nostalgia and a jubilant escape towards their own emotional world; we can fortunately still see this in the embrace between music and dance that occurs in the State of Veracruz and in the dance parlors of Mexico City. The Danzón No.2 is a tribute to the environment that nourishes the genre. It endeavors to get as close as possible to the dance, to its nostalgic melodies, to its wild rhythms, and although it violates its intimacy, its form and its harmonic language, it is a very personal way of paying my respects and expressing my emotions towards truly popular music. Danzón No.2 was written on a commission by the Department of Musical Activities at Mexico’s National Autonomous University and is dedicated to my daughter Lily.” 

Fandango for violin and orchestra
– Arturo Márquez

This work was premiered on August 24, 2021, at the Hollywood Bowl in Hollywood, California, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic with soloist Anne Akiko Meyers conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. It is scored for solo violin, piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings.

Arturo Márquez is one of the most popular and proficient composers of Mexico. His music is highly influenced by the folk traditions he learned growing up as the son of a mariachi performer. Living for a time in Southern California, he began musical studies in the United States, but went on to study at the National Music Conservatory in Mexico City. After a brief period of study in Paris, Márquez came to the California Institute of the Arts, where he earned a master’s degree in composition. He has been awarded many honors, including a Fulbright fellowship, the 2006 Gold Medal of Fine Arts of Mexico, the Austrian Mozart Medal, and many concerts given in his honor, most notably the Arturo Marquez International Music Festival in Caracas, Venezuela.

Márquez’s most recent success is a violin concerto composed for the eminent violinist Anne Akiko Meyers. At the time of its premiere in August. of 2021, the composer prepared extensive program notes that outline the traditions and processes that led him to write this important new work.

“The Fandango is known worldwide as a popular Spanish dance and specifically, as one of the fundamental parts (Palos) of flamenco. Since its appearance around the 18th century, various composers such as S. de Murcia, D. Scarlatti, L. Bocherini, Padre Soler, W. A. Mozart, among others, have included Fandango in concert music. What little is known in the world is that immediately upon its appearance in Spain, the Fandango moves to the Americas where it acquires a personality according to the land that adopts and cultivates it. Today, we can still find it in countries such as Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico, in the latter and specifically in the state of Veracruz and in the Huasteca area, part of 7 states in eastern Mexico, the Fandango acquires a tinge different from the Spanish genre; for centuries, it has been a special festival for musicians, singers, poets and dancers. Everyone gathers around a wooden platform to stamp their feet, sing and improvise tenth-line stanza of the occasion. It should be noted that Fandango and Huapango have similar meanings in our country.

“In 2018 I received an email from violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, a wonderful musician, where she proposed to me the possibility of writing a work for violin and orchestra that had to do with Mexican music. The proposal interested and fascinated me from that very moment, not only because of Maestra Meyers emotional aesthetic proposal but also because of my admiration for her musicality, virtuosity and, above all, for her courage in proposing a concert so out of the ordinary. I had already tried, unsuccessfully, to compose a violin concerto some 20 years earlier with ideas that were based on the Mexican Fandango. I had known this music since I was a child, listening to it in the cinema, on the radio and listening to my father, a mariachi violinist, (Arturo Márquez Sr.) interpret huastecos and mariachi music. Also since the 90’s I have been present admiring the Fandango in various parts of Mexico. I would like to mention that the violin was my first instrument when I was 14 years old (1965), curiously, I studied it in La Puente California in Los Angeles County where fortunately this work will be premiered with the wonderful Los Angeles Philharmonic under the direction of my admired Gustavo Dudamel. Beautiful coincidence as I have no doubt that Fandango was danced in California in the 18th and 19th centuries.

“Fandango for violin and orchestra is formally a concerto in three movements:
Folia Tropical
Plegaria (Prayer) (Chaconne)

“The first movement, Folia Tropical, has the form of the sonata or traditional classical concert: Introduction, exposition with its two themes, bridge, development and recapitulation. The introduction and the two themes share the same motif in a totally different way. Emotionally, the introduction is a call to the remote history of the Fandango; the first theme and the bridge, this one totally rhythmic, are based on the Caribbean “Clave” and the second is eminently expressive, almost like a romantic bolero. Folias are ancient dances that come from Portugal and Spain. However, also the root and meaning of this word takes us to the French word “Folie”: madness.

“The second movement: Plegaria pays tribute to the huapango mariachi together with the Spanish Fandango, both in its rhythmic and emotional parts. It should be noted that one of the Palos del Flamenco Andaluz is precisely a Malagueña and Mexico also has a huapango honoring Malaga. I do not use traditional themes but there is a healthy attempt to unite both worlds; that is why this movement is the fruit of an imaginary marriage between the Huapango-Mariachi and Pablo Sarasate, Manuel de Falla and Issac Albeniz, three of my beloved and admired Spanish composers. It is also a freely treated chaconne. Perhaps few people know that the Chaconne as well as the Zarabanda were two dances forbidden by the Spanish Inquisition in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, long before they became part of European baroque music. Moreover, the first writings on these dances place them in colonial Mexico of these centuries.

“The third movement “Fandanguito” is a tribute to the famous Fandangito Huasteco. The music of this region is composed of violin, jarana huasteca (small rhythm guitar) and huapanguera (low guitar with 5 orders of strings) and of course accompanies the singing of their sones and the improvisation sung or recited. The Huasteco violin is one of the instruments with the most virtuosity in all of America. It has certain features similar to baroque music but with great rhythmic vitality and a rich original variety in bow strokes. Every Huasteco violinist must have a personal version of this sound if he wants to have and maintain prestige. This third movement is a totally free elaboration of the Huasteco Fandanguito, but it maintains many of its rhythmic characteristics. It demands a great virtuosity from the soloist, and it is the music that I have kept in my heart for decades.

“I think that for every composer it is a real challenge to compose new works from old forms, especially when this repertoire is part of the fundamental structure of classical music. On the other hand, composing in this 2020 pandemic was not easy due to the huge human suffering. Undoubtedly my experience with this work during this period has been intense and highly emotional but, I have to mention that I have preserved my seven capital principles: Tonality, modality, melody, rhythm, imaginary folk tradition, harmony and orchestral color.

Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34
– Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov

Born March 18, 1844, near Novgorod, Russia
Died June 21, 1908, near St. Petersburg, Russia

The work was premiered in October of 1887 by the Russian Musical Society, in St. Petersburg, with the composer conducting. It is scored for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings.

European musical fashion was slow in its eastward exodus into Russian culture. After Napoleon’s failure to conquer the Russian lands in 1812, the arts in the Motherland focused on folk culture. It was not until Mikhail Glinka’s works combined Russian themes and Germanic musical forms in the mid 19th century that European musical fashion took hold in Russia.

Perhaps it was this delayed acceptance that explains why nearly all of Glinka’s most noted disciples came from non-musical professions. Called moguchaya kuchka (the “Mighty Handful”), this group of talented armchair composers was comprised of Alexander Borodin (a chemist), Cesar Cui (an engineer), Modest Mussorgsky (a government clerk), Mily Balakirev (the leader and only professional musician), and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (a naval officer). This Nationalist group, sometimes collaborating on projects, emphasized Russian subjects in their music, often incorporating folk melodies or stylized melodies meant to conjure Russian imagery.

Upon Balakirev’s urging in 1861, the untrained Rimsky-Korsakov taught himself composition and orchestration and produced some of the most advanced orchestrations of his day – Capriccio espagnol, Russian Easter Overture, and Scheherazade. The most successful of the “Mighty Handful,” Rimsky-Korsakov mastered every aspect of the musical arts so completely that he was awarded a position as Professor of Composition at the St. Petersburg Conservatory just ten years after he began composing. Strangely, he also began formal study for the first time, attending classes at the Conservatory while teaching a studio of young composers, including Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. By the time of Rimsky-Korsakov’s death in 1908, he had mentored many important composers, among them Alexander Glazunov, Sergei Prokofiev, and Igor Stravinsky.

To have been such a Russian nationalist, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol bears all the hallmarks of stylized Spanish music, including the use of castanets and the tell-tale Phrygian mode. Throughout the entire work, the listener is astounded by magnificent orchestration, cadenzas for several instruments, a brilliant solo for the concertmaster, frequent timbre changes, and an electrifying array of percussion instruments. The composer wrote, “According to my plans, the Capriccio was to glitter with dazzling orchestral color and, manifestly, I had not been wrong.”

The opening of Capriccio espagnol erupts forth with the lively Alborada section. A series of delightful variations follow, all based on a graceful theme in 6/8 meter. The Alborada returns, this time a half-step higher and an evocative Gypsy Song follows. A steamy Fandango appears, after which the Alborada is restated to close this masterpiece of orchestration with a bang.

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