PROGRAM NOTES | Thu July 2, 2020 | 7:30 pm
Fri July 3, 2020 | 7:30 pm
Copyright Susan Halperin
Alborada del gracioso from Miroirs
(Born March 7, 1875, in Ciboure; died December 28, 1937, in Paris)
Ravel was born in France, only a short distance from the Spanish border; he had a French father and a Basque mother. Although his family moved to Paris when he was just an infant, he was always attached to the region of his birth and composed several works of Spanish inspiration. The Spanish composer Manuel de Falla once wrote, “Ravel’s Spain was Spain idealized and represented by his mother. Her refined conversation, in Spanish that remained excellent always, delighted me — especially when she used to recall her youth in Madrid.”
In 1904 and 1905, Ravel wrote five pieces, originally for piano, each one complete in itself, that he assembled into a collection under the title Miroirs (“Mirrors”). These descriptive pieces do not attempt to present precise musical images. They reflect their subjects, reality seen at a distance, perhaps even in reverse; they also reflect on their subjects: philosophical, impressionistic musings on night, birds, boats, Spain, and valleys.
The fourth piece in the set is the brilliant Alborada del gracioso (“The Clown’s Morning Song”). Historically, the troubadours of the southern province of Provence and the area of northern Spain used a form of poetry featuring a song about the lover’s departure at early dawn from his love. Alborada, or alba was the name of this form. The word alborada could also mean a morning serenade, and it evolved into a type of dance, popular in Galicia. A gracioso is a clown or jester in Spanish comedy, analogous to the fools in Shakespeare’s plays. Such a clown often helped musicians in performing the alborada. Ravel wrote a letter in which he explained the title: “I understand the bafflement over how to translate the title which is precisely why I decided not to translate it. . . . The simplest thing, I think, is to follow the title with the rough translation ‘Morning Song of the Clown.’ That will be enough to explain the humoristic style of this piece.”
This reflection of Ravel’s love for Spain is a rhapsodic piece with recitatives, bursts of melody, and echoes of the guitar. Ravel dedicated it to a friend, M. D. Calvocoressi, a distinguished musical scholar and critic.
Ravel’s vigorous Spanish dance showcases his Basque heritage: it is articulated in guitar-like figurations within humorous melodies; at the same time, it provides brilliant virtuosic music, generating excitement by the use of strong rhythmic figures, staccato, repeated notes and single and double note glissandi, which require strong hands and supple wrists. The dryness of the texture helps suggest the strumming of a guitar. The form of the piece is basically ternary with two themes in the exposition, a middle section and then a recapitulation, which brings back only the second theme with rolled chords. The framing sections use a Phrygian modality in the style of a seguidilla, (a dance) making the piece sound Andalusian. The middle section, a copla, (a Spanish poem set as a song) is where the gracioso sings his serenade, a slightly humorous yet melancholy song with irregular bar lengths that give it the feel of an improvisation. The whole manages to be humorous and haunting simultaneously. Throughout Ravel uses rhythmic motives to enhance the structure of the piece.
Concierto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra
(Born November 22, 1901, in Sagunto, Valencia; died July 6, 1999, in Madrid)
Although he was blind from the age of three, Joaquín Rodrigo was a very significant creative, critical and pedagogical force in contemporary Spanish music. After early training in Valencia, he went to Paris, as so many Spanish musicians did. There, he was a composition pupil of Paul Dukas and studied musicology with Maurice Emmanuel and André Pirro. Returning to Spain in 1939, Rodrigo settled in Madrid and divided his activities between composing, writing music criticism, and serving as Professor of the History of Music at the University of Madrid. Rodrigo followed in the tradition of Isaac Albéniz, who wrote in an idiom that drew from Spain’s native music, effectively blending folksong with sophisticated harmonies and instrumental colors. Rodrigo’s music gives Spanish nationalism a strong presence.
Probably the best known of all his works is the Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra. Introduced in 1940, it propelled Rodrigo into the front ranks of Spanish composers. Over the years it has become one of the most widely performed concertos although often it has been played in transcriptions for instruments other than the guitar.
The composition derives its name from a famous royal residence, a palace on the banks of the Tagus River not far from Madrid and Toledo on the way to Andalucia. The castle has been called the most beautiful and most cheerful of all the Spanish royal residences. The composer has said, in the notes to the concerto, that one “may fancy seeing the ghost of Goya, held in thrall by melancholia. . .. [I]n its themes there linger the fragrance of magnolias, the singing of birds and the gushing of fountains. [It] is meant to sound like the hidden breeze that stirs the tree tops in its parks; it should be only as strong as a butterfly, and as dainty as a verónica.”
The Concierto evokes the era of 16th-century kings Charles X and Philip II embodying the rhythms and melodic inflections of Spanish folk music joined with Rodrigo’s own melodic invention and colorful orchestration. Rodrigo utilized the structure of a Baroque concerto: three movements in a fast-slow-fast arrangement, with distinct alternation between solo and orchestral passages in the outer movements. Delicacy is combined with rhythmic energy in the concerto’s dancing first movement, Allegro con spirito, in which most of the ideas are generated by the guitar solo that begins the piece. The middle movement, a romantic Adagio of reflective character, has an improvisational quality and delivers a feeling of melancholy passion and romance that suggests Moorish influence. Toward the end of the movement, an extended guitar cadenza leads to an orchestral climax. The final movement, Allegro gentile, is a rondo whose folk-like principal theme features a rhythmic pattern that combines measures of two and three beats.
Rodrigo composed the Concierto de Aranjuez in 1939 and dedicated it to Regino Sainz de la Maza, the soloist at its premiere in Barcelona on November 9, 1940. The work is lightly and transparently scored, so that the soloist can be easily heard, but the orchestra isnevertheless sizable: piccolo and two flutes, two oboes and English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, and strings.
(Born in 1952)
Chris Brubeck, a composer, lyricist, orchestral arranger, musical educator, and performer who plays bass, trombone, and piano, is the third son of the musical Brubeck family. Combining styles from jazz to new age to pop, with a touch of contemporary classical, his work is immediately audience-friendly, yet musically challenging. Like his brothers, Chris Brubeck feels at home playing jazz, rock, folk, funk, and classical music; he was exposed to, and learned from, many legendary jazz musicians. When he was a boy just beginning lessons on trombone, his famous jazz musician father, Dave, took him backstage to meet Louis Armstrong, who looked at Chris’ ample lips and said, “You’ve got the chops” for the trombone. Chris remembers, “When he said that, I just felt like, it’s really cool, like Willie Mays telling me I can be an outfielder.”
Chris toured and recorded with his father frequently and spent two years with the Two Generations of Brubeck, made up of Dave and brothers Darius and Dan; he was also a member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet for over ten years. During his time with the Quartet, he collaborated with his father on the symphonic composition Theme and Explorations for Orchestra, which was commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony. Chris now tours with his band, Triple Play, a bluesy, folksy acoustic group. As a bass trombonist, he has performed and recorded his two trombone concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra.
In the past decade, Chris has composed in various musical styles, writing works that have been performed internationally. With his father, he co‐wrote the Grammy‐nominated Ansel Adams: America, a tone poem paired with projections of Ansel Adams’ photographs. Chris also won the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for Best Classical Composition for Television Broadcast with his own piece, Interplay for 3 Violins and Orchestra, featuring Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg, Regina Carter, and Eileen Ivers, commissioned by the Boston Pops. In addition, he composed River of Song, a song cycle for Frederica von Stade and chamber orchestra. Chris spent 2015 as New Haven Symphony’s artist-in-residence.
Affinity: Concerto for Guitar & Orchestra was commissioned by the Betsy Russell Fund for New Music for guitarist Sharon Isbin; it premiered in April 2016 with the Maryland Symphony, Elizabeth Schultz conducting. It has been frequently performed, including at the Aspen Music Festival and by the Detroit Symphony. It is dedicated to Joy and Isadore Russell.
He has written his own program note for this piece:
Sharon [Isbin] found an “angel” (The Betsy Russell Fund for New Music) to fund the piece and Sharon called me, we talked, and we agreed it was time to get together and make this concerto a reality. Sharon wanted a new concerto that had a global approach to the guitar and wasn’t confined to one particular style. I struggled to find a title we both liked and thankfully my wife, Tish, came up with this appropriate name. In plain English, Sharon and I share an affinity for embracing and exploring different musical styles. As I learned from watching the recent PBS special about Sharon’s remarkable career, she wanted to be a scientist as a young girl. With that in mind I wanted to include in these notes the scientific definition of affinity: An attraction or force between particles that causes them to combine.
This is an appropriate description of the concerto as many genres are combined to create this 14-minute piece. There are no separate movements — instead there are simply flowing, contrasting musical areas that we chose to explore. This concerto jumps out of the starting gate with the energy of a downhill ski race. Sharon has great facility on her instrument and I wanted to feature her fingers flying from the first measure. After a few minutes the piece travels into an early Jazz style with syncopated rhythms that almost harken back to Ragtime. Then the music transforms into a romantic waltz with oceanic qualities.
In the middle of this concerto there is a very heartfelt section that evolved from a suggestion by Sharon. She knew that my father had recently passed on and that he and I were very close and wrote a lot of music together over the years. She called me from New York and sensitively asked if there were any melodies my father had written that were particularly “guitaristic.” She thought it would be wonderful to honor him by including some of his musical spirit in this piece. While speaking with Sharon, I was composing in the Connecticut studio where my father and I had created so much music together over the course of our lives. It was October and gazing out a window overlooking a stream surrounded by glorious old trees, I saw the wind spinning a few orange leaves off their branches and then they lazily circled down to the water. I told Sharon that I had just seen something that reminded me of a beautiful melody my father had written which described this time of year. A few days later I sent her the realization of this theme presented as a guitar feature enveloped by the string section. Midway through, there is a modulation while the guitar tunes its lowest string down to a low D which facilitates an even deeper and more soulful interpretation.
I wanted to follow this andante area by writing a completely contrasting section in a major key, which I was imagining as a kind of neo-Renaissance dance in 6/8. The music gracefully makes its way into more complicated time signatures alternating a bar of 7/8 with a bar of 3/4. A different groove is established with a new section in a fast 5/8 time signature that conveys the energy of a Brazilian samba. The guitar solo takes off over the propulsive rhythm and climaxes into a technically demanding cadenza. Percussion emerges from the guitar’s final cadence and we are off to a Middle Eastern fantasy. The tempo accelerates and we land in a brief recapitulation and compressed version of the original theme. I felt it was appropriate to compose an ending that was filled with driving energy that would catapult us to the last chord.
The concerto begins with guitar virtuosity and catchy themes featuring the soloist in dialogue with the orchestra. Surprisingly, at one point, the orchestral strings seem to trade roles with the guitarist, “picking” while the guitar plays legato, flowing broken chords. The central movement has a tender and warm character, while the finale is an infectious rhythmically driven journey through various styles.
“Buckaroo Holiday” from Rodeo
(Born November 14, 1900, in Brooklyn, New York; died December 2, 1990, in North Tarrytown, New York)
In 1942, Copland composed Rodeo, the second of his three popular ballets on American subjects, to a commission from Agnes de Mille, who wrote him in early that year asking that he compose a score for a “cowboy ballet” that she wanted to choreograph for the Ballets Russe de Monte Carlo, (the former DiagilevBallet) which had been relocated to New York due to World War II. Subtitled “The Courting at Burnt Ranch,” Rodeo details the story of a young cowgirl who desperately attempts to find herself a man. She finally succeeds in making the desired impression on the head cowhand when she appears at a hoedown in a fetching red dress. The ballet Rodeo tells its simple story with warmth and humor. Its premiere on October 16, 1942, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York was a large success; soon after, Copland produced a four-movement suite from the ballet, which the Boston Pops Orchestra premiered in May 1943.
Copland quoted folk songs in this work in order to create a feel of time and place of the setting. He also used cowboy songs, fiddle melodies, railroad songs and a Scottish dance song. In “Buckaroo Holiday” he quotes “Sis Joe” and “If He’d be a Buckaroo.”
Suite Aaron Copland
(Born November 14, 1900, in Brooklyn; died December 2, 1990, in North Tarrytown, New York)
In 1940, when the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder was about to become a film, the Hollywood producer Sol Lesser asked Aaron Copland to compose the music. With war threatening, Our Town, with its nostalgic evocation of American homespun values, was very appealing to him. Copland was just coming into his own as a composer in 1939: Of Mice and Men, the first feature film he ever scored, came out that year; for it, he received an Academy Award nomination. Also that year, Ballet Caravan staged the first full performance of his Billy the Kid with orchestra, and Copland’s first book, What To Listen For In Music, appeared and became very successful. Although Copland returned to New York following the completion of the music for Of Mice and Men, only a few months later he was asked to return to Hollywood to work on the music for Our Town. He had seen the play and had spent time composing at the MacDowell Artists’ Colony just outside Peterborough, New Hampshire, so he knew the “real” Grover’s Corners. (Coincidentally, Wilder had actually written the play while he was in residence at the Colony.)
Our Town details the everyday life of ordinary people in a charming little town. The subject appealed to Copland, who wanted to compose music with high artistic standards but also one that could have wide appeal. He especially liked the challenge, saying, “The composer is in a special position to appreciate what music does to a film because he sees it first without any music. Movie audiences may not consciously realize they are listening to music when they view a film, but it works in their emotions nonetheless.” The score for Our Town received an Oscar nomination; the film itself was nominated for best picture. Copland explained, “For the film version, they were counting on the music to translate the transcendental aspects of the story. I tried for clean and clear sounds and in general used straight-forward harmonies and rhythms that would project the serenity and sense of security of the story.”
The film premiered in May 1940, after which Copland prepared the short concert excerpt, which premiered on June 9, 1940, with the Columbia Broadcasting Symphony under Howard Barlow. The Boston Pops conducted by Leonard Bernstein, to whom the score is dedicated, introduced a revised version on May 7, 1944. The suite includes the title music, as well as music from the churchyard scene, and passages illustrating daily life in Grover’s Corners. The music evokes the peaceful New England location, using hymn tunes from the region in a calm tempo.
“Party Scene” and“The Promise of Living”from The Tender Land
When Copland wrote The Tender Land, American composers were suddenly taking a new interest in opera, due probably to the successes of the operas of Britten and Menotti. The Suite comes from the rarely performed opera, The Tender Land, commissioned for television by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein for the 30th anniversary of the League of Composers in 1954. Copland initially pursued possible collaborations with Thornton Wilder, Clifford Odets and Arthur Miller for this work. The opera had its premiere not on television, but at City Center in New York on April 1, 1954. Although the critics praised the music for the opera, they condemned the libretto because in it, the characters, especially the women, were not strongly delineated.
Erik Johns, Copland’s lover, whose pseudonym was Horace Everett, created the opera libretto, starting with a suggestion of Copland that he look to James Agee’s Let Us now Praise Famous Men with its accompanying photographs by Walker Evans, a book compassionately exploring the subject of poverty in the rural South. Everett changed the locale from the South to the Midwest and altered the class to lower middle class, shifting the emphasis from a difference of class to a difference of individual personality. The story of the opera focuses on the isolated world of a rural family at the time of their eldest daughter’s graduation. On the eve of graduation, she is not sure of her place in the world and plans to elope with a visiting boy so that she may assert her being. The boy, fearful of responsibility, flees, and the girl’s family consoles her; nevertheless, she knows it is time to lead her own life. Her mother, although accepting, does not recognize the woman her daughter has become when the girl leaves to find her own life.
The work deals with both sexual identity and individual freedom. The “Party Scene,” comes from Act 2, from a scene where the neighbors dance a lively square dance, “Stamp your foot upon the floor,” at the graduation party. “The Promise of Living,” the soaring finale evokes the dignity and meaningfulness of labor. Honest work, here the cultivation the soil of the American heartland and reaping the blessings of a rich harvest define a balanced and fulfilled life. Growing from a single, sustained horn note, the selection becomes a majestic hymn of thanksgiving. The final chord encompasses the full range of the orchestra from the lowest bass notes to the shimmering high strings, suggesting the timelessness of the wide-open prairie.
The finale of Rodeo, “Hoe-Down” is based on the song “Bonyparte,” and it also briefly quotes “McLeod’s Reel” as well as “Gilderoy” and “Tip Toe, Pretty Betty Martin,” all tunes Copland found in Traditional Music by Ira Ford. Copland utilized most of these songs whole and in generally traditional settings; he also composed some original music in folk style, making it hard for the listener to know which is the original material and which not. Even though he incorporates folk-type music, the piece definitely displays Copland’s musical personality and his brilliant orchestration.