La Oración del Torero, Op.34
Joaquín Turina (1882-1949)

Like many early 20th-century Spanish musicians, Turina began his formal studies in his homeland before succumbing to the lure of Paris, which was then Europe’s musical capital. From 1905 to the First World War, he studied and worked there, building a reputation as pianist, conductor, music critic, and teacher. He developed friendships with Isaac Albéniz and Manuel de Falla as well as with many prominent French musicians. The interaction with his countrymen was crucial to his development as a Spanish nationalist, for Falla and Albéniz encouraged Turina to seek his inspiration in Spanish folk and popular music. At the same time, Turina was determined to be accepted as a European musician, and strove to master traditional techniques and formal structures. His synthesis of Spanish and European elements makes his music distinctive.

Turina’s most famous chamber composition is La oración del torero, Op. 34 (1925). Originally composed for lute quartet, it has become better known in the composer’s arrangements for string quartet (as we hear it this evening) and string orchestra. The title means “the bullfighter’s prayer.” The torero prays in the chapel of the church in the town square before entering the ring. His reverence contrasts with the hubbub of the excited crowd outside, eager for the quintessential Andalusian spectacle to begin. Turina shifts between the paso doble [a brisk, march-like dance in duple meter] of the spectators and the slower, predominantly triple meter prayer of the supplicant bullfighter, giving this eight-minute movement both structure and narrative. Elegant, personal, and filled with local flavor, La oración del torero is a minor masterpiece.

Quintet in F major for guitar and strings
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1958)

The great Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia (1893-1987) had a long association with Italian-born Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. The fruit of their friendship was a generous handful of solo, chamber, and concerted compositions for guitar. The collaboration began in April 1934, when Segovia traveled from Spain to Florence to play two premières: a piece by Mexico’s Manuel Ponce, and Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s first work for solo guitar, Variazioni attraverso i Secoli [Variations Across the Centuries], Op.71. Pleased with the Variazioni, the Spanish virtuoso asked the Italian composer for a sonata. Castelnuovo-Tedesco accommodated him with Omaggio a Boccherini, Op.77, which Segovia introduced in Paris the following year. Delighted with his performance, Castelnuovo-Tedesco then presented him with Capriccio Diabolico (Omaggio a Paganini), Op.85, a dual tribute to Paganini and Segovia. A Guitar Concerto followed in 1939 and, after the war, several other works.

The Quintet for Guitar and Strings, Op.143 came about on the heels of Segovia’s 1950 performances of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Guitar Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Alfred Leonard, director of Los Angeles’ flourishing Music Guild, approached Segovia about participating in a chamber music concert the following year. Segovia demurred, opining that the chamber literature for his instrument was too scanty. Apart from Boccherini, he only knew of Schubert’s Quartet for guitar, flute, violin, and cello, and some salon pieces by Paganini.

In the event, Segovia consented with the proviso that Castelnuovo-Tedesco would compose a new work to enrich the contemporary literature. “I took the challenge,” the composer later wrote. The premiere took place the following year on a Music Guild event in Los Angeles’ Wilson-Ebell Theatre, featuring Segovia and the Paganini Quartet.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco retained a special fondness for this quintet, deeming it one of his finest chamber works. His pride was justified, for the quintet’s concise form and clear, flowing lines have an almost Schubertian lyricism. Those characteristics shine in the opening Allegro, vivo e schietto [frankly, sincerely]. A free sonata structure with non-traditional key relationships, it is one of his pithiest movements. He meanders seamlessly through multiple tonalities, navigating satisfactorily back to the home key of F major at the end. Two principal melodic ideas dominate the movement, with liberal exchanges of material in imitative entrances. The opening gesture serves as a motto, recurring as connective tissue.

A plaintive viola solo opens the Andante mesto; all four strings are muted. Here again, a series of imitative entrances unites the texture, eventually allowing the guitar to spin embroidery in its upper register. Midway through the movement, Castelnuovo-Tedesco introduces a Souvenir d’Espagne, here a duo between guitar and first violin before the other strings join them. A chordal quasi-cadenza for guitar ends this segment, leading to a free reprise of the opening music, with fleeting allusions to the ‘Spanish’ souvenir. This was the composer’s favorite movement of the four.

The Scherzo is a brilliant march, using string harmonics and other extended techniques such as col legno [striking the string with the bow stick instead of the hair] to vary the timbres of the string instruments, initially above a nervous repeated viola note. Capricious modulations and lively dance rhythms propel the music, which has a more overtly popular aura than its predecessors. At the end, Castelnuovo-Tedesco superimposes his themes, neatly weaving together his cornucopia of ideas.

The finale is a passionate tarantella. As in the slow movement, Castelnuovo-Tedesco interrupts in the middle with another Souvenir d’Espagne. This one is marked in the score as a canzone popolare [popular song], but it is clearly a habanera. Following a return to the tarantella, a wild and impetuous coda propels the Quintet to a joyous close.

Concerto in D major for Guitar and Strings, RV93
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

One look at Vivaldi’s places of birth and death – Venice and Vienna, respectively – will tell you that he traveled. For his era, he also lived a long time. Known as Il prete rosso – the ‘Red Priest’ -- in his lifetime because of his red hair, he is most strongly associated with Venice’s Ospedale della Pietà, a girls’ orphanage with a remarkable music program. Vivaldi’s career took him to a number of other important musical centers throughout the Italian peninsula, and probably at least two countries across the Alps to the north. The best efforts of modern musical scholarship have been unable to pinpoint with certainty his whereabouts between autumn 1729 and spring 1731; however, there is strong circumstantial evidence pointing to a sojourn in Bohemia and Prague. There the Czech nobleman and impresario Count Franz Anton von Sporck, who boasted an opera house in his Prague palace as well as a theatre in his summer palace, was producing two of Vivaldi’s operas.

This work was apparently written for Count Johann Joseph von Wrtby (1669-1734), another Czech nobleman who was Oberstburggraf (royal governor) from 1710 to 1734 as well as president of the court of appeal and hereditary treasurer. For music history, more significant than his titles is that Count Wrtby was an opera patron and a major collector of opera libretti. Further, he came from a lute-loving family. He appears to have commissioned several works for lute from the visiting Italian composer Vivaldi. Two are trios for lute, violin and bass; the third is this so-called concerto, originally for two violins, lute and bass. The autograph manuscripts have survived for all three works that Vivaldi composed for Count Wrtby. They are in the rare books collection of the Turin Library. Watermark studies have shown their mansucript paper to be of an unusual Central European provenance, and the scores all bear the dedication: Per Sua Ecceleza Signor Conte Wrttbij.

All three of these compositions belong to a special group of chamber pieces that Vivaldi called concerti. They are not concertos in the modern sense, nor even in the Baroque sense of, for example, Vivaldi’s violin concertos in The Four Seasons. To begin with, there is no orchestral complement. Rather, these works are concerto-like compositions for chamber ensemble: concertos without ripieno [full orchestral complement]. About twenty works in this category survive. The one we hear clearly favors the lute (here transcribed for guitar), with the violins approximating the orchestral tutti and the cello filling the function of the bass.

For all this piece has a mysterious background, its music is among the most familiar in all Vivaldi. The three movements adhere to the Italian concerto model of fast-slow-fast. They are all in the home tonality of D major, breaking from the usual pattern of switching key to the dominant or relative minor for the slow movement. Apart from that, the structure of the concerto will be readily recognizable to the listener. Vivaldi’s predilection for repetitive rhythmic patterns is present in all three movements, providing a unifying pulse. His melodies are lovely and, in the slow movement, quite soothing. The finale has a bumptious 12/8 meter, but the gentle sonorities of guitar and strings contain it from any hint of excess. Altogether, this is refined and joyous music that spurs the imagination about life in the Bohemian court at Prague. If Vivaldi brought this kind of good cheer to the cold north, he must have been a welcome visitor indeed.

Capricho árabe
Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909)

Called “the Sarasate of the guitar” by his contemporaries (a reference to the brilliant Spanish violinist/composer Pablo de Sarasate), Francisco Tárrega is widely credited for having laid the foundation of modern classical guitar technique. A native of Villareal, Castellón, he was educated in Madrid and eventually settled in Barcelona. In 19th-century Europe, where piano had become the domestic instrument par excellence, Tárrega was central to the renaissance of interest in guitar. His influence extended well into the 20th century. Even Andres Segovia, who claimed to be largely self-taught, acknowledged Tárrega’s legacy.

In contrast to many of his contemporaries who favored traditional forms such as sonatas, variations, and fantasias, Tárrega opted for romantic and programmatic titles in his original works. Capricho árabe is representative of his concert showpieces and has become a guitar standard. It celebrates the powerful influence of Moorish culture in Spain, particularly in the southern region of Andalusia. The five-minute piece is subtitled Serenata, suggesting the hopeful lover beneath the lady’s window.

Tárrega’s music is in a free ternary form, with a contrasting middle section in F major. The introduction is in Phrygian mode, which helps to establish the exotic Arabic atmosphere.

Quintet in D Major for Guitar and Strings, G. 448, “Fandango”
Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805)

The career of Luigi Boccherini remains shrouded in some mystery despite a resurgence of interest in his music in recent decades. Born in Lucca, Italy, he spent almost his entire mature career in Spain, yet there is a 9-year period from 1787-1796, during which scholars have never definitively determined exactly what he did – or even where he was!

We do know that his patrons included King Frederick Wilhelm II of Prussia, but it now seems likely that Boccherini remained in Spain for this unaccounted-for period, fulfilling his obligations to the Prussian monarch via long distance. He is certainly the most important exponent of the high classical style in Spanish music. A couple of dozen of his symphonies survive; however, Boccherini’s impact was greatest in the realm of chamber music. He is best known for his approximately 120 string quintets, almost all of which call for a second cello. (He was himself a virtuoso cellist.) His quintets differ in this respect from Mozart's string quintets, which add second viola.

Boccherini also composed an enormous amount of chamber music involving guitar. The example that concludes this evening’s program illustrates the confusion that surrounds Boccherini's music. While Boccherini maintained a catalogue of his compositions, for some reason he did not include his guitar quintets. In its original guise, this D Major Quintet, G.448 was one of a set of six quintets for piano and strings, believed to have been written for and sent to the Prussian king in 1797.

Boccherini frequently arranged his own works for different instrumental combinations. This arrangement, which does not appear in the composer's catalogue, is for guitar and strings; a third authentic version for string quintet is also extant. As if this bewildering profusion of options were not enough, the publishing history adds to the confusion. The composer catalogued the six string quintets as Op. 56. His publisher, Ignaz Pleyel of Paris (who retained Boccherini's letters, thus providing much of the history we do have) issued them as Op. 46!

The music of the D Major Quintet is pleasant and mellifluous. The first two movements, Allegro maestoso and Pastorale, are sometimes reversed in performance, presumably because their order was altered in one of the three versions. What makes the work memorable is its finale, which consists of a dramatic slow introduction that leads to a Fandango, the Spanish dance in moderately fast triple meter that first appeared in the 18th century. Fandangos typically have a fairly static harmonic basis that allows for improvisation in the upper part; they tend to be dominated by Spanish modal flavor. This example is one of Boccherini's finest, and illustrates the flair with which he had learnt to emulate the native music of his adopted homeland.

Laurie Shulman © 2019
First North American Serial Rights Only