Symphony No. 1 in C Major (1855)
Georges Bizet (b. Paris, 1838; d. Bougival, 1875)
Bizet is universally admired for his final and best known work, the opera Carmen, but he is certainly no “one-work” composer. Opera fans flock to the rare performance of The Pearl Fishers in order to hear its melting tenor-baritone duet. Symphony patrons recognize the music that he wrote for a performance of the play L’Arlésienne. Of his two completed symphonies, it is the youthful, spontaneous-sounding Symphony No. 1 in C Major, composed just as the composer was turning 17, that gets most of the attention. In 1855, the year of the symphony’s composition, Fromental Halévy, the reigning French opera composer (and later the coauthor of the libretto for Carmen), declared Bizet “a great musician.” Bizet then married Halévy’s daughter. Bizet never got to hear his symphony, and it was not published until the time of its first performance, eighty years later. The prominent scholar Winton Dean said that “in quality and craftsmanship it has few rivals and perhaps no superior in the work of any composer of such youth.” Mozart, Mendelssohn and Richard Strauss, stand aside!
The Symphony in C Major is the work of a composer armed with fully forged compositional tools: piano skills sufficient to launch a concert career, a remarkable sensitivity in writing for the individual instruments of the orchestra and a confidence in his own work unfettered by over-dependence on models. Bizet won the praise of the established composers Berlioz and Liszt, and he soon had a Prix de Rome under his belt. (While resident in Rome, his idea of a working vacation was to wander the Alban hills, trying out the local church organs.)
Bizet’s Symphony begins with a vigorous unison statement by most of the orchestra. At the end of the first movement, when the beginning theme returns as the conclusion, one realizes the extent of the composer’s wit. The tone of the second movement is set by the oboe, in a striking melody that remained a favorite type of the composer when depicting exotic landscapes on stage. A sprightly Allegro vivace (really a Scherzo movement) and a head-over-heels Finale are the final two facets of this polished gem by a teenage composer.
Concierto de Málaga (1981, orchestrated by Federico Moreno Torroba)
Celedonio Romero (b. Málaga, 1913; d. San Diego,1996)
Celedonio Romero composed more than one hundred works, including a dozen concertos, and his legacy is both far-reaching and long-lasting. He made his first public appearance on the classical guitar at the age of ten, studied at conservatories in Málaga and Madrid, became a pupil of the composer Joaquin Turina, and made his early career performing widely in Spain, France and Italy. To escape the repressive regime of Franco, he and his family emigrated to southern California in 1957. There he and his sons Celin, Pepe and Angel formed the guitar quartet Los Romeros and became known as the “first royal of the guitar,” making appearances with major orchestras, at Carnegie Hall, at the Hollywood Bowl and on television from the Ed Sullivan Show to the Tonight Show. The Romeros have performed for Presidents at the White House, for the Pope and for European royalty, and have made numerous recordings. When grandsons Celino and Lito took their places in the quartet, the legacy lengthened by a generation.
Celedonio Romero received the title Commendador de Número de al Orden de Isabel la Católica, Spain’s highest civilian decoration, and numerous other awards in a wide range of places, including Mexico, Japan and the Vatican. For his eightieth birthday the city of Málaga created a museum and foundation in his name. He named his Concierto de Málaga for the city in which Celin, Pepe and Angel were born. Tonight’s performance commemorates the hundredth anniversary of the year of his birth.
Pepe Romero kindly provided the following notes from the composer:
I begin my “Concierto de Málaga” with a soleares. It represents the melancholic and profound sentiments of our ancient Andalusian race. One day my dear and unforgettable friend, the great maestro Federico Moreno Torroba, after listening at one of my concerts to my “Suite Andaluza,” which also has a soleares in the first movement, told me I should write a concerto for guitar and orchestra using my themes and variations of soleares. This is how the idea of writing this concerto was born. The second movement is a fantasia based on the songs of the guajiros cubanos (Cuban peasants) that embedded themselves in my soul when I heard them as a child. My father (who was an engineer) designed the harbor of Cienfuegos, Cuba. There the peasants sang of love at the end of their daily chores and, as the moon came out, they danced with their girls and sang guajiras. The tangos tientos forming the third movement have one of the most beautiful rhythms of Andalusia, full of a history reminiscent of troubadors, lovers, and gardens perfumed by flowers, of rope ladders thrown over balconies full of carnations (to admit lovers) and gardens where the ladies toy with love and their passionate suitors play the vihuela. It is a rhythm all Andalusians carry in their hearts. The concerto reaches its ending with a fiery cadenza with the orchestra shouting ‘ole’ to the guitarist. This concerto I dedicate with all my love and admiration to my son, Pepe.”
El Cortijo de Don Sancho (“The Estate of Don Sancho”–1986)
In 1996, Pepe Romero and the Bellingham Festival Orchestra performed the world premiere of El Cortijo de Don Sancho in honor of the composer, Pepe’s father, who had recently passed away at the age of eighty-three. Celedonio Romero dedicated El Cortijo de Don Sancho to his wife, Angelita Romero, for whom Cervantes’ picaresque novel Don Quixote had always resonated deeply. When Pepe Romero was a child, his mother read the novel aloud and taught him to take aural dictation from it. El Cortijo de Don Sancho portrays episodes inspired by Quixote’s sidekick, Sancho Panza. When Sancho suddenly finds himself carrying the noble title “Don” and in charge of an estate, he does not realize that Don Quixote is mocking him, and he puts his best efforts toward governance. The six scenes depicted in El Cortijo are inspired by the picaresque sort of life represented in Don Quixote.
Cancion — Song
Peteneras — Lament for a famous flamenco dancer who was killed when two of her lovers fought over her.
Sequiriyas — Homage to the composer’s flamenco-playing friends.
Alba — Dawn scene, traditionally describing lovers’ parting. Here, Sancho readies his horse for the day’s ride.
Fandango — Slow, stately dance, a type sometimes known as the “peasants’ minuet.”
Bulerias — Based on the idea of playing a trick on someone. Surprising turns of rhythm keep the listener and the musicians on full alert.
In some of the flamenco-inspired sections, the orchestra and conductor clap along.
Pulcinella Suite (Ballet 1920; Suite, 1922, revised 1947)
Igor Stravinsky (b. Oranienbaum, Russia, 1882; d. Venice, 1971)
Stravinsky established himself as a major composer with The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris shortly before World War I. After the war, Diaghilev tried to entice the composer back into the world of ballet by suggesting that Stravinsky arrange some eighteenth-century music for modern orchestra. After first declining the offer, the composer relented; with the resulting work, Pulcinella, Diaghilev got more than he had bargained for. In the old Italian commedia dell’arte, a masked entertainment that was improvised anew for each performance against the background of a stock scenario, Pulcinella was the chief character. Pulcinella is also the Punch of the English Punch-and-Judy show and the Petrushka of Stravinsky’s earlier ballet. In the stock commedia dell’arte plots, Pulcinella’s eventual marriage with Pimpinella is never without adventure. Rivals attack him and leave him for dead. He stages a revival and then confounds everyone by seeming to clone himself. Multiple Pulcinellas perform a “Keystone Cops” routine.
In order to convey the Neapolitan aspects of Diaghilev’s scenario, Stravinsky agreed to use music that Diaghilev suggested and that both men thought to be by the 18th-century Neapolitan composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. Stravinsky recomposed, rather than arranged, pieces that have since been identified as the work of three different composers: Pergolesi, Domenico Gallo and Carlo Monza.
Using the musical gestures of the original compositions, Stravinsky nipped and tucked, added material to throw the symmetry off balance, inserted extra notes in the harmonies and generally put his own stamp on the music. The process was of pivotal importance to the composer and his newly emerging Neoclassic style. The result is crisp and incisive in the opening Sinfonia, mock-tender in the Serenata and frenetic in the Tarantella. By the end, all is bright, Neapolitan sunshine. Naturally, the score calls for brilliant orchestral playing.
Stravinsky clearly valued his Pulcinella, perhaps realizing that it was a seminal work that would influence him as a composer for the next several decades. Stravinsky returned to the work several times to extract suites for various forces, such as cello and piano, or, here, a Bellingham Festival-sized orchestra.
Ed Rutschman’s musicological articles have been published in the U.S. and Europe, and his compositions have been performed on four continents. A member of the Music Department faculty at Western Washington University, he is a recipient of the Bellingham Mayor’s Arts Award and of WWU’s Excellence in Teaching Award. He holds academic degrees in musicology, composition and piano performance.