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ClassicsOnline Home » SARASATE, P. de: Violin and Piano Music, Vol. 3 (Tianwa Yang, Hadulla)
Tianwa Yang’s admired and revelatory Sarasate series continues with a volume of captivatingly melodic compositions. Given Sarasate’s prodigious status in the violin pantheon, technical demands on the performer are often—but not universally—constant. But so too is his unfailing gift for lyricism, whether in the elegant Boléro, the balletic Sérénade andalouse or the aria-like Rêverie. The dazzling bowing difficulties in the Fantaisie-Caprice are thrilling, and so are the bird call harmonics of Los pájaros de Chile, written during a South American tour and only very recently published.
Pablo Sarasate (1844–1908)
Music for Violin and Piano • 3
The great Spanish violinist Pablo Sarasate was born in Pamplona in 1844, the son of a military bandmaster. After study in Madrid with Manuel Rodríguez Sáez, a pupil of Jules Armingaud, the leader of the quartet of which Edouard Lalo was a member, he entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of twelve, with the aid of a scholarship from Queen Isabella and the Province of Navarre. Here he became a pupil of Jean-Delphin Alard and also embarked on the study of composition. He won first prize for violin in 1857 and the following year for solfège, and in 1859 for harmony as a pupil of Henri Reber. By the age of fifteen, however, Sarasate had launched himself on a concert career, at first winning a reputation in Spain and France, before more extended tours to North and South America and throughout the rest of Europe. Composers who wrote for him included Saint-Saëns, Bruch, Lalo, Wieniawski and Dvořák, and he remained distinguished for the purity and beauty of his tone, perfection of technique and musical command. He refused, however, to play Brahms’s Violin Concerto, claiming that the only proper melody in the work was given to the oboe. His playing was in contrast to that of his older contemporary Joseph Joachim, who represented a more characteristically German attitude to performance. For his own use Sarasate wrote a number of works for violin and piano or violin and orchestra, including, as might be expected, compositions based on Spanish themes and rhythms. Among these one of the best known is his Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs), together with his Spanish Dances. Following the common practice of his time, he also wrote concert fantasies based on themes from popular operas of the day, of which the best known remains his Carmen Fantasy.
Boléro • Zortzico d’Iparraguirre • Sérénade andalouse • Adiós montañas mias – Danse espagnole • Le Sommeil • Rêverie • Introduction et fandango • Fantaisie-Caprice • Prière et berceuse • Confidences – Romance sans paroles • Caprice sur Mireille de Gounod • Airs écossais • Los pájaros de Chile • Les Adieux
These days, the public is infatuated with the personal lives of the rich and famous. If Pablo de Sarasate were alive today, he would be a headliner in the tabloids of the world. There were innuendoes of a ménage à trois with his married pianists. A foremost Sarasate expert, the Duke of Baena, insinuated homosexuality. He was shocked when I told him there was a daughter, born of an affair with a wealthy Viennese woman. And then there was the abortive youthful love—his first—for Marie Lefébure-Wély. She was the daughter of the famous organist, who forbade the marriage. The young Sarasate was crushed. Seeking solace, he went to his beloved master, Delphin Alard. The worldly Alard proffered this advice: “Marry your violin, my son, never a woman.” Sic gloria mundi!
Sarasate has been subject to criticism as a composer. What may come as a complete surprise in this continuing foray into Sarasate’s complete works is that he is a great melodist. Compare Sarasate’s salon music, for example, with that of any of his contemporaries. Raff, Sauret, Sivori, Ernst, or a host of others, simply cannot equal Sarasate’s melodic gift. While everyone acknowledges Sarasate’s mastery of violin writing, they neglect to listen to his accompaniments attentively. Every introduction is a masterpiece in miniature. It sets the stage for all that follows, and the accompaniment is an integral part of the whole.
Pablo de Sarasate must be considered one of the great melodic composers of all time. His melodies are frequently of Schubertian poignancy. While he never matched Paganini in dramatic operatic declamations, he certainly was his equal in violinistic derring-do. The present series devoted to the complete works of Sarasate contains a wide spectrum of music.
Boléro, Op. 30, is an elegant view of this sensual dance. The bowing demands virtuosity and supreme delicacy. The piece is dedicated to the illustrious violin professor of the Paris Conservatoire, Martin Marsick, who was the teacher of Jacques Thibaud.
Sarasate turned frequently to the Zortzico. This is a compelling dance of his native Basque region, written in 5/8 metre with the agogic accent on the elongated second beat. Of the four Zortzicos that Sarasate wrote over his entire career, two are contained in this recording. Zortzico d’Iparraguirre Op. 39, is a transcription, a cantabile zortzico rather than dance music, and comes directly from José María de Iparraguirre, with Sarasate’s arrangement a faithful version of the original. The Danse espagnole: Adiós montañas mías is from another equally famous Spaniard, Joaquín Larregla, and is an excellent example of Sarasate’s skill as an arranger-composer. Although these two zortzicos use the same general compositional formula, Sarasate brings subtle shadings into play. He is never a formula composer.
Sérénade andalouse, Op. 10, must not be confused with a composition of the same name, Op. 28. The former work is not nearly as virtuosic as the latter. Its melodies are poignant, and the middle section has a balletic elegance akin to Tchaikovsky.
Le Sommeil, Op. 11, is dedicated to Sarasate’s adoptive father, Théodore de Lassabathie, director of the Paris Conservatoire. The introduction has an air of great anticipation. The violin enters with a memorably melancholy melody, a rival to any nocturne by Chopin.
Rêverie, Op. 4, is dedicated to the woman who raised the young Pablo, Mme de Sabbathie. He always referred to her as his mother. This Rêverie is more like an aria from a fine French opera than a salon piece. Here again Sarasate shows his melodic flair.
Introduction et Fandango, Op. 40, is dedicated to Berthe-Ottilia Goldschmidt, who was the daughter of his manager and accompanist. Berthe-Ottilia inherited Sarasate’s villa in Biarritz. In the words of the Duke of Baena: “Being Jewish, she fled in terror from the Nazis to the south of France.” We can imagine Sarasate’s inspiration as he sat in an Andalousian gypsy cave, drinking sherry and smoking his omnipresent cigar.
Fantaisie-Caprice is a story in itself. The manuscript is dated 1862 and autographed M. Sarasate. It remained undiscovered until 1981 (the date that I published it) because the piece was mistakenly attributed to Sarasate’s father Miguel. Fantaisie-Caprice is an extraordinary composition fashioned in the style of HW Ernst and employs the famous bowing of François Prume. Just listen to the finale of the piece. The rapid notes are not played spiccato. No, the bowing is far more complicated and dances on the strings rapidly alternating two notes down bow and two notes up bow. Sarasate always received a ‘gran éxito’ when he used this same bowing in the second variation of Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata.
Prière et Berceuse, Op.17, is Schubertian in inspiration as is the Romance sans paroles, Op. 7.
The Caprice sur Mireille is a unique departure from Sarasate’s other opera fantasies. Mireille is an opera by Charles Gounod based on a poem by Frédéric Mistral. Even though the première was negatively received, and remains controversial to this day, Sarasate wrote a splendid fantasy on its themes. Considered as a whole, Caprice sur Mireille is gentle and ever elegant. There are no overt virtuoso displays, except for Sarasate’s famous flying staccato. Because of its technical accessibility and melodiousness, it is a wonder that it has never become standard repertoire.
Airs écossais, Op.34, is dedicated to the great Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. It should never be said that Sarasate lacked respect for his rivals. Once, while in the home of Isaac Albéniz in Barcelona, someone announced that Ysaÿe was arriving that day. Sarasate said: “A great artist must never arrive without an entourage. Let’s go to meet Ysaÿe at the station.”
Birds have always been a supreme inspiration to composers. Los pájaros de Chile is a fine example of the violin as an avian prima donna. It dates from Sarasate’s first concert tour of South America in the Spring of 1871, and was virtually unknown until its recent publication. I know of one other piece from this same tour, similarly unknown. It is unavailable at this time. The introduction to Los pájaros owes a great debt to Saint-Saëns, while the violin writing, with its myriad of bird-like harmonic effects, is brilliantly evocative. Compare the inspiration of Sarasate’s Los pájaros to other works of the same genre and the listener comes away with admiration of Sarasate the composer.
Les Adieux, Op. 9, is a tender duet. It was written for Sarasate’s first true love, Marie Lefébure-Wély and is obviously autobiographical in music and in feeling; a sad conclusion to young love, but a fitting ending to this collection.
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