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ClassicsOnline Home » Orchestral Spectacular
Spain exercised a curious fascination over the nationalist
composers of the nineteenth century, with a particular appeal in Russia, a country that
was finding again its own identity in literature and music, after the Westernisation
initiated by Peter the Great.
The French might be forgiven for a certain preoccupation with
the very different traditional music of their geographical neighbours. The nineteenth and
twentieth centuries offer various examples of this interest, from Saint-Saëns, Lalo and
Bizet to Ravel and Debussy. Emmanuel Chabrier, like his Russian contemporaries, was
intended by his family for a securer career than any that music could offer. He showed
exceptional ability as a pianist as a child, but studied law and took employment in the
Ministry of the Interior in Paris. It was not until 1880, eleven years after the death of
his parents, that he became a full-time musician. His colourful orchestral piece Espana
was written in the following year, its inspiration a visit to Spain. It has always enjoyed
popularity, a success not shared by the dramatic works by which the composer set
Rimsky-Korsakov's famous Capriccio espagnol began as a
Fantasia on Spanish Themes for violin and orchestra, but was eventually completed in 1887
in its present form. Rimsky-Korsakov belonged to the musical generation after Glinka and
once he had relinquished his original career as a naval officer devoted himself to the
cause of Russian music with a professionalism that some of his contemporaries lacked. He
was one of the five nationalist composers, Stasov's Mighty Handful, under the influence of
Balakirev, and possessed particular ability in orchestration, a gift he was later to
exercise in removing apparent crudities from the music of Mussorgsky and in completing
what Borodin had left undone. He stressed that the brilliant Capriccio espagnol was
intended as a display of orchestral colour, an aim which it achieves admirably.
The origin of the orchestral piece Night on the Bare Mountain
lies in music written for a play, The Witch, by a friend from Mussorgsky's time in the
army. The composer later had the idea of writing an opera on a story by Gogol, St. John's
Eve. In 1867, dismissed for the moment from the civil service, he found the leisure to
write an orchestral work based on the material he had composed to depict a witches'
sabbath, held on the eve of the Feast of St. John, at mid-summer, on Bare Mountain.
Mussorgsky was to make use of the same music five years later for an abortive stage-work,
in which he collaborated with Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and Cui.
As seems usual on these occasions, the witches' celebration
starts with relative decorum, before proceeding to more characteristic activities.
Throughout Mussorgsky derives his inspiration from Russian folk-song, an element never far
from the musical idiom he employed. Borodin's professional career in chemistry left him
relatively little time for music. His first symphony had occupied him intermittently
between 1862 and 1867, while the second, started in 1869, reached its final form twelve
years later. From 1870 onwards he worked at his opera Prince Igor, for which Stasov had
sent him a scenario, writing music and words piece-meal, but without ever providing
himself with a full libretto. At his death in 1887 the opera was still unfinished and was
to be filled out by Rimsky-Korsakov and his young colleague Glazunov as best they could.
The Polovtsian Dances make up a sequence of choral dances in
the second act of the opera, where they provide
entertainment for the Tartar Khan's prisoners, Prince Igor and his son. The opening dance
was orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakov and the remaining dances by the composer, all making
rhythms of enormous vitality and melodic material that suggests vividly the scene in all its barbarous energy.
Ravel wrote the orchestral tour de force Bolero in 1928 for the
dancer Ida Rubinstein, describing it on one occasion as an orchestrated crescendo and on
another as "une blague" and yet again as "vide de musique". It is
based on the insistent drum rhythm of an
invented Spanish dance and won immediate popularity.
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was created by Sir Thomas
Beecham three weeks before its first concert, which took place in the Davis Hall, Croydon, on 15th September, 1946. The orchestra was initially
associated with the Royal Philharmonic Society and involved in the Society's subscription
concerti series, later earning for itself the title
"Royal", when this association came to an end. Beecham gave his last concert
with the orchestra in 1960 and was succeeded by Rudolf Kempe, who became principal conductor on
Beecham's death the following year. The orchestra has from the beginning been involved in
recording, with a major international reputation supported by foreign tours and by association with conductors and soloists of the
Adrian Leaper was appointed Assistant Conductor to Stanislaw
Skrowaczewski of the Hallé Orchestra in 1986, and has since then enjoyed an increasingly
busy career, with engagements at home and throughout Europe.Born in 1953, Adrian Leaper
studied at the Royal Academy of Music and was for a
number of years co-principal French horn in the Philharmonia Orchestra, before turning his attention exclusively to conducting. He has
been closely involved with the Naxos and Marco
Polo labels and has been consequently instrumental in introducing elements of English
repertoire to Eastern Europe. His numerous
recordings include a complete cycle of Sibelius symphonies for Naxos.
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