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ClassicsOnline Home » DON QUIXOTE IN SPANISH MUSIC
The five works that make up this recording were all inspired by Cervantes’ masterpiece Don Quijote de la Mancha. Barbieri’s incidental music was composed as part of the first official commemoration, in 1861, of the anniversary of Cervantes’ death. Rodrigo’s symphonic poem Ausencias de Dulcinea (Dulcinea’s Absence), scored unusuallyfor four voices and orchestra, is characterised by constant changes of mood and tempo to express the shifts between the heroic and the romantic. The most recent work on this disc, a miniature suite from Jorge Fernández Guerra’s soundtrack, Tres momentos de Don Quichotte, for G.W. Pabst’s 1933 silent movie, has been desribed by the composer as “idealised cinematographic music… achieving moments of great lyricism”.
By David Denton
Don Quixote in Spanish Music
The five works that make up this CD are all based on Cervantes' masterpiece and all written by Spanish composers. They give us a musical insight into a literary work that is still vibrant and relevant today, not only as an entertaining, thought-provoking text, but also as a source of artistic inspiration. From Barbieri's mid-nineteenth-century stage work (1861) to Jorge Fernández Guerra's new soundtrack for Pabst's 1930s film (2005), from echoes of Spanish song to the European symphonic tradition, Don Quixote has inspired musical creations and re-creations ranging from the faithful to the utopian, from attempts at programmatic depictions of the knight's thousand and one tales to heartfelt idealisations — and never has the past seemed so present.
On 30 January 1861, the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language declared that for the first time, the anniversary of Miguel de Cervantes' death would be marked on 23 April that year, with a memorial service in Madrid's Iglesia de las Trinitarias (the writer's last resting-place), and then a performance of a new stage-work in the evening. The task of creating the latter fell to successful playwright and librettist Ventura de la Vega, who came up with a three-act piece entitled Don Quijote de la Mancha. The composer Francisco Asenjo Barbieri (1823–94) worked with him, providing one musical number for each act, and the play had its première at Madrid 's Teatro del Príncipe on 23 April as planned.
In Act One, the character Cardenio sings the romantic Andante tenor aria "¿Quién menoscaba mis bienes? ", an ovillejo [poetic form consisting of three octosyllabic lines alternating with rhyming pies quebrados, lit. "broken feet", followed by a four-line strophe whose last line is a combination of the three pies quebrados ]. Barbieri's longest number is the second-act Bailete for large orchestra, a lively, brilliantly orchestrated jota in ternary rhythm. It depicts Don Quixote's surroundings and exploits, with recurring motifs, clearly Spanish in flavour, drawing the listener into the sounds and settings of the novel. The closing number, a piece in march time for solo tenor and bass chorus in Act Three, has nothing to do with the book per se. A paean to Cervantes the military man, it also makes reference to the universality of his literary achievements — in keeping with the commemorative nature of the occasion.
The memorial service and première of Don Quijote de la Mancha marked the beginning of the novel's adoption by the Spanish musical world, and this is the first recording of Barbieri's music.
Don Quijote velando las armas
The symphonic poem Don Quijote velando las armas by Gerardo Gombau Guerra (Salamanca, 1906 – Madrid, 1971) was the composer's entry for the Madrid Conservatory's composition contest of 1945. It is based on Part One, chapter III, "An account of the pleasant method taken by Don Quixote to be dubbed a knight" and was unanimously awarded first prize. The work had its première at Madrid's Teatro Monumental Cinema on 23 March 1947 by the Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid, with the composer on the podium, and shared the programme with Esteban Vélez's Preludio sobre la primera salida de Don Quijote, which had been given its first performance a month earlier by the same orchestra. It was dedicated to Gombau's much-admired composition teacher Conrado del Campo.
Don Quijote velando las armas (Don Quixote keeping vigil over his armour) was the composer's first large-scale orchestral work, and yet demonstrates considerable artistic and technical maturity. Programmatic in nature, it sets out to portray specific episodes from the novel, to which Gombau makes repeated references in his score. Structurally it consists of a prelude followed by a sinfonia, whose first theme represents Don Quixote and whose second portrays Dulcinea and which, after a development section in which various different episodes are depicted, closes with an inverted recapitulation — in other words, we hear Dulcinea's theme first, then Don Quixote's. As the composer himself pointed out, "the inversion is required by the novel's own trajectory", before the work ends with a dazzling section that brings together the earlier strands of music.
In line with post-Romantic aesthetics, Gombau would refer to this work as an "epic poem after Conrado and Strauss", acknowledging the debt he owed not only to the great European symphonic tradition but also to the nationalist trend then present in Spanish music, a feeling for which he had inherited from his teacher, with a nod to the Castilian soundscape in which Quixote's adventures take place.
Ausencias de Dulcinea
Ausencias de Dulcinea (Dulcinea's Absence) is another symphonic poem, this time for bass, four sopranos and orchestra, written by Joaquín Rodrigo (Sagunto, 1901 – Madrid, 1999) between December 1947 and January 1948, and based on the poem that begins " Árboles, yerbas y plantas… " in Part One, chapter XXVI. It won first prize at the competition organised to mark the 400th centenary of the birth of Cervantes and was dedicated to dancer José Greco. Ausencias had its première at Madrid 's Teatro Español as part of a gala concert that brought a year of Cervantes-based celebrations to an end, on 19 April 1948 by the Orquesta Nacional de España conducted by Eduardo Toldrá with the bass Chano Gonzalo as soloist.
Reviewing his own music, Rodrigo wrote: "Is there anything like dreaming about a work? … I delayed for a month and a half. Cervantes alternates grandeur and irony in these lines, making the poem complex to set. What did help me was the repetition of " Aquí lloró Don Quijote/Ausencias de Dulcinea/del Toboso "."
The poem is structured in twelve numbers which feature constant changes of character and tempo to express the shifts between the heroic and the romantic, a contrast defined right from the start by the treatment of the voices and the orchestra. The work opens with fff fanfares representing the age of chivalry, while the lyricism of unrequited love is represented by oboes, cellos and harps. Four homogeneous soprano voices portray Dulcinea, who sings chorale-like contrapuntal passages that provide a stark contrast with the full bass voice of Don Quixote as he mourns his bitter solitude. Rodrigo explained his aims thus: "I saw that by setting four voices around that of Don Quixote I could establish contrasts between the chivalrous, the ideal and the burlesque. While Don Quixote is deadly serious throughout, the orchestra provides comic touches and so the different facets of the poetry are captured … The unusual use of no fewer than four sopranos reflects the fact that despite searching in the North, South, East or West, Don Quixote will never find his ghost-like Dulcinea."
La resurrección de Don Quijote
José García Román (b. Granada, 1945) composed this work for string orchestra between November 1993 and February 1994 in response to a commission from the Orquesta y Coro Nacionales de España. It was first performed on 22 February 1994 in the Chamber Hall of the National Music Auditorium in Madrid by the Orquesta de Cámara Reina Sofía under the baton of Mark Foster.
García Román is a great lover of literature and its presence is a constant in his musical production, as it is in the rest of his creative output. He draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources: the New Testament, for example, and writers such as Ben Jafacha, Góngora, Lope de Vega, Verlaine, Unamuno, Lorca, Canetti, Celaya and Weil, to mention but a few. No wonder then, that La resurrección de Don Quijote was inspired not only by Cervantes' novel but also by the poem " Vencidos " (Defeated) by León Felipe (1884–1968), No. 3 in a volume entitled Versos y oraciones de caminante I (A wanderer's poems and prayers I), whose central motif appears in the lines "Across the plain of La Mancha/the figure of Don Quixote/can be seen again".
The work opens with a four-note melody; this then gives way to a chorale which is in fact an existing piece by García Román and here acts as the structural foundation, alongside an ostinato that moves from one instrumental group to another, taking on different forms as it goes. A highly complex, dense, almost obsessive texture is created, with minimalist touches, a texture in which the composer investigates timbre and creates a highly individual and poetic idiom, more tonal than in his earlier works. The use of the Quixote theme is metaphorical, a very free re-creation in which García Román is trying to convey, in his own words "a way of expressing in music … the desire to see ride again all those heroes whose very madness just might offer hope to our rather disillusioned society".
Tres momentos de Don Quichotte
Tres momentos de Don Quichotte was written between August 2004 and February 2005 and first given at Madrid 's Teatro de la Zarzuela on 14 April 2005 by the Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid. What we have on this CD are three of the more than twenty numbers that made up a new score for a screening of G.W. Pabst's 1933 film Don Quichotte. The original film soundtrack features both speech and music, with songs written by Jacques Ibert for the great Russian bass Chaliapin in the title rôle, so the challenge I faced was not exactly that of creating a new soundtrack for a silent movie. The score I eventually composed was quite different in nature from music written for other such screenings, given that the conventions and visual rhetoric of silent films disappear in a "talkie", and indeed quite different from the type of music I usually write, although it was a happy return for me to the kind of stage music I used to write in my younger days.
My soundtrack has a narrative function, which it fulfils by means of what I call "idealised cinematographic music", achieving moments of great lyricism, especially when Chaliapin sings Ibert's famous songs — during the screening only my music could be heard during these.
The three numbers I have extracted here from the complete score make up a kind of miniature suite. The first, letter J, represents Don Quixote's first expedition: the hero wakes up Sancho and the two set off by night for the country, though not without a delay so that Don Quixote can sing of Dulcinea. The nocturnal setting is echoed in a musical Adagio. The second, letter V, represents the final exploit, which in Pabst's film is the attack on the windmills in which the knight comes off worst and which leads on to his death scene. The last of the three, letter X, is the epilogue to the film, which shows the burning of the book in reverse, a rebirth from the ashes. This long, ecstatic sequence is accompanied by Don Quixote's final song. The choice of these three numbers was primarily motivated by the greater musical independence that they offer compared to their fellows, but also by the expressive contrast between the three that endows them with vaguely symphonic resonances. While the selection faithfully represents the whole, it by no means constitutes a genuine suite — such a piece would have to be at least twice as long, and may, with the fullness of time, come into being.
Jorge Fernández Guerra
Translations: Susannah Howe
Sung texts are available at www.naxos.com/libretti/570260.htm
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DON QUIXOTE IN SPANISH MUSIC