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ClassicsOnline Home » CHAPI, R.: Symphony in D Minor / Fantasia morisca (Madrid Community Orchestra, Encinar)
Ruperto Chapí composed theatrical and chamber music, opera and symphonic pieces, including the two early works on this disc. Originally composed in 1873 as a suite for military band, Fantasía morisca was revised six years later for full orchestra and is notable for the nobility, elegance and poetic character of its four contrasting movements. While this work shows the influence of Bizet, Saint-Saëns and Massenet, the Symphony in D minor draws instead on Classical Viennese models, yet showcases the young Chapí’s mastery of orchestral colour, as well as his gift for expansive melodies and rich harmonies.
By David Denton
Spanish by birth in 1851, Ruperto Chapi spent time in Paris as a student, and there fell under the influence of Saint-Saens and Massenet, these two early works following in their direct lineage. The earliest, Fantasia morisca, was written for military band while he was twenty-two and had recently become director of an artillery regimental band. Evolving over the years it reached its present format six years later as an orchestral score. Lightweight in content, it is simply intended to please, its four sections—opening in Granada—being set out as a mini-symphony that contains a slow meditation, scherzo and boisterous finale. The Symphony comes from his twenty-sixth year. It was begun in Paris, completed in Rome, and was his obligated offering as a third year student at the Spanish Academy of Fine Arts. Having passed through two typically French movements, Chapi probably thought it advisable to introduce a Spanish element in a third movement presto. Sadly his thematic material was so lightweight that it proves the work’s only drawback. Not wishing to overstate the its value—it is here receiving it premiere recording—there is much that will please, the outer movements skilfully orchestrated. I don’t know whether he really intended the dash to the finishing post that we hear in this performance from the conductor, Jose Ramon Encinar, but it detracts and one could imagine a stately crescendo being more in character. The Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid play with that total conviction all little known works depend upon, and the recording is natural and well-balanced.
Ruperto Chapí (1851–1909)
Symphony in D minor • Fantasía morisca
Ruperto Chapí had a professional career that spanned the last three decades of the nineteenth century. He divided his time between composing and conducting, and was also involved in establishing the Spanish artists’ rights association, the Sociedad de Autores Españoles. Having made a name for himself in the genre of zarzuela grande, developed in the mid-1800s by composers such as Barbieri and Arrieta, he successully adapted to the subsequent trend for shorter, género chico works. (This emerged as a result of an economic crisis—theatres needed to lower their prices so commissioned shorter works, staging several per day and charging separately for each performance. Chapí, Fernández Caballero, Chueca and Giménez were among those who won acclaim for their works in the new genre.) Chapí also made a significant contribution to Spain’s opera repertoire, with works such as Roger de flor and Margarita la tornera, as well as writing chamber music, including four string quartets. Finally, although these make up only a small part of his extensive catalogue, he did compose a number of symphonic pieces too, and, to mark the centenary of his death, this recording celebrates that aspect of his career with two of his early works: the Fantasía morisca and the Symphony in D minor.
In 1867 Chapí travelled from his native village near Alicante to Madrid, a move to the capital being obligatory for all musicians of his generation. There he studied at the Conservatory and became director of the artillery regimental band, for which he wrote and adapted a number of pieces. The Fantasía morisca (Moorish Fantasy) for military band was Chapí’s entry in a competition launched in 1873 by the city’s Society for the Promotion of the Arts. According to the original manuscript, the work was initially entitled La corte de Granada (The Court of Granada) and took the form of a suite. The definitive version, for orchestra, appeared in 1879, and had its première with the Unión Artístico-Musical, an orchestra created by impresario Felipe Ducazcal, under the baton of Tomás Bretón. The Fantasía underwent various adaptations, with versions for piano, guitar and sextet, and became widely known thanks to performances by the two major Madrid orchestras, the aforementioned Unión Artístico-Musical and the Sociedad de Conciertos.
The Fantasía has been closely studied by Chapí’s biographer, Luis G. Iberni, and is cast in four movements. First among these is: Introducción. A Granada, whose opening section is notable for its nobility, elegance and serenity, followed by a marcha al torneo (march to the tournament) that has a more immediate impact. The short second movement, Meditación, is full of poetry, character and original touches. The Serenata soon became the most popular of the four movements, its incisive rhythms underpinning two melodies, one in the minor in the first part, the other in the major in the second, featuring showy imitative effects. The Finale returns to the idea of the Marcha al torneo and concludes with a striking crescendo.
We need to bear in mind that six years had passed between the original version of the Fantasía morisca, for band, and the second, for orchestra. In that time, Chapí had gone abroad to further his studies, initially to the Spanish Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, and later to Paris, where he encountered the works of Saint-Saëns, Bizet and Massenet, which were to have a decisive influence on his orchestral writing. Hence, as Iberni indicates, the second version can be categorised as a “picturesque” suite, a kind of hybrid between the symphonic poem in the manner of Berlioz or Liszt, and the more unrestrained suite, the treatment of motifs being particularly free. Chapí’s work was a fascinating addition to the limited Spanish symphonic repertoire of the time.
The Fantasía’s title, incidentally, points to the renewed intellectual interest in the past and the exotic that had been a feature of European Romantic culture since the middle of the century, in the wake of the various revolutions to have hit the continent. Andalusia, and specifically Granada and the Alhambra, provided imagery that acted as a gateway to Orientalism throughout the century, inspiring a huge quantity of literature, architecture, art and music. It became more or less mandatory for European writers and composers of the period to quote the Alhambra in some way. So rich and mysterious was the cultural tradition it represented, that a new aesthetic movement grew up around it: alhambrismo. Chapí borrowed elements such as the Andalusian cadence, the augmented second and melismatic melody from the region’s music, both for the Fantasía morisca and, years later, for his “musical legend” Los gnomos de la Alhambra.
Chapí studied composition with Emilio Arrieta at the Madrid Conservatory, winning first prize in the subject in 1872. Arrieta was also behind the establishment of the Spanish Academy of Fine Arts in Rome in 1874 and Chapí was one of the first to study there. In accordance with the Academy’s rules, during his third year he completed a symphony: in the manuscript of his Symphony in D minor, held at Madrid’s National Library, the beginning of the work is dated “Paris, February 1877”, the remaining movements being dated March of the same year. Before it was first performed in Madrid, the composer reworked it, probably on Arrieta’s advice. The première took place on 30 March 1879, at the Teatro y Circo del Príncipe Alfonso, with the orchestra of the Sociedad de Conciertos, conducted by Mariano Vázquez. The Society had been created in 1866 by Barbieri, a key figure in Madrid’s musical life, with the aim of promoting works by foreign composers, but also of encouraging Spanish composers to write orchestral works in an environment dominated by musical theatre, and in particular by zarzuela.
The Symphony in D minor is a classic example of orchestral writing, Chapí putting into practice all he had learned in Rome by analysing the symphonies of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Mendelssohn. In Spain there was little in the way of a symphonic tradition: between the first four symphonies of Mallorcan composer Miguel Marqúes and the first of Tomás Bretón, Spanish orchestral composition was split between the academic and the picturesque, the Fantasía morisca falling into the latter camp. Chapí conceived his symphony for an orchestra comprising double woodwind, four horns, two trumpets, two cornets, three trombones, a figle (a military band brass instrument soon to be replaced by the tuba), timpani and full strings. It is a lengthy work with a classical four-movement structure.
As pointed out by Ramón Sobrino, author of the critical edition, the first movement, Adagio–Allegro appassionato, is written in sonata form. It is notable for its “systematic use of the diminished seventh” (Iberni), a characteristic element of Chapí’s music, also used with moderation in the Fantasía morisca. At the time particular attention was paid to the opening, with its “pathetic melody, which resolves itself into orchestral combinations inspired by Beethoven” (E.M. in Crónica de la música). The Andante con moto, molto espressivo is based on the recapitulation of two thematic ideas. E.M. noted that it begins with a beautiful pastoral melody; there follow some magnificent march-like phrases for the brass; then comes an Italian melody, generously developed in the violins; and finally the marchlike phrases are repeated as the prologue to a wonderfully effective orchestral tutti of grandiose sonorities, which gradually fades away as the movement comes to an end. This second movement was the most warmly received at the première, when it was still customary for audiences to applaud between movements.
The third-movement scherzo is marked Presto and includes a standard trio section. Here, according to Iberni, Chapí’s reference point is the third movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, although the orchestral treatment is undoubtedly broader in scope. After the première it was praised for being “very original, lighthearted, animated and expressive”. The finale, Molto allegro e vivace, is based on sonata rondo form, with some minor variations. Clearly influenced by Beethoven, it “contains some truly marvellous instrumentation; it is the least classical, the most spontaneous, the most worthy of a modern artist”.
Although in general terms Chapí adopted an academic approach to his symphony, the resulting work is more than a student assignment, revealing as it does a profound knowledge of the symphonic material and, above all, a considerable mastery of orchestration. Sadly, this was to be the composer’s only symphony: as noted by the contemporary critic Peña y Goñi, who was delighted by the unity of style across its four movements, it was a promising work by a young composer, remarkable for “its wealth of harmonies, its admirable variety of tones, its use of motifs full of grandeur and, moreover, originality, and the assured intelligence of its instrumental effects”.
Concha Gómez Marco
Translated by Susannah Howe
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