Work: Capriccio espagnol, Op. 34
About This Work
Russian nationalists were adept at using folk materials and harmonies from their own country; it is perhaps not surprising then that they could work equally successfully with folk music from different lands. Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov may have
entertained that thought when he sat down with a book of songs by the Spanish composer Jose Inzenga y Castellanos, with the object of reworking them into an orchestral showpiece. The resulting Capriccio espagnol retains the original melodies, rhythms, and harmonization of Inzenga y Castellanos' songs; however, it is ultimately distinguished by the Russian master's sensitive and brilliant orchestral colors. After its premiere at the Russian Musical Society in 1887, the Capriccio entered the standard repertoire in Russia almost overnight and quickly became just as popular around the world.
The first movement "Alborada" ("morning serenade") immediately explodes with festive strings, whooping winds and florid percussion. This emphatic full orchestral texture contrasts with several individual solos, including seductive, pseudo-Gypsy melodic elaboration from a solo violin which closes the movement. The next movement presents four variations on a lovely sighing theme presented on the horns; the first variations is handled by the strings, the second by the French and English horns, and the last two by the full orchestra. The orchestration here is particularly skillful, especially in the witty French horn/English horn duet, accompanied by murmuring strings that fade in and out of the texture with extreme delicacy.
Next, the Alborada makes a reappearance, in a different key and with different orchestration that highlights the cheerful virtuoso escapades of the solo violin. After a brass fanfare, the violin takes a lead role in the fourth movement ("Scene and Gypsy Song") with a fiendishly difficult cadenza. The flute and clarinet each take their turn, providing extravagant flourishes, after which the harp plays shimmering, gossamer scales. Finally, the Gypsy Song itself enters, and the movement concludes with the song clothed in orchestral garb reminiscent of the opening Alborada.
A sensual, fiery Fandago follows, its rhythm emphasized by cutting strings and emphatic cymbals and castanets. The fandango moves through various sections of the orchestra until it has nowhere else to go, at which time the Alborada returns to close the work in superlatively high spirits. The Capriccio espagnol is one of the most famous orchestral showpieces ever and deservedly so.
-- Andrew Lindemann Malone
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