Spain has always been something of a mystery to its neighbors—so close but a world away. To the north, the Pyrenees made travel to and from France and the rest of central Europe difficult. (Hannibal and his war elephants were an historical fluke and travel by train is still a tricky proposition.) In the south, a succession of Islamic caliphates from the eighth through the fifteenth centuries, during which people circulated through the Iberian Peninsula from around the Mediterranean, made for an exciting multicultural mix. As a result of this religious, linguistic, and cultural hybridity, people farther north (particularly the French) saw Spain as not quite European. Scholars of the nineteenth century thought that climate affected the language and music of a people, so it makes sense that composers and writers imagined Spain in terms of heat—simmering, languid, or lighting hot.
In novels like Prosper Mérimée’s Carmen (the source of the opera) the warmth of the Spanish countryside is often captured in the form of the gypsy. The bohemian lifestyle of Carmen and others like her—transformed in Bizet’s opera into a chorus of smoking, fighting, drinking women that scandalized Parisian audiences—symbolize all that is “exotic” about the country. Similar to their literary counterparts, composers use orchestral colors, rhythms, and harmonies to suggest the music of other places. In the case of the _Carmen _suites (arranged by Bizet’s friend Ernest Giraud after his death) the distinctive patterns of Spanish dances help set the scene. After a prelude, based on the ominous “fate” motive that recurs throughout the opera, we hear the driving triple time of the “Aragonaise” (named for the region in northeastern Spain), throughout which members of the string section mimic the pluck and strum of the guitar and castanets crackle. The following intermezzo is based on the prelude to the third act and sets a nighttime scene high in the mountains. The serenity of the harp and woodwind solos belies the conflict simmering below the surface as Carmen and Don José’s love affair sours. The last three movements of the suite are essentially portraits of the opera’s love triangle, with “Les dragons de Alcala” parodying the regimented military background of Don José and the hot-blooded “Les Toréadors” matching the bravura of the bullfighter Escamillo. At the center of it all, though, is Carmen herself and the “Séguedilla” she sings to seduce José. This is another iconic Spanish dance, tinged with its typical Phrygian cadences and also with chromatic twists that are all Bizet—the harmonic loopholes that let Carmen slip out of our grasp at every turn. Critics and audiences at the opera’s premiere were shocked by the onstage death of its heroine at the hands of her lover José (the Opéra-Comique was a “family” institution) but the resulting reputation made for a long run in Paris and then international fame. The beauty of its melodies, the warmth of its timbres, and its fascinating rhythms (all preserved in Giraud’s orchestration) have ensured that Carmen and the sonic Spanish landscape Bizet conjured remain a favorite of today’s opera companies and orchestras.
"Vesti la giubba" is sung at the conclusion of the first act, when Canio discovers his wife's infidelity, but must nevertheless prepare for his performance as Pagliaccio the clown because "the show must go on".
The aria is often regarded as one of the most moving in the operatic repertoire of the time. The pain of Canio is portrayed in the aria and exemplifies the entire notion of the "tragic clown": smiling on the outside but crying on the inside. This is still displayed today, as the clown motif often features the painted-on tear running down the cheek of the performer.
Recitar! Mentre preso dal delirio,
non so più quel che dico,
e quel che faccio!
Eppur è d'uopo, sforzati!
Bah! Sei tu forse un uom?
Tu se' Pagliaccio!
Vesti la giubba e la faccia infarina.
La gente paga, e rider vuole qua.
E se Arlecchin t'invola Colombina,
ridi, Pagliaccio, e ognun applaudirà!
Tramuta in lazzi lo spasmo ed il pianto
in una smorfia il singhiozzo e 'l dolor, Ah!
sul tuo amore infranto!
Ridi del duol, che t'avvelena il cor!
Act! While in delirium,
I no longer know what I say,
or what I do!
And yet it's necessary... make an effort!
Bah! Are you even a man?
You are a clown!
Put on your costume and powder your face.
The people are paying, and they want to laugh here.
And if Harlequin steals away your Columbina,
laugh, clown, and all will applaud!
Turn your distress and tears into jokes,
your pain and sobs into a smirk, Ah!
at your broken love!
Laugh at the grief that poisons your heart!
"Una furtiva lagrima" (A furtive tear) is the romanza from act 2, scene 8 of the Italian opera L'elisir d'amore by Gaetano Donizetti. It is sung by Nemorino (tenor) when he finds that the love potion he bought to win the heart of his dream lady, Adina, works. Nemorino is in love with Adina, but she is not interested in a relationship with an innocent, rustic man. To win her heart, Nemorino buys a love potion with all the money he has in his pocket. That love potion is actually a cheap red wine sold by a traveling quack doctor, but when he sees Adina weeping, he knows that she has fallen in love with him, and he is sure that the "elixir" has worked.
Una furtiva lagrima
negli occhi suoi spuntò:
Quelle festose giovani
Che più cercando io vo?
Che più cercando io vo?
M'ama! Sì, m'ama,
lo vedo, lo vedo.
Un solo istante i palpiti
del suo bel cor sentir!
I miei sospir confondere
per poco a' suoi sospir!
I palpiti, i palpiti sentir,
confondere i miei co' suoi sospir.
Cielo, si può morir;
di più non chiedo, non chiedo.
Ah, cielo! Si può! Si può morir!
Di più non chiedo, non chiedo.
Si può morir! Si può morir d'amor.
Softly a furtive teardrop fell,
shadowed her sparkling eyes;
Seeing the others follow me
has caused her jealous sighs.
What is there more to prize?
What more than this could I prize?
Sighing, she loves me,
I saw that she loves me.
Could I but feel her heart on mine,
breathing that tender sigh!
Could my own sighing comfort her,
and whisper in sweet reply!
Her heart on mine, as heart to heart we sigh.
So tenderly we'd share a sweet reply!
Heaven, I then could die;
no more I'd ask you, I'd ask you,
ah! heaven, I, then, I then could die;
no more I'd ask you, I'd ask you.
I then could die, I then could die of love.
“It was a pity I wrote Cavalleria first. I was crowned before I was king.” Thus did Pietro Mascagni evaluate his own musical career, citing his youthful success in 1890 with Cavalleria Rusticana. He attempted to repeat this triumph in the remaining 55 years of his life but to no avail. The only one of his 15 other operas occasionally staged is L’amico Fritz, a gentle comedy, the opposite of grim and gritty Cavalleria. Sadly, in his later years, Mascagni became a mouthpiece for Italy’s Fascist government. In 1929 he took over as conductor at La Scala in Milan when Arturo Toscanini resigned in protest over the Fascist regime, and in 1935 he composed an opera Nerone as a tribute to Mussolini – although why anyone would want to be likened to the emperor Nero is anyone's guess.
Mascagni came close to total obscurity. Responding to an advertisement for a one-act opera competition promoted by a publisher, he composed his masterpiece in only a few weeks but did not consider it suitable, choosing to send in an act from an earlier opera instead. His wife, however, submitted the score of Cavalleria without his knowledge, and the rest is history. Cavalleria is an adaptation of the novella by the Sicilian writer Giovanni Verga, the originator and most important writer of the verismo literary movement. Verismo, or “realism,” portrayed the brutality of the social environment and characters of rural Sicily and Southern Italy.
The single act includes an adulterous love triangle, jealousy, betrayal and a duel to the death. The Intermezzo opens the final scene, as the people are in church celebrating Easter Sunday, just before the fatal duel.
"La donna è mobile" is the Duke of Mantua's canzone from the beginning of act 3 of Giuseppe Verdi's opera Rigoletto (1851). The canzone is famous as a showcase for tenors. Raffaele Mirate's performance of the bravura aria at the opera's 1851 premiere was hailed as the highlight of the evening. Before the opera's first public performance (in Venice), the song was rehearsed under tight secrecy: a necessary precaution, as "La donna è mobile" proved to be incredibly catchy, and soon after the song's first public performance it became popular to sing among Venetian gondoliers.
As the opera progresses, the reprise of the tune in the following scenes contributes to Rigoletto's confusion as he realizes from the sound of the Duke's lively voice coming from the tavern (offstage), that the body in the sack over which he had grimly triumphed, was not that of the Duke after all: Rigoletto had paid Sparafucile, an assassin, to kill the Duke, but Sparafucile had deceived Rigoletto by indiscriminately killing Gilda, Rigoletto's beloved daughter, instead.
La donna è mobile
Qual piuma al vento,
e di pensiero.
Sempre un amabile,
in pianto o in riso,
La donna è mobil'.
Qual piuma al vento,
e di pensier'!
È sempre misero
chi a lei s'affida,
chi le confida
mal cauto il cuore!
Pur mai non sentesi
chi su quel seno
non liba amore!
La donna è mobil'
Qual piuma al vento,
e di pensier'!
Woman is flighty.
Like a feather in the wind,
she changes in voice
and in thought.
Always a lovely,
in tears or in laughter,
it is untrue.
Woman is fickle.
Like a feather in the wind,
she changes her words
and her thoughts!
is he who trusts her,
he who confides in her
his unwary heart!
Yet one never feels
who from that bosom
does not drink love!
Woman is fickle.
Like a feather in the wind,
she changes her words,
and her thoughts!
"Nessun dorma" ("None shall sleep")is an aria from the final act of Giacomo Puccini's opera Turandot and one of the best-known tenor arias in all opera. It is sung by Calaf, il principe ignoto (the unknown prince), who falls in love at first sight with the beautiful but cold Princess Turandot. Any man who wishes to wed Turandot must first answer her three riddles; if he fails, he will be beheaded. In the aria, Calaf expresses his triumphant assurance that he will win the princess.
In the act before this aria, Calaf has correctly answered the three riddles put to all of Princess Turandot's prospective suitors. Nonetheless, she recoils at the thought of marriage to him. Calaf offers her another chance by challenging her to guess his name by dawn. As he kneels before her, the "Nessun dorma" theme makes a first appearance, to his words, "Il mio nome non sai!" (My name you do not know!). She can execute him if she correctly guesses his name; but if she does not, she must marry him. The cruel and emotionally cold princess then decrees that none of her subjects shall sleep that night until his name is discovered. If they fail, all will be killed.
As the final act opens, it is now night. Calaf is alone in the moonlit palace gardens. In the distance, he hears Turandot's heralds proclaiming her command. His aria begins with an echo of their cry and a reflection on Princess Turandot:
Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma!
Tu pure, o Principessa,
nella tua fredda stanza,
guardi le stelle
che tremano d'amore, e di speranza!
None shall sleep! None shall sleep!
Not even you, oh Princess,
in your cold bedroom,
watching the stars
that tremble with love, and with hope!
Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me;
il nome mio nessun saprà!
No, No! Sulla tua bocca,
lo dirò quando la luce splenderà!
But my secret is hidden within me;
no one will know my name!
No, no! On your mouth,
I will say it when the light shines!
Ed il mio bacio scioglierà
il silenzio che ti fa mia!
And my kiss will dissolve
the silence that makes you mine!
Just before the climactic end of the aria, a chorus of women is heard singing in the distance:
Il nome suo nessun saprà,
E noi dovrem, ahimè, morir, morir!
No one will know his name,
and we will have to, alas, die, die!
Calaf, now certain of victory, sings:
Dilegua, o notte!
Vanish, o night!
Fade, you stars!
Fade, you stars!
At dawn, I will win!
I will win! I will win!
In 2011, the Huapango, as a form of Mexican mariachi music, was added to the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity - an honor which had also been bestowed upon the healthy Mediterranean diet in 2010 and the Tango in 2009!
Mariachi music, with its typical sound of trumpets and string instruments, became a national symbol of Mexican culture with the success of the film industry from the 1930s until the 1950s and, for some time, even a security risk at airports when members of different families were greeted with simultaneous formations of mariachi musicians.
The Huapango by José Pablo Moncayo (1912-1958) is especially popular; the work was inspired by three traditional Son Huastecas from the state of Vercruz. Moncayo created an unofficial Mexican national anthem with his Huapango from the year 1941; the work has entered into the repertory of classical symphonic music, pop music, and in turn, of mariachi groups as well. In 2008, the LaCatrina Quartet performed a version on our Chamber Classics Series. A version also exists for wind band.
The composer described the genesis of Huapango: "Blas Galindo and I went to Alvarado, one of three places where folkloric music is preserved in its most pure form; we were collecting melodies, rhythms, and instrumentations during several days. The transcription of it was very difficult because the huapangueros (musicians) never sang the same melody twice in the same way. When I came back to Mexico, I showed the collected material to Candelario Huízar; Huízar gave me a piece of advice that I will always be grateful for: "Expose the material first in the same way you heard it and develop it later according to your own thought." And I did it, and the result is almost satisfactory for me."
The piece is in a duple meter version of 6/8 time, but like many pieces in this style, spends a lot of time moving between duple and triple gestures and also juxtaposing the rhythmic elements to create tension. He used three tunes he had collected on the trip, "El Siquisiri", "El Balajú", and "El Gavilancito".
As composer, conductor, pianist, percussionist, Moncayo was, alongside Silvestre Revueltas and Carlos Chávez, a representative of Mexican art music - and also part of the Grupo de los Cuatro with Blas Galindo - who also sadly passed away at too young an age. Huapango (8 min.) was premiered by the Orquesta Sinfónica del Estado de México conducted by Carlos Chávez in 1941 and today is a popular concert opener all over the world. Moncayo's death in 1958 is considered to be the end of the Mexican national school of composition.
Arturo Márquez is considered a composer who writes for the people, popular music with an orchestra. According to him, the music has already undergone a change with the implementation of the popular roots into a concert hall. At the moment in which he is dedicated to composing his “Danzones”, this composer reaches an important place in the history of Mexican music of the late twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century. As Marquez said, the very beginning of the Danzón in Mexico is the Nereidas. This Danzón is probably one of his strongest influences as a composer. According to him, the composers of this genre take the “Danzon de los Danzones” in their souls. In my opinion, the success of Márquez lies in bringing people to the orchestra music through popular music, with the dance.
Veracruz danced by old people with slow and delicate movements. Arturo Márquez remembered to listen when he was a child this kind of music. His father was a “Música de Salon“ (Dance Hall) musician. The Latin feel driven by the “claves” cleverly organized into groups of nine, to the account of the bars of four and five generally. Once the bassoon develops the first exhibition of the melody, it comes a change of key with the oboe taking the initiative to conclude the dialogue between them. It is when the flute, the clarinet, and the “maracas” have been incorporated to the movement that has already taken continuity but in another key.
Born on New Year’s Eve, 1899 in Santiago Papasquiaro in the northern state of Durango in Mexico, Revueltas studied violin as a youth. He came to the United State three times, for study in Chicago and Austin, Texas and for work as a theater musician in Texas and Alabama. He returned to Mexico City in 1929 to become assistant conductor to Carlos Chavez and the newly founded Orquesta Sinfonica de Mexico. After seven years, differences with Chavez led to the founding of Revueltas’s own ensemble, the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional.
Revueltas wrote music steeped in the traditions of his country, without actually quoting folksongs as such. “Why should I put on boots and climb mountains for Mexican folklore if I have the spirit of Mexico deep within me?” he said.
Revueltas died of pneumonia in 1940. Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians blames his early death on “exertions and irregular life.”
His last orchestral work was Sensemaya, composed in 1938 from a song for voice and small orchestra he had written the year before. It was introduced by the Orquesta Sinfonica de Mexico on December 18, 1938.
The title is a word meaning ritualistic popular rhythm or song. The work was inspired by a poem by the Cuban poet Nicolas Guillén subtitled “Chant to Kill a Snake.” The poem begins:
The snake has glassy eyes
The snake comes and coils itself around a tree
With its glassy eyes around a tree
With its glassy eyes around a tree.
The work is in three sections, each main tune separated by huge climaxes. The considerable percussion section includes timpani, piano, xylophone, claves, maracas, raspador, gourd, small Indian drum, bass drum, tom-toms, cymbals, gongs, glockenspiel and celesta.
The Conga del Fuego Nuevo (Conga of the New Fire) is inspired by the Afro-Cuban conga. Márquez’s take on the popular style is characterized by memorable tunes and exciting build-ups. His fascination with Caribbean music goes beyond the Conga and he has written over eight danzóns, the second of which is doubtlessly the most popular among them.