Los Esclavos Felices: Overture Juan Crisostomo de Arriaga (1806-1826)
Guitar Concerto in D major, RV 93 Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Daniel Bolshoy, guitar
Concierto de Aranjuez Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)
Daniel Bolshoy, guitar
Symphony op. 12 no. 4 in D minor (“La casa del diavolo”) (G 506) Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805)
Il barbiere di Siviglia: Overture Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
Juan Crisostomo de Arriaga was born into a prosperous merchant family in the northern coastal town of Bilbao, Spain, on the fiftieth anniversary of Mozart’s birth (January 27) His music-loving parents gave him the Spanish versions of Mozart’s first two baptismal names: Johannes Chrysostomus. As a child, he was an intuitive musician who began composing at the age of nine and was performing as second violinist with a professional quartet by the following year.
In September 1821, Arriaga’s parents sent him to Paris where was introduced to Cherubini, at that time one of the inspectors of the Paris Conservatoire. He was admitted to study counterpoint and fugue under Fétis and violin with Pierre Baillot. He finished the entire course of study in just two years, and in 1824 was appointed teacher of harmony and counterpoint at the Conservatoire and issued the only music published during his lifetime as well, a set of three string quartets. Arriaga died prematurely from exhaustion and a pulmonary infection in 1826, 10 days before his 20th birthday.
The opera Los esclavos felices (The Happy Slaves) tells of a Spanish nobleman and his loyal wife who are faced with humiliation and death by their Moorish captors before being saved by their own valor and the clemency of the King of Algiers. The music is reminiscent of the vivacity of Rossini and the suavity of Mozart.
Though he composed numerous operas, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi is best known for his close to 500 concertos. His own instrument was the violin, which he had studied with his father, a violinist at the Basilica San Marco in Venice. Vivaldi trained for the priesthood, taking his Holy Orders in 1703, the same year he became maestro di violino at the Pio Ospedale Pietà, an orphanage and renowned conservatory for girls in Venice. Though his later activities as a composer and impresario occasioned much travel, Vivaldi retained his association with the Pietà throughout his life and many of his instrumental works were composed for his students there.
The D Major Guitar Concerto RV 93 was originally written for two violins, lute, and basso continuo and was dedicated to Bohemian Count Johann Joseph von Wrtby. There was a great difference between Austro-German lutes and Italian lutes and present day performances on the guitar may more authentically represent the sound of its original solo instrument.
All three movements of the concerto follow the “rounded” type of binary form, in which the opening music returns halfway through the second section. The first movement is notable for its energetic three-note melodic elaborations and the propulsive repeated notes in the bass line. The slow movement employs a singing line in dotted rhythms with a “halo” of upper string suspensions and the animated closing movement races along in the rhythm of a gigue.
Even though Joaquín Rodrigo was blind from the age of three he excelled as a composer, lecturer, and pedagogue and was awarded Spain's highest award for composition, the Premio Nacional de Música, in 1983. Today, Rodrigo is regarded as one of the most important composers of his country, carrying on the traditions established by Falla, Albéniz, and Turina.
His music, mostly influenced by the works of the Spanish nationalist composers and partly styled by French music (particularly that of his teacher Paul Dukas), has a cosmopolitan quality with melodies, harmonies, and rhythmic patterns following a broad neo-classical style.
With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Rodrigo moved to Paris, where in the winter of 1939 he composed his most successful work, the Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra. The unprecedented success of this work prompted Rodrigo to write concertos for other instruments including piano, violin, cello, and harp.
The Concierto de Aranjuez premiered on November 9, 1940, in Barcelona, and another performance followed the next month in Madrid. It is a mature work of astonishing balance which for its time it explored new fields of harmony and rhythm and opened up new possibilities for the guitar as orchestral solo instrument.
Luigi Boccherini was born in Lucca, Italy. He studied music and the cello initially with his father and then in Rome but spent much of his life in Spain. As a cellist, Boccherini wrote extensively for his own instrument: 11 cello concertos, over 100 sonatas, 48 string trios, and more than 200 string quartets and quintets.
The journey to Boccherini’s composition of this D Minor Symphony began in 1757 when along with his father, Luigi traveled to Vienna where they both were employed in the orchestra of the Burgtheater. By chance Luigi was cellist in the orchestra at the premiere of Gluck’s revolutionary ballet, Don Juan (1761) and the experience was burned into his psyche.
In November, 1770, Luigi Boccherini was appointed as court composer to the Spanish infante Don Luis the brother of the Spanish king Carlos III. Among his new work requirements was that of composing symphonies, for him still unfamiliar terrain.
Written in 1771, the symphony “La casa del diavolo” (House of the Devil) is doubtless the best-known of Boccherini’s symphonies. It is more than just a reflection of Boccherini’s early years as an orchestral musician in Vienna or even an homage to Gluck. It is also of music-historical interest as it represents an attempt to transfer the Don Juan myth from the stage to the concert hall. Boccherini’s choice of the Don Juan myth almost guaranteed the favorable reception of his symphony. Familiarity with the myth was a prerequisite to “cultural literacy” in the eighteenth century, and the story was of Spanish origin.
In the printed edition published in Paris around 1776, we find the following heading to the final movement: Chaconne qui représente l’Enfer et qui a été faite à imitation de celle de Mr. Gluck dans le Festin de Pierre (Chaconne representing Hell, which was written in imitation of that by Mr Gluck in his ‘Stone Guest’).
To say the fates had thrown down many impediments to the premiere of Gioachino Rossini's Barber of Seville at the Teatro Argentina in Rome on 20 February 1816 would be an understatement. Rossini was said to have based the original Overture to The Barber of Seville, appropriately enough, on Spanish themes. That piece, however, was lost in transit somewhere between Bologna and Rome, and Rossini, rather than recreating it or writing another one, simply replaced it with the instrumental overture he had composed for Elisabetta in Naples the year before.
There are well-documented instances of a main character at the premiere tripping over a prop during his entrance and falling flat on his face. Another singer had the misfortune of plummeting through a trap door that had accidentally been left open; a character in the midst of his serenade broke a string on his accompanying instrument; and another poor fellow didn’t find his mark and walked directly into the scenery.
It was also the case that The Barber of Seville had already been set by the senior composer, Giovanni Paisiello. Paisiello and his allies in the audience did their best to disrupt the performance. Also, during one of the opera’s most climactic scenes, a cat strode across the stage, eliciting giggles from the audience and the cast as well. Rossini could bear no more and left the theater before the opera’s curtain calls.
Luckily for Rossini, the second performance went very smoothly, allowing the audience to recognize the genius of The Barber of Seville. Fearing more disasters Rossini had remained at home worrying about what was happening at the thearer when he heard an uproar in the street. Peering out of his window, he saw a large group of people shouting and carrying torches as they approached his door. He feared they were coming to harm him, until he heard the words, “Viva Rossini” (“Long live Rossini”) all in praise of him and his wonderful opera.