Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Rimsky -Korsakov - Capriccio Espagnol

Rimsky-Korsakov composed three brilliantly orchestrated works in 1887-1888; Scheherazade, Russian Easter Festival Overture and the first piece composed, Capriccio Espagnol. The orchestration is colorful and bold, with numerous opportunities for the first-chair players for solos, and the Spanish tunes used are memorable.  

The work is in one continuous movement but consists of 5 different sections:

Albarado - A festive dance celebrating the morning sun opens the work.
Theme and variations - The tune is first played by the horns and then is carried to different instruments of the orchestra.
Albarado -  The same tune as in  the first section, but in a different key.
Scene and gypsy song -  This section begins with five solos by different instruments played over drum rolls that lead into a fast dance in triple time.
 Fandango from the Asturias - A fast and energetic dance that leads to a repeat of the Albarado theme which finishes the work.

Rimsky-Korsakov originally was going to compose a virtuoso work for violin and orchestra on Spanish themes but he changed his mind. Evidently he kept some of the solo violin virtuoso passages and gave them to the concertmaster of the orchestra.

At the premiere of the piece in 1887 with Rimsky-Korsakov conducting, the audience demanded that the entire work be repeated after the first hearing. During rehearsals of the work the orchestra members kept interrupting the rehearsals to applaud the composer.  Even so, Rimsky-Korsakov took exception to positive reactions of the piece that reacted to the orchestration of the piece,while seeming to ignore other aspects of the work. He vented his displeasure in his autobiography:
The opinion formed by both critics and the public, that the Capriccio is a magnificently orchestrated piece - is wrong. The Capriccio is a brilliant composition for the orchestra. The change of timbres, the felicitous choice of melodic designs and figuration patterns, exactly suiting each kind of instrument, brief virtuoso cadenzas for instruments solo, the rhythm of the percussion instruments, etc., constitute here the very essence of the composition and not its garb or orchestration. The Spanish themes, of dance character, furnished me with rich material for putting in use multiform orchestral effects. All in all, the Capriccio is undoubtedly a purely external piece, but vividly brilliant for all that. 
It is hard to imagine that Rimsky-Korsakov first had a career in the Russian Navy. He began composing as an untrained amateur and actually was appointed Professor of Practical Composition at the St. Petersburg conservatory despite his lack of even some basic music fundamentals. He managed to stay one step ahead of his students and studied all of these on his own and formed himself into an excellent teacher, master of orchestration, composer and conductor.

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