Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sarasate - Carmen Fantasy

The Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate was one of  the premiere virtuosos of his day, known for his purity of tone and elegance of performance. Many middle and late 19th century composers dedicated works to him, such as Camille Saint-Saëns' Violin Concerto No. 3 and his Introduction and Rondo capriccioso. He was also a talented composer and wrote many pieces for violin and orchestra, mainly virtuosic pieces that utilized themes from popular operas of the time, such as the Carmen Fantasy.

There is something about Spain and its music that has attracted and inspired many French composers. As Spain and France are next to each other, perhaps it is the close proximity and inevitable mingling of cultures and languages that accounts for this. Whatever the reasons, Bizet is in a long line of French composers that wrote music on Spanish themes. Georges Bizet's opera Carmen opened in  Paris in 1874 and was a failure. Critics panned it and the audience, while initially receptive, grew colder as the opera progressed. During its initial run, the composer Bizet died suddenly of a heart attack at age 36. The opera played a total of 48 performances in its first production, then was not heard again in Paris until 1883.  The failure of the opera in its initial run has been attributed to the realism of it and the loose morals of some of the characters in it. Tchaikovsky saw the opera in a performance during its initial run and thought it a work of genius.

The following year there was a production in Vienna and it met with more success. Brahms and Wagner saw it in Vienna and they both agreed with Tchaikovsky's assessment. After the Vienna production, the opera slowly began to gain momentum and performances until it became a world-wide success at the turn of the century and remains a staple of the opera repertoire.

Sarasate wrote his Carmen Fantasy in 1883, just as the opera was beginning to gain in popularity. It is in five sections, four dances and an interlude:
Aragonaise - A Spanish dance from the Aragon region, in triple time.
 Habanera- Originally a dance from Cuba, it was brought to pain by sailors.
 Seguidilla - An old Castillian folk song and dance form in triple time.
 Gypsy Dance

The Carmen Fantasy is a very technically demanding. It asks much of the violinist in the way of pure technique, but also it is a test of the soloists musicianship. It also exists in a version for piano and violin and is often played in violin competitions.

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