Program Notes

by Dr. Marcia Fountain

January 2017


Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakoff
Born March 18, 1844, Tikhvin, near Novgorod
Died June 21, 1908, Liubensk, near St. Petersburg

Capriccio Espagnol, op. 34

Whether El Paso’s January weather is warm or cold, the El Paso Symphony begins the second half of its season in what is traditionally regarded as “sunny” Spain -- in spite of the fact that the first composer is Russian. Rimsky-Korsakov was among the many non-Spanish composers who have been attracted by the special flavor of Spanish music. There is little evidence that he had any acquaintance with Spanish music except second and third hand, since his major travel outside Russia had been a trip taken as a navy cadet completing his military training in the early 1860s. Though this trip included a fairly long stay in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and a return trip through the Straits of Gibraltar, there is no evidence of extensive time on shore in the rest of South America or in Spain itself.

Considered one of the most brilliant orchestrators of all time, Rimsky-Korsakoff was also a leader in the active Russian nationalistic musical revival of the late 19th century. The Capriccio espagnol amply illustrates his abilities to write for orchestra. From the time of the premiere on October 31, 1887 it has been an audience favorite. Originally he conceived the themes for use in a virtuoso work for solo violin and orchestra, but he changed his mind and instead wrote a work to display the entire orchestra.

Rimsky-Korsakov was very excited about the composition. He wrote in his autobiography that at the first rehearsal the orchestra burst into applause at the end of the first movement and when the composer asked the orchestra for the privilege of dedicating the work to the whole orchestra, they enthusiastically accepted. Rimsky-Korsakov complained about critics who talked about the “magnificently orchestrated” work, saying “The Capriccio is a brilliant composition for the orchestra. The change of timbres, the felicitous choice of melodic designs and fituration patterns, exactly suiting each kind of instrument, brief virtuoso cadenzas for instrument solo, the rhythm of the percussion instruments, etc., constitute here the very essence of the composition and not its garb or orchestration.” After the premiere, Tchaikovsky echoed the opinions of all musical listeners when he said the Capriccio was "a colossal masterpiece of instrumentation."

The five movements of the work are played without pause with the themes from the first movement acting as a unifying device throughout the work.

Joaquín Rodrigo
Born November 22, 1901 Sagunto, Spain
Died July 6 1999, Madrid, Spain

Concierto de Aranjuez

Justifiably Rodrigo's best-known work, and probably the best-known of any guitar concerti, this work pays homage to Andalucia and its flamenco tradition. The second movement, which was used in Miles Davis's famous Sketches of Spain jazz album, is the most often heard. The origins of this movement lay in Rodrigo’s sadness over the miscarriage of his first child and the near death of his wife in the wake of the miscarriage. According to Sharon Isbin, a guitarist who became well-acquainted with Rodrigo and his family, “Rodrigo returned from the hospital in despair, mourning the loss of his child and unsure if his wife was going to live or die. He was unable to sleep, so he sat at the piano and began to play, and what emerged was this beautiful theme, which became the slow movement of the concerto. He titled it Concierto de Aranjuez because Aranjuez is where he and his wife had taken their honeymoon.” Aranjuez is a small town south of Madrid; from the mid-18th century, it was a summer home to the Spanish royalty. Rodrigo has said that in writing the Concierto he envisioned the town in the early 19th century.

The first and last movements demonstrate the shifting two-beat and three-beat accents that we associate so strongly with Spanish music. Written in 1939, it was premiered in Barcelona in 1940 by guitarist Refino Sainz de la Maza. Rodrigo said of it: "It would be unjust to expect strong sonorities from the Concierto; they would falsify its essence and distort an instrument made for subtle ambiguities. Its strength is to be found in its very lightness and in the intensity of its contrast. The Aranjuez Concierto is meant to sound like the hidden breeze that stirs the treetops in the parks, and it should be only as strong as a butterfly...."

Manuel de Falla
Born November 23, 1876, Cadiz, Spain
Died November 14, 1946, Alta Gracia, Argentina

Three-Cornered Hat Suite 1 & 2

Manuel de Falla was 20th century Spain's most important nationalistic composer. During his study at the Madrid Conservatory, he was a pupil of Felipe Pedrell, the Spanish musicologist, composer, and teacher who was so important in opening doors to the history and styles of Spanish music. He also worked and studied some seven years in Paris, where he absorbed the influence of the French impressionists. But most of his life was spent in Spain in the relative seclusion of a very private person. However, disillusionment with the Franco regime led him to spend the last five years of his life in Argentina, where he died.

The music for the Three-Cornered Hat was originally composed for a pantomime in 1917. It was at the suggestion of the important impressario, Sergei Diaghilev, that it was redone as a ballet in 1919. This version premiered in London in 1919. The story revolves around the triangle formed by the miller, his pretty wife, and the elderly corregidor (a high government official) who is angling for her attentions. Of course, the young couple is triumphant in the end and the corregidor is brought to public shame.

The excerpts from the ballet included in the suites are “Introduction;” “Dance of the Miller;” “The Corregidor and the Miller;” “The Grapes” (in this dance the wife offers grapes to the Corregidor, but each time he reaches for one she dances away from him); "Neighbors' Dance," based on seguidillas; "Miller's Dance," and the "Final Dance," a jota which expresses everyone's rejoicing when all the misunderstandings are cleared up.

February 2017


by Joseph Horowitz

Tonight’s concert uses Aaron Copland – a famous American composer -- to introduce a Mexican composer who deserves to be as well-known but is not: Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940).

Revueltas blazed a short and disordered path. A product of rural Mexico, he was educated in Mexico and Chicago, and early in his career played the violin and conducted in Texas and Alabama. His colleague Carlos Chavez recalled him to Mexico City to be assistant conductor of the National Symphony (1929-35). He participated in a decade of great cultural distinction, when Mexico was a favored destination for artists and intellectuals.

In spirit, Revueltas resembles the Mexican muralists of the same remarkable generation (his brother Fermin was himself a muralist of consequence). Seized by creative demons, he could compose for days without food or sleep. He travelled to Spain to take part in an anti-fascist Congress during the Spanish Civil War. He died young, weakened by drink, depressed and disillusioned by Francisco Franco’s victory in Spain and by the failure of the Mexican Revolution to radically redistribute wealth and power. The Mexican poet Octavio Paz summarized:

Silvestre, like all real people, was a battlefield. Inside Silvestre lived numerous interlocutors, many passions, many capacities, weaknesses as well as refinement. . . . This wealth of possibilities, divinations, and impulses give his [music] the sound of a primal chord, like the first light that escapes a world in formation.

Paz distinguished Revueltas from the muralists Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros:

All his music seems preceded by something that is not [simply] joy and exhilaration, as some believe, or satire and irony, as others believe. That element, better and more pure, . . . is his profound empathy with his surroundings which makes the works of this man, so naked, so defenseless, so hurt by the heavens and the people, more significant than those of many of his contemporaries. His music occupies a place in our hearts above that of the grandiose Mexican murals, that seem to know all except pity.

It is significant that unlike Copland or Chavez, Revueltas was not seduced by Paris, from which city he once wrote to his wife: “I’d love to perform [my music] here, simply to see the expressions of disgust in their faces. It would be as if something obscene, or tasteless, or vulgar had been uttered.”

Revueltas’s output contains no symphonies or concertos. His distinctive symphonic palette found expression in shorter forms. Sensemaya (1938), closing part one of tonight’s program, may be his best-known symphonic composition. Part two of our concert presents an iconic film of the Mexican Revolution: Redes (1935) – with Revueltas’s galvanizing score performed live.


The first major composer to write for film was Camille Saint-Saens, who supplied music for L’Assassinat du Duc de Guise in 1908. In later decades, Aaron Copland in the United States, William Walton in Great Britain, Serge Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich in the Soviet Union were important composers who also importantly composed for film. Silvestre Revueltas belongs in this select company.

Redes was the first of 10 Mexican films Revueltas scored. It was co-directed by Emilio Gómez Muriel and an Austrian émigré; Fred Zinnemann, later the Hollywood director of High Noon, From Here to Eternity, and A Man for All Seasons. The cinematographer was an American, Paul Strand, arguably the greatest name in the history of American photography.

“Redes” refers to fishing nets. (In the United States the film was released as The Wave). The story of this 60-minute film is of poor fishermen victimized by monopoly control of their market. It argues for organized resistance as a necessary means of political reform.

Redes has a tangled background. Strand had come to Mexico in 1933, attracted by the revolutionary government and its reformist program. Like Copland the year before, he had been invited by the composer Carlos Chávez. With Chávez, Strand conceived what became Redes and engaged Zinnemann. But in 1934 a new government (under Lázaro Cárdenas) came to power. Chávez was replaced as Director of Fine Arts by Antonio Castro Leal. Leal reassigned the music of the proposed film to Revueltas.

This bumpy history may partly account for other discontinuities. Redes sits uneasily between two genres: fiction film and documentary. Most of the actors are non-professionals. Long stretches eschew dialogue. Curiously, the spoken word is almost never backscored – the music speaks when the actors don’t, and vice versa. And yet the contributions of Strand and Revueltas are indelible – and indelibly conjoined.

Visually, Redes is a poem of stark light and shadow, of clouds and sea, palm fronds and thatched huts, with Strand’s camera often tipped toward the abstract sky. Metaphor abounds: a rope is likened to a fisherman’s muscled arm. The pregnant imagery invites interpretation equally poetic: music. For a child’s funeral, Revueltas furnishes more than a dirge: his throbbing elegy combines with Strand’s poised, hypersensitive camera to fashion a transcendent tableau. The recurrent visual motif
of nets that catch fish subliminally suggests the confinement of men: a metaphor underlined by the musical motif of massive tolling brass. At every turn, Strand and Revueltas elevate the film’s simple tale to an epic human drama.

Redes was first screened with live musical accompaniment in Mexico City, and subsequently given in this fashion by the Santa Barbara Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and PostClassical Ensemble of Washington, D.C. (which subsequently produced a Naxos DVD version with newly recorded sound). The 1930s soundtrack is as transformed as a painting restored from centuries of grime.

The influence of Redes on American cinema is ponderable. Copland was a known admirer of Revueltas. In a 1937 article for The New York Times, he hailed its American premiere as follows:

Revueltas is the type of inspired composer in the sense that Schubert was the inspired composer. That is to say, his music is a spontaneous outpouring, a strong expression of his inner emotions. There is nothing premeditated . . . about him. When seized with the creative urge, he has been known to spend days on end without food or sleep until the piece was finished. He writes his music at a table in the manner of the older musicians, and quite unlike the musical procedure of the modern composer, who, because he uses complex harmonics and rhythms, is as a rule forced to seek the help of the piano. I mention this as an instance of Revueltas’s extraordinary musicality and naturalness.

His music is above all vibrant and colorful. . . The score that Revueltas has written for [Redes] has very many of the qualities characteristic of Revueltas’s art. . . . The need for musical accompaniments by serious composers is gradually becoming evident even to Hollywood. The Mexican Government, choosing Revueltas to supply the music for [Redes], is very much like the U.S.S.R. asking Shostakovich to supply sound for its best pictures.

Please join us after tonight’s concert to discuss this remarkable Mexican achievement.

April 2017


Robert Schumann
Born June 8, 1810, Zwickau, Germany
Died July 29, 1856, Endenich, Germany

Concerto for piano and orchestra in A minor, op. 54

Robert Schumann was very concerned about the increasing commercialism of music he saw occurring around him. To him this trait was epitomized by the cult of the virtuoso soloist which flowered around such performers as Liszt on piano and Paganini on the violin. His piano concerto is thus much more than a virtuoso vehicle for the performer; the piano and orchestra are partners in the work. The opening theme of the first movement is the unifying element; it appears in various forms throughout the movement, as well as later in the concerto. The last movement is particularly noteworthy for its difficult syncopation and rhythmic drive.

The Concerto was probably started about 1838, two years before his marriage to Clara Wieck. He wrote to Clara: "My concerto is a compromise between a symphony, a concerto and a huge sonata. I see I cannot write a concerto for the virtuosos — I must plan something else." The work actually started out as a Fantasy for Orchestra. Clara performed it in this guise in a reading session with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra on August 13, 1841, a year after their marriage. Schumann wanted this version printed, but was unable to get a publisher interested. The other two movements were added four years later and the finished work was premiered on December 4, 1845, again with Clara as the soloist. The conductor was Ferdinand Hiller. In 1846, she performed it in Leipzig with Mendelssohn conducting. The following year Robert Schumann himself conducted it with Clara soloing in Vienna. She and her husband often performed it together in this way, despite Robert's limitations as a conductor.

Clara Wieck Schumann was a notable pianist, famous in her own right as a soloist. She was influential in the establishment of the tradition of solo piano recitals. Prior to 1843 she, like other pianists, had always included an orchestra in her programs. In that year she made a tour of Russia and because of the difficulties of getting an orchestra, dispensed with it altogether, never again including one on her own recitals. She also was one of the first pianists to perform from memory in public. This move provoked controversy; Bettina von Arnim, one of Beethoven's friends commented: "With what pretension she seats herself at the piano and plays without the notes! How modest in comparison is Döhler, who places the music before him!" The daughter of a piano teacher, she was encouraged by her father to pursue a solo career from her early youth. Her father saw to it that she received instruction as a composer as well, and oversaw the publication of some of her early compositions. Her career continued after her marriage; when she premiered the original version of this Concerto, she was only two weeks away from giving birth to her first child. She was again giving concerts by the time the child was three months old. The performance of the Concerto with Mendelssohn in 1846 was one month before the birth of her fourth child.

As a pianist, Clara belonged to the classical tradition. Her repertoire did not include the flashy but empty display pieces that characterized the recitals of most of her contemporaries. She was known for her temperate use of the pedal and avoidance of pronounced rubato effects. George Bernard Shaw called her a "nobly beautiful and poetic player." She excelled of course in the performance of her husband's compositions, but she played the music of many others as well.

Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky
Born May 7, 1840, Votinsk, District of Viatka
Died November 6, 1893, St. Petersburg, Russia

Symphony No. 5 in E minor, op. 64

Tchaikovsky had one of the greatest gifts for melody of any composer. Even listeners who may never have heard the Fifth Symphony are likely to discover that they have heard some of its main themes, for these themes have been repeatedly arranged for other contexts.

Within the Fifth Symphony, these themes become part of a much larger structure which, quite consciously on Tchaikovsky's part, has Fate as it subject — confrontation with Fate and, through acceptance of it, final victory, at least according to some listeners. Others hear in the ending the triumph of fate over man. The theme heard at the opening is the Fate motive; in various guises it will appear in every movement. It is especially prominent in the first and fourth movements; the second and third movements seem to seek to escape it, with the famous love theme in the second movement and the waltz theme in the third. In these two movements, the interruptions of the fate motive seem rather ominous. But in the last movement the motive, originally in the minor mode, bursts forth in the brightness of the major mode, and the general mood becomes triumphant.

Throughout the time in which he was writing the Fifth Symphony, the summer of 1888, Tchaikovsky was tormented by self-doubt. He became convinced that he was "written-out," that his great works were all behind him, and expressed this thought to Madame von Meck, his patroness in a letter: "I am trying with difficulty, to squeeze a symphony out of my poor tortured brain. I shall work hard, for I want very much to prove that I am not yet written out. Often I ask myself, 'Isn't it time to stop writing music? Haven't I overstrained my imagination?'" Not even its full success at its premier in November of 1888, which Tchaikovsky conducted, convinced him of its worth. He felt the audience was applauding the memory of his past works rather than the work then before him: "I have come to the conclusion that it is a failure. The applause and ovations were for my other works. This Symphony will never please. Perhaps I am all done, as they say." He even went so far as to call the work "insincere," but gradually, after further successes conducting it in Germany, he came to feel that perhaps it was not so bad after all. Today it is one of his most frequently played works.

Tchaikovsky found himself caught between two camps. In his native Russia, he was viewed with suspicion and even disdain by the new generation of nationalistic composers (including Rimsky-Korsakov), because Tchaikovsky continued to write in the style of the predominantly German romantic mainstream. This meant that he wrote abstract symphonies in traditional forms rather than the programmatic works of the younger composers. But German musicians were also pulling Tchaikovsky in a direction in which he did not want to go; the Chairman of the Board of the Hamburg Philharmonic Society begged him to settle in Hamburg so that he could be fully converted from “Russian savagery” to more civilized music composition. This symphony is dedicated to this man, but Tchaikovsky ignored his invitations and suggestions. The Symphony no. 5 indeed seems quite Russian in effect.

El Paso Museums & Cultural Affairs Department

Programs and artists are subject to change without notice. The El Paso Symphony is made possible with the support of the City of El Paso Museums and Cultural Affairs Department and the Texas Commission on the Arts.