By Endicott Reindl
Juan Crisóstomo Jacobo Antonio de Arriaga y Balzola (1806-1826)
Symphony in D Major
Composed in 1824 (pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets and timpani)
Known as the Spanish Mozart, Arriaga was a child music prodigy that died at the young age of 19. The uncanny similarities between Arriaga and Mozart don’t end with their status as prolific composers, the two share not only the same birthday (January 27) but also share the same baptismal names.
Not to make the reader of these program notes feel like an underperformer in life, but Arriaga began composing at the young age of 11 when he entered the Paris Conservatoire until his death at 19. In that short span, he wrote a Spanish opera, a symphony, several string quartets, and other chamber works.
His music can be categorized as contrasting between one musical idea to another, yet always seeming to look at the sunny side of life. The third movement is a great example of this disposition with a flute feature where Arriaga creates the full story for the listener. Tragically he died young, cutting short the opportunity to further develop his musical ideas.
Joaquín Turina (1882-1949)
The Bullfighter’s Prayer
Composed in 1926 (string orchestra)
Originally written for Spanish folk lutes, not the same as one might picture from the Baroque era, this composition shows off Turina’s appreciation for all things folk. He was inspired to create this work after attending a bullfight, later recalling:
“During an afternoon of bullfighting in the Madrid arena…I saw my work. I was in the court of horses. Behind a small door, there was a chapel, filled with incense, where toreadors [we might call them matadors nowadays] went right before facing death. It was then that there appeared, in front of my eyes, in all its plenitude, this subjectively musical and expressive contrast between the tumult of the arena, and the public that awaited the fiesta, and the devotion of those who, in front of this poor altar filled with touching poetry, prayed to God to protect their lives.”
Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)
Aconcagua: Concerto for Accordion
Composed in 1979 (timpani, percussion, harp, piano)
Astor Piazzolla is unlike many other contemporaries in that his first instrument was not the piano but rather the bandoneón (an accordion-like instrument).
He recalls receiving one quite vividly, “The first bandoneón that I had my Papa gave me when I was eight years old. He brought it wrapped in a box, and I was happy, believing that it was the skates that I had asked for many times…in place of skates I encountered an apparatus that I had never seen in my life. Papa sat himself on a chair, placed the thing between my arms, and said to me: ‘Astor, this is the instrument of the tango, I want you to learn to play it.’”
Writer John Henken further describes the instrument, “Though its moaning wheeze, seductive and sarcastic, is the quintessential sound of tango, the bandoneón is of German origin, a button accordion invented by one Heinrich Band in the 1840s and brought to South America in the great wave of immigration. Models differ, but the South American instrument typically has 71 buttons arranged in patterns that are quite difficult to master for anyone used to keyboard instruments.”
Entitled Aconcagua, as the height or peak of Astor’s career it is also the name of the highest mountain peak in South America. Composed within an A-B-A fashion (fast, slow, fast) the soloist begins the piece with intense energy supported by the harp and percussion.
The work gives the soloists multiple cadenzas (solo passages) to show off their virtuosity and lyricism. The bandoneón and accordion are multifaceted instruments and definitely worth a look.