A Sparkling Piece Based on Spanish Dances

Zarzuelas have a long tradition in Spain and inspired Rimsky-Korsakov.

Work and home – two busy and challenging places. Five days a week I switch roles around lunch time. I work half time. One half I spent at the office, the other with my daughter… and the household. The jump between these two worlds is tiring and sapping my strength at times. The time it takes to drive from the office back home is the time where I try to clear my mind, get ready for that other world I am about to jump into. Music helps. Inspiring, energizing music like Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, op. 34, recorded by the Berliner Philharmoniker under Lorin Maazel.

An enthusiastic reception

The Russian composer wrote it in 1887; it has five movements mainly inspired from Asturian folk dances. I was first performed the same year, Rimsky-Korsakov being the conductor. In his autobiography Rimsky-Korsakov notes that both the audience and the musicians of Imperial Russian Opera Orchestra of St Petersburg were enthusiastic. The composer was deeply moved and dedicated the work to the orchestra and listed each musician in the published score.

Rimsky-Korsakov had never been to Spain, but the themes he used in the Capriccio have an interesting Spanish origin. A composer of the name of José Inzenga (1828-1891) had risen to fame with his compositions of zarzuelas* and a collection of Spanish folk songs and dances called “The Echos of Spain”. Which is curious in a way, since the composer had been part of the “Mighty Handful” (or “Mighty Five”), amateur composers with the ambition to write purely Russian music. The group had disbanded before Rimsky-Korsakov wrote this piece, but Rimsky-Korsakov had nurtured his attachment to folk themes and folk music, just like Spanish composers had done, and remained proud of Russia’s cultural heritage.

Contradicting the critics

About the piece itself he wrote: “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.”

Besides the symphonic poem “Sheherazade”, the Capriccio is Rimsky-Korsakov’s most popular composition. The exuberant, sparkling melodies, the lively rhythms and last but not least the prominent part of the horns and the percussions invariably catapults me in another world and makes me feel refreshed – 15 minutes, charging complete.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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