Creating a Hype to Sell the Spanish Dances

Imagine dancing girls… © Charles Thibo

Pablo de Sarasate, of course. His dances immediately sprung to my mind when I heard Moritz Moszkowski’s Five Spanish Dances, op. 12. Imagine a Pole from Wroclaw dreaming of Spanish temperament and then composing the corresponding music out of the hat, just like that. The Spanish Dances were originally composed for four-hand piano in 1876 and enjoyed instant popularity. But the version for violin and piano – now that beats it all! Moszkowski’s publisher had to deal with all kind of arrangements. The version for piano and violin, just as popular as the original, is only one of them.

It’s probably those impressive double and triple stops and other virtuoso effects that reminded me of Sarasate’s compositions. Sarasate was one of the master violinists of his time, and his compositions reflected his ambition and his talent. Moszkowski played both the piano and the violin, not as well as Sarasate, but in the context of this specific work, I consider them brothers-of-arms. Sarasate’s own Spanish Dances were published roughly at the same time as Moszkowski’s.

When I listen to Moszkowski’s Spanish Dances, I see young Spanish girls in fancy, colourful dresses, dancing on a street market or a public square, some guys in the background playing the fiddle, the guitar, an ambiance of joie de vivre, of carefreeness. This is what I occasionally need. Reading the news depresses me, my current tasks at my job bore me to death – they have to be done, I know – and if I look at the reckless, irresponsible behaviour of way too many people here in Luxembourg, I would like to cry. But I don’t. I retire somewhere in a corner, I put one my earphones and – Moszkowski! Tak!

Now imagine that the Spanish Dances were born out of deep financial need! Moszkowski relates in a funny piece how it came into being: “I was in sore need of money. I could only think of two ways to get what I wanted: to borrow or to compose something.” He decided to borrow and went to see a friend. This friend however was so poor himself that he had to put the dried seaweed of his sofa filling in his pipe to smoke it. Obviously, borrowing from such a friend was no option. “I went back home, sat down at my table, and began to look through my sketchbook. A motive of a Spanish character struck my eyes, and at the same moment arose the thought that I would write a set of Spanish dances.”

A few days later Moszkowski was done,and the said friend and his brother came by. They were curious about his composition and asked: “You appear to be at work; do you need money?” Moszkowski in return asked them to stay and play the four-hand pieces so that he could hear how they sound. He was satisfied and right away he contacted his publisher. The publisher was game but the question was: How much could the composer get for his op. 12? “I have a brilliant idea”, Moszkowski said. “I propose that you pay me an exceptionally good price, which will get talked about in the papers and thus make a big stir about the piece”

Moszkowski’s avant-garde idea to create a hype didn’t really convince the publisher who wanted to keep the price down. Moszkowski gave in – composers always do – and settled for a low price. But at least he could pay his bills now.

The Spanish Dances have been recorded by Azerbaijani-born British violinist Nazrin Rashidova and the British pianist Daniel Grimwood.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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