Latin Fever programme notes

Explore the romance of countries redolent with spice, heat, and flair, and discover the fun of bullfighters, dancing, and the art of the appetizer! With pieces from Italian composer Luigi Boccherini, Spanish composer Joaquín Turina and Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos it’s sure to be a heated night. Add on the planned Spanish cuisine and it’s date night at its finest!

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Extra B – Latin Fever

Joaquín Turina – The Bullfighter’s Prayer
Considered one of the most important Spanish composers of the early twentieth century, Turina was born in Seville, where from a young age he showed aptitude as a composer and pianist. Like many of his Spanish contemporaries he absorbed his country’s musical traditions into his oeuvre, but composers of other European nationalities also influenced him. This was most clearly manifest during his residency in Paris from 1905 to 1914, where he was instructed in composition at the Schola Cantorum by Vincent d’Indy and exposed to works of Claude Debussy.

The Bullfighter’s Prayer is a strong example of both Turina’s Spanish and classical sensibilities. Turina’s inspiration for the piece came quite unexpectedly, when he attended a bullfight in Madrid in 1925. While strolling around the arena he came upon a small chapel where toreadors said their prayers. Turina took notice of the extreme contrast this solemn, quiet scene presented to the roaring intensity of bullfighting, and sought to portray such a contrast musically. To do this, Turina juxtaposes slow, prayerful sections with bursts of energy, illustrating the two realms of the toreadors. The piece was originally written for a quartet of lauds, a mandolin-like instrument prominent in Spanish culture, a trace of which is manifest in the plucked string parts that appear throughout the piece.

Heitor Villa-Lobos – String Quartet No. 1
This piece introduces us to the fusion of classical and South American folk music found in the Brazilian composer’s works. Villa-Lobos was a relative oddity among classical composers: a self-taught musician who approached classical music from a background in popular music. While his father Raul taught him to play the cello, Villa-Lobos was forced to take charge of his own musical education after his death in 1899, upon which the guitar became his instrument of choice, learning it through camaraderie with the street musicians of Rio.

After taking odd jobs as a performer in his teenage years, Villa-Lobos spent much of his early adulthood exploring Brazil. These travels introduced him to many popular Brazilian tunes, which found a welcome place in the composer’s work upon his resettling in Rio in 1913. Villa-Lobos wrote his first string quartet in 1915, though given the considerable reworking it underwent before its premiere in 1946 it could just as well be called his tenth or eleventh. The composer added three short movements, making its structure resemble that of a Baroque dance suite more than that of a traditional quartet.

The movements of the quartet alternate between fast and slow tempos. The first movement opens slowly and lyrically, with emphasis on the smooth lines of all parts. Jocular plucked notes and lively rhythms counter this smoothness in the second movement, whose title Brincadeira (Portuguese: “joke”) is a reminder of its light nature. In the third movement, Villa-Lobos writes in a romantic vein, emulating a slow operatic aria. The fourth movement opens with an elegant melody in the violin and pulsating cello accompaniment, reversing these roles in the middle section before closing with the opening material.

The quartet reaches its slowest tempo in the penultimate movement, fittingly titled Melancolia for its overall mood. Muted strings convey muted angst, while also expressing anxiety through pronounced chromaticism. The final movement references the Brazilian folk character Saci, a one-legged trickster who grants wishes to anyone who can steal his magic hat. Saci is portrayed musically through the quirky opening dotted-rhythm motif, treated fugally by all instruments throughout.

Ernesto Lecuona – Siboney
A classic from Cuba, Siboney was written in 1929 while Lecuona was away from home. Siboney is also the name of a town in Cuba and can refer to the country as a whole, and the lyrics reflect the homesickness Lecuona reportedly experienced on this trip. The song became a hit in 1931 and has since been performed by many well-known recording artists, including an English version, whose lyrics have no relation to the original Spanish.

Isaac Albéniz – Tango in D, Op 165, No 2
Originally written for piano, as part of the suite España, Op 165 (1890), the Tango has since been transcribed for classical guitar by Miguel Llobet, and become one of the most important works of the classical guitar repertoire. It has been played and recorded by numerous guitarists. A slow, romantic piece, it is played in the key of D Major, and is considered the most famous guitar piece in the repertoire.

Carlos Gardel – Por una Cabeza
Born in 1890 in France, Gardel grew up in Buenos Aires and found quick success in his singing career. He created the tango-cancion, helping to popularize the dance. Por una Cabeza, which means ‘By a Head’, tells the story of a man who cannot resist gambling and losing, both on horses and in love. It has become particularly well known through films, including Scent of a Woman and True Lies.

Francisco Tarréga – Recuerdos de la Alhambra
A classical guitar piece composed in 1896 by the Spanish composer and guitarist, the title means Memories of the Alhambra, a palace and fortress complex in Granada, Spain. The piece showcases the challenging guitar technique known as tremolo, wherein a single melody note is plucked consecutively by the ring, middle and index fingers in such rapid succession that the result is an illusion of one long sustained note. The thumb plays an arpeggio-pattern accompaniment simultaneously. Many who have heard the piece but not seen it performed mistake it for a duet. The first section is written in A Minor and the second section is written in the parallel major key of A. This device is used in other Spanish guitar songs as well, such as the anonymous Spanish Romance.

Luigi Boccherini – Guitar Quintet in D Major, G. 448
The Italian composer and cellist secured a well-paid position as a royal court composer and musician in 1768, allowing him to develop a unique style and enjoy steady patronage, but it cut him off from mainstream musical society. For over a century, Boccherini was considered a tangential figure; his work only began to flourish once more during the second half of the twentieth century, when it was again appreciated for its own sake.

Being one of the great cellists of his time, Boccherini composed prolifically for small string ensembles. A particularly idiosyncratic grouping of instruments he experimented with was adding a guitar to a typical string quartet. This must have seemed a natural choice, given guitars’ abundance in Spain.

The “Fandango” Quintet is Boccherini’s fourth guitar quintet, as well as his most popular. The first movement is proof that the added guitar improves on his earlier work, as the picked melodies of the guitar add wonderful timbre to the ensemble. This is not to say that Boccherini entirely forgets the violin family, as the second movement grants the cello exceedingly soloistic material. A short third movement acts as an introduction to the fourth, which gives the quintet its nickname through its abundance of rhythms of the lively Spanish folk dance. The addition of castanets gives it a colour more typical of the Spanish court than the concert stage.

Zain Solinski