Carlos Benetó and Juanjo Serna, Trumpets; Manuel Pérez, French Horn; Inda Bonet, Trombone; Sergio Finca, Tuba
Spanish Brass (a)LIVE
Johann Sebastian Bach (arr. Carlos Benetó): Sheep May Safely Graze, from Cantata BWV 208
One of the towering geniuses in the history of the arts, Bach produced a phenomenal amount of great music throughout his life. Wagner called him “nothing less than the most stupendous miracle in all music.” Bach can evoke the full range of emotions, and crystallize them in structural forms as intricate as their spiritual content is profound.
The aria Sheep may safely graze, originally written for soprano, 2 flutes and continuo, is the best known section of the cantata Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd (The lively hunt is all my heart’s desire). It is sung by the character Pales, a goddess of crops, pastures and livestock.
Spanish Brass member Carlos Benetó, who made this arrangement for the group, says he was inspired by pianist Khatia Buniatishvili’s performance of an arrangement by Egon Petri.
Like Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, Sheep may safely graze is frequently played at weddings. However, the cantata of which it forms a part was originally written for a birthday celebration, that of Christian, Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels. Bach is known to have used the music again for other celebrations, but it remained unpublished until after his death.
George Bizet (arr. Thierry Caens): Carmen Miniature
The plot of the opera Carmen tells of a beautiful Gypsy girl, Carmen, who seduces the soldier Don José, stealing him away from his fiancée Micaëla. Don José is besotted by the beguiling Gypsy and, pledging his love, deserts the army to be with her. Carmen’s love is more fickle, and she soon tires of him, transferring her attentions to the famed bullfighter Escamillo. On the day of the bullfight Don José begs Carmen to come back to him. When she refuses, he stabs her in the heart, and while the crowds cheer the Escamillo’s victory in the ring, Carmen dies.
The plot’s perceived immorality and exploration of sexual desire met with fierce disapproval from critics and audiences alike at its premiere in Paris. This may seem hard to believe given the affection with which Bizet’s opera is now regarded. Despite encouragement and praise from both Saint-Saëns and Massenet, Bizet lamented his “definite and hopeless flop” and quickly fell ill. Tragically, he was never to see the eventual triumph of his opera; three months after its disastrous premiere, he died of a heart attack.
Tchaikovsky rightly predicted Carmen’s meteoric rise, writing, “I am convinced that in ten years time, Carmen will be the most popular opera in the world.”
Carmen Miniature is a wonderful arrangement by Thierry Caens, in which he takes us on a tour through the opera’s main themes.
Leonard Bernstein: Dance Suite
Dancisa for Anthony
Waltz for Agnes
Bi-Tango for Mischa
Two-step for Mr. B
MTV for Jerry
Composed mostly in late 1989, Dance Suite was Bernstein’s last work. It was premiered as part of the 50th Anniversary Gala of American Ballet Theater at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City, on January 14, 1990. This light-hearted divertissement was not danced, however, even though that was the original intention. A choreographer began work on it, but apparently felt that the movements were too short for danceable development. It was presented instead on stage, in front of the traveller curtain, as an independent instrumental work. The performers were the Empire Brass Quintet, to whom the Suite is dedicated “with affection.”
Each movement is dedicated to a choregrapher-friend: Antony Tudor, Agnes DeMille, Mikhail Baryshnikov, George Balenchine and Jerome Robbins. More than a piéce d’occasion, there are other layers of meaning in the work since each movement had its origin in other formats. These are mostly anniversary pieces composed for family and friends.
I. Dancisca, for Antony (Antony Tudor)
The portmanteau word “Dancisca” is the title for what was originally a piano piece. Written for the composer’s granddaughter, Francisca Anne Maria Thomas, “For my Rhymy Girl, with thanxgiving and love, Tata.”
II. Waltz, for Agnes (Agnes de Mille)
The ironic Waltz, which sometimes is in 3/4 time (alternating with common time) has wry overtones. It was conceived as “The NEA Forever March,” after the composer refused the National Medal of Arts from President Bush. A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to Artists Space, a nonprofit gallery in New York City, had been revoked because of its AIDS exhibit, “Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing.” This was unacceptable to Mr. Bernstein, whose lyrics for the March were:
Everyone got a medal but Bernstein,
The President gave twelve medals,
Not to Bernstein.
Well, actually there showed up only ten to toast,
‘Cause one of the dozen couldn’t make it,
And the other was just a ghost.
But ten out of twelve is better than most,
And the President was a very lovely host.
So everyone had a great time but Bernstein.
The Lord be praised!
III. Bi-Tango, for Mischa (Mikhail Baryshnikov)
The bi-tonal Bi-Tango is based on a “Birthday Serenata” composed for a violinist friend, Paul Woodiel, with words in Spanglish for “Señorito Pablito.”
IV. Two-Step, for Mr. B (George Balanchine)
The Two-Step was at first “A Spiky Song,” written for the composer’s grandson, Evan Samuel Thomas: “Two weeks old, from his loving Granddaddy, 28 Oct. ’89.” (“Spike” was the name given to Evan prior to his birth by his father, David Thomas.) Its words include:
Hooray, ni-hao, Little Spike.
So glad, thank God,
Didn’t call you Mike(ae)l, Stephen, Paul,…
Hip, hip, loud cheers, little tyke.
Livin’ ain’t a bike ride,…
Hooray. Thank heaven for Evan.
V. MTV, for Jerry (Jerome Robbins)
MTV is in part a tribute to the ubiquitous Music Television. The middle section was also a song, written for the mother of the Bernstein grandchildren, Jamie Bernstein Thomas: “7.II.86, for Jamie, to be continued… Love, LB.” This one was inspired (if that is the appropriate word) when Mr. Bernstein watched an episode of “Miami Vice” on TV. The composer’s lyrics for it were loosely based on actual dialogue. The words are found partly in the manuscript, and have been in part recalled by a family friend, the conductor Michael Barrett, as:
He said: You wash my back and I’ll wash yours.
With the baby lyin’ in a shoe-bag on the floor
So she stabbed that rapist crime for crime.
He was a small-time stand-up comic anyway,
Now ain’t that nice?
—Note by Jack Gottlieb
Charles Chaplin (arr. T. Caens): Chaplin Suite
In this medley, the French trumpet player and arranger Thierry Caens used the following music from films by Charlie Chaplin: “Titine” and “Smile” from Modern Times, “The Flower Girl” from City Lights; “Deux petits chaussons” (Two little slippers) from Limelight; and “Ballet of the Bread Rolls” from The Gold Rush.
Various (arr. T. Caens): Piaf Forever
Édith Piaf (1915-1963) was a French singer who became an icon in France during World War II and is still considered one of the country’s cultural treasures. Piaf Forever is a medley of some of her most famous songs: La Vie en rose; La Foule; Les Amants d’un jour; Hymne à l’amour; Non, je ne regrette rien; Padam Padam; and Mon manège à moi.
Gerónimo Giménez (arr. F. Zacarés): La Boda de Luis Alonso
Gerónimo Giménez was a child prodigy violinist who went on to become a leading composer and conductor. He took a special interest in the zarzuela, a form of Spanish opera, and as such his music is noticeably influenced by Spanish folk songs and dances.
Giménez wrote La Boda de Luis Alonso (Luis Alonso’s Wedding) as a sequel to his previous zarzuela, El baile de Luis Alonso. Both are about the celebrated Spanish dancer and teacher, Luis Alonso. They are among Gimenez’s most famous compositions (and among Spain’s most popular zarzuelas).
Isaac Albéniz (arr. Maxi Santos): Asturias
Born in Camprodon, Catalunya, Albéniz was a child prodigy who first performed at the age of four. At age seven he passed the entrance examination for piano at the Paris Conservatoire, but was refused admission because he took out a ball from his pocket and broke a glass window while playing with it.
At twelve, he stowed away on a ship to South America and began a life of touring and performing in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and eventually the United States, where he appeared in a vaudeville act playing piano behind his back. He finally settled in Paris, where he became close friends with the major impressionist composers.
Asturias is the 5th movement of Suite Española. It is most famous these days as a classical guitar piece, even though it was originally composed for piano.
Manuel de Falla (arr. C. Benetó): Nana
Manuel de Falla was the most distinguished Spanish composer of the early 20th century. His music achieved a fusion of poetry, asceticism, and ardor that represents the spirit of Spain at its purest.
Nana is a lullaby from the Siete canciones populares españolas (“Seven Spanish Folksongs”), a set of traditional Spanish songs originally composed in 1914 for soprano and piano. It is Falla’s most-arranged composition, and one of his most popular.
Manuel de Falla (arr. Pascual Llorens): Farruca (El Sombrero de Tres Picos)
Farruca, or The Miller’s Dance, is from The Three-Cornered Hat, originally written for a ballet. The story breathes the warm atmosphere of Andalusia, and tells of a miller and his beautiful young wife, their flirtations and intrigues, and the trickery that ensues when the couple is visited one day by the magistrate (whose three-cornered hat symbolizes his authority). The magistrate quickly develops an eye for the beautiful young wife. He orders the miller arrested to clear his own path to the wife, but his flirtation ends in humiliation when he falls into a stream. The magistrate lays out his clothes to dry, and the returning miller discovers them and puts them on, then sets out in pursuit of the magistrate’s wife. It all ends happily: the police rush in and accidentally arrest their own magistrate, the miller and his wife swear their mutual devotion, and the ballet concludes as the happy townspeople toss an effigy of the magistrate in a blanket
Astor Piazzolla (arr. T. Caens):
Astor Piazzolla was without question Argentina’s greatest cultural export, both as a composer and as an unprecedented virtuoso on his chosen instrument, the bandoneon—a large button accordion that is a common folk instrument in Latin American countries. Most notably, he single-handedly took the tango, an earthy, sensual, often disreputable folk music that he enjoyed as a child, and elevated it into a sophisticated form of high art.
Oblivion, from a score Piazzolla composed for a film version of Pirandello’s play Enrico IV, is a haunting piece that exudes isolation and impassioned eloquence in a most gripping way.
Libertango, composed in 1974, is one of Piazzolla’s greatest hits. The previous year, Piazzolla moved to Italy, and his European agent pressured him to compose “airplay-friendly” pieces. The title is a portmanteau of the words “libertad” (“freedom,” in Spanish) and “tango,” and represents his break from classical tango.
Trad. (arr. Adam Rapa): Bulería pa Spanish Brass
Adam Rapa is an American trumpet-player who has shared the stage with several Grammy-winners and performed in more than 2000 shows across North America, Japan and the UK
The Bulería is one of the most complex flamenco dance styles, bustling and cheerful, characterised by a fast rhythm and a redoubled beat. Rapa does not know the exact origins of this bulería, or where he heard it, but he wanted to transcribe it for his great friends, Spanish Brass.
Lee Morgan (arr. Jesús Santandreu): The Sidewinder
The Philadelphia-born trumpeter and superb bop stylist Lee Morgan apprenticed with Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey before emerging as a leader in his own right in the early ’60s for Blue Note Records. Although Morgan owed a stylistic debt to both Gillespie and Clifford Brown, he quickly developed a voice of his own that combined half-valve effects, Latin inflections, and full, fluid melodies.
The Sidewinder, Lee Morgan’s 24-bar blues with an infectious bass line and backbeat, instantly became one of the most popular pieces in modern jazz history.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Spanish Brass appears by arrangement with Lisa Sapinkopf Artists, www.chambermuse.com
*Artists, programs, dates and venues are subject to change.