Timing: c. 13:00
Orchestration: 3 flutes (3rd = piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd = English horn), 3 clarinets (3rd = bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, tam-tam, tamburo, triangle, xylophone), harp, celesta, and strings.
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances: May, 2001.
The world will celebrate Joaquín Rodrigo’s 100th birthday this November, and Rodrigo (1901-1999) very nearly lived long enough to join in the festivities. Few composers have occupied such a favored position for so many years: he became a national institution in Spain shortly after the triumphant premiere of his Concierto de Aranjuezin 1940, and remained one until his death in July 1999. That same work established his fame outside Spain as well, and as the ranks of virtuoso guitarists grew in the later 20th century, his works for that instrument gave him a prominent, if misleadingly one-sided, profile in the musical world. His direct style, gift for melody, and tradition-based approach to harmony appealed not only to Spain’s conservative aesthetic in the Franco era but also to audiences elsewhere that often felt adrift in the 20th century. In an age when “avant garde” was commonplace, he was sometimes derided as old-fashioned, but as art music is mellowing at the turn of the 21st century, he begins to look more like a composer ahead of his time. In any event, he could salve the critical jibes with the palliative of commercial success: the Concierto de Aranjuezis said to have generated more royalties than any Spanish work in history. It caused him to be seen outside Spain as a purveyor of Spanish folklore, but as the works on this program show, there was far more to Rodrigo’s art than local color.
He composed his Cinco piezas infantiles for a national competition when he was 22. It won second prize, but went a long way toward establishing Rodrigo in the public eye in Spain, and in 1929 it was performed in Paris to rave reviews. It has a good deal of the Impressionist-influenced international sound that we associate with early 20th-century Paris and hear in Stravinsky’s early works: it is not hard to hear a bit of Petrushka in the first of the Piezas or The Firebird in the last one. Rodrigo did not actually go to Paris to study with Paul Dukas until 1927, a few years after the Cinco piezas infantiles.
The Piezas infantiles are more about children than for them. The opening Son chicos que pasán (“Children passing by”) is a little march, complete with snare drum, given a particularly sassy feel by the tangy dissonance (an F-natural against F-sharp) in its opening melody. Después de un cuento (“After a story”), evokes bedtime with the soft sounds of harp and celesta, washed in the delicate sound of divided strings. In the fourth movement, Plegaria (“Prayer”), archaic-sounding fifths in the horns evoke a liturgical feel while high harmonic tones in the violins evoke the celestial. The Gritería Finale (“Concluding clamor”), the only movement in which the strings play entirely in the usual five parts, and the only one that uses the entire orchestra, is louder and bolder than the other movements.
-- Lawyer and lutenist Howard Posner has also annotated programs for the Los Angeles Baroque Orchestra and the Coleman Chamber Concerts.