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DETAILS:

Timing:
c. 15:00

Orchestration:
3 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, Japanese drum, ratchet. slap stick, tam-tam, tambourine, xylophone), 2 harps, celesta, strings, solo bass, and 4 sopranos.
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances: May, 2001.

Joaquín Rodrigo’s Ausencias de Dulcinea, composed in honor of the 400th anniversary of the birth of Cervantes (1547-1616), is a setting of a poem from Book I of Don Quixote .

“Sir” Quixote knows from his readings that to be an exemplary knight-errant, he must go mad in the wilderness from unrequited love for an unattainable noble lady. He therefore first finds a “lady” (a peasant girl he does not know, but dubs “Dulcinea of Toboso”) then deliberates over which famous knight he should emulate: become furiously insane, like Orlando, or pine away writing poetry to her, like Amadis of Gaul? He intends to outdo both of them, explaining to his squire, Sancho Panza, that while it is no great thing to go insane for good reason as Orlando and Amadis did, he intends to “become a lunatic for no good reason at all,” a more difficult feat. The poem he writes in the course of this madness is, on its face, a touching lament of a despairing lover. To a 17th-century Spanish reader, it was a wickedly funny parody of stereotyped courtly love poetry, filled with incongruous coarse-sounding language in the midst of the poetic rhetoric. For example, the word “cogote” in the third stanza means literally nape of the neck, but is a word used only for animals. The Don struggles with poetic structure, as when he describes “trees, grasses, and plants” as “so tall, green and many” in an attempt to give each of his nouns an adjective and the very notion of a “lady” with the aristocratic appellation “of Toboso” was itself laughable, since Toboso was a downtrodden region without high-born personages; the effect is a bit like “Countess of the Bronx.”

For all the absurdity that Cervantes built into the situation, Rodrigo (1901-1999), like Mendelssohn, takes Don Quixote, the man and his poem, pretty seriously. Fanfares evoke knight-errantry and antiquity. The baritone sings the Don’s lament in stark modal lines that verge at times on chant. The four sopranos echo his refrain, and each other, sometimes in haunting intertwining phrases, sometimes in fortissimo unison. They remain separate from Don Quixote’s song, singing only when he is silent, until the final bars, when he recalls his opening invocation, asking the trees and plants to hear his lament, to be answered only by the fading sound of Dulcinea’s name. Rodrigo said he used four sopranos to illustrate the idea that Don Quixote can look north, south, east, or west, but will not find the love he seeks.

-- Lawyer and lutenist Howard Posner has also annotated programs for the Los Angeles Baroque Orchestra and the Coleman Chamber Concerts.