Capriccio espagnol, Op. 34, is the common Western title for an orchestral work based on Spanish folk melodies and written by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1887. Rimsky-Korsakov originally intended to write the work for a solo violin with orchestra, but later decided that a purely orchestral work would do better justice to the lively melodies. The Russian title is Каприччио на испанские темы (literally, Capriccio on Spanish Themes). The Capriccio consists of five movements and is scored for 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes (one doubling English horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp and strings.
The work has five movements:
The first movement, Alborada, is a festive and exciting dance, typically from traditional asturian music to celebrate the rising of the sun. It features the clarinet with two solos, and later features a solo violin with a solo similar to the clarinet’s.
The second movement, Variazioni, begins with a melody in the horn section. Variations of this melody are then repeated by other instruments and sections of the orchestra.
The third movement, Alborada, presents the same asturian dance as the first movement. The two movements are nearly identical, in fact, except that this movement has a different instrumentation and key.
The fourth movement, Scena e canto gitano (“Scene and gypsy song”) opens with five cadenzas — first by the horns and trumpets, then solo violin, flute, clarinet, and harp — played over rolls on various percussion instruments. It is then followed by a dance in triple time leading attacca into the final movement.
The fifth and final movement, Fandango asturiano, is also an energetic dance from the Asturias region of northern Spain. The piece ends with an even more rousing statement of the Alborada theme.
In the late 1860s Grieg married his cousin, Nina Hagerup, and settled in Christiania (now much less charmingly named Oslo). Life couldn’t have been easy, eking out a living from teaching and conducting, particularly as his over-zealous studies in Leipzig had permanently damaged his health. Then, in 1874, still aged only 31, came a stroke of good fortune: he was awarded a life annuity from the Norwegian government (nice work if you can get it!). Maybe he isn’t exactly a “front rank” composer, but his music is equally capable of charming the simple soul (like me) as it is the not so simple (like Liszt).
A composer of several choral works, reams of piano pieces, some chamber music, and a fair stack of orchestral music, Grieg generally shunned larger-scale forms (his celebrated Piano Concerto being the best-known exception), believing that his strengths lay in the more intimate forms associated with his native Norwegian folk culture. On the alter-stone of this credo he lay over 120 songs, many of which were inspired not only by Norway but also by Nina who, being a soprano, was equally often the intended interpreter.
The Two Elegaiac Melodies op. 34 are an arrangement for string orchestra of two songs from his op. 33. Shorn of their vocal element, both nevertheless reveal their provenance through the richly-inflected speech-rhythms of their melodic lines, simple and direct in their appeal to the listener’s emotions. Heart’s Wounds is the more overtly passionate, developing a strong compulsion in its central episode, while Last Spring (that’s “Last” as in “final” rather than “previous”) is generally more circumspect, tender, and achingly regretful.
Ludmila Peterková gives a ravishing performance of this magnificent work with the Zemlinsky Quartet at the 2011 Levocske babie leto (Indian Summer in Levoca) Festival.
The four movments are:
II. Fantasia: Adagio ma non troppo