So I have admittedly had a lot to drink today, so perhaps I am missing an obvious answer here. Nevertheless:
What's the deal with Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole? It feels like this student concerto is often played, but seldom ever performed...or recorded.
And the times it is performed, it is done so seemingly out of obligation, as if nobody ever wants to do it, and then the reviews all go on and on about how "dazzling soloist Violin McFiddlerson made sense of this showpiece" as if the reviewing audience (if such a thing exists and should be taken seriously) kind of gets that it's an awkward black sheep among the Romantic repertoire. Even thinking about my personal preferences, I don't really want to listen to this d*mn thing either.
So the question is...why is taught the way it is? It's compatriots Mendelssohn and Bruch are performed all the time, by great soloists, at major venues, while Lalo seems to be relegated to graduation recitals and community orchestras? Why can everyone at my level (generally) whip out the first subject of Mozart 5, Bruch, or Mendelssohn, and Lalo is the one where people say "oh yeah...I played a couple movements of that once"? I myself had almost completely put it out of my mind until TwoSet included it in their list of "Concertos in D". And if it's never played as standard repertoire and everyone seems to hate it then why is it taught, seemingly so ubiquitously? Is it because it's a great pedagogical stepping stone? Is it because Lalo was besties with Sarasate and teachers for the last 150 years felt bad that he wrote nothing else of consequence? Is it because the first line will get overbearing Asian tiger moms to back off hovering over practice? Am I just too drunk to do proper research?
Fair warning: you might just want to say "tiger moms" instead of including the racial part, unless you want some backlash.
I think one problem with getting Lalo performed is that even though we all know it's really a concerto, it's not called one in the title. So for orchestras who stick to the traditional programming model of "Overture, concerto, intermission, symphony" it's not an attractive piece to program since it makes the program seem like it has two symphonies on it and no concerto.
If the name of the piece (not "concerto") were the issue, then Bruch's Scottish Fantasy would never be performed either, nor "The Lark Ascending".
It's totally unclear that "everybody hates it". Many of the greats have recorded it. For example the last movement requires an artist of the highest caliber. Just listen to Vadim Repin. Why it is not programmed often you can ask about a lot of pieces. Note Lalo also wrote another violin concerto (opus 20).
Also maybe it's out of fashion now. These things come and go. Like wide lapels or cuffs on your trousers.
Well, I rather like Lalo when played well, especially the inner movements. I will say that I think in general it is learned too early by many students -- they tend to learn it when they can play the notes of the first movement -- and who tend not to be musically mature enough to really get to the essence of the inner three movements. There are very few 12-16yo who have the skills to work through the entire piece both technically (5th movement) and musically (2, 3, 4 movements), and that is the age when it tends to be played.
New York phil is doing it with Frank haung this season
The reason the "Symphonie Espagnole" isn't programmed as much as others is twofold: its length (37-38 minutes including the Intermezzo), and some fiddlers believe it's glorified Sarasate, but instead of a 5 minute showpiece, it's nearly 40 (their words, not mine). Also - it's deceptively difficult to put together with orchestra. The Scherzando movement has a couple of land mines for coming unglued, and the conductor/orchestra have to be flexible in the Rondo.
I'd argue the Lalo is a valuable piece to learn during adolescence because it requires the musical depth of concerti like the Mendelssohn and Bruch while also having a strong sense of character required by many showpieces. I have to say, James, I find your post incredibly dismissive. You make not like the Lalo, but you trash it in a way that makes anyone who enjoys it feel like they have to justify themselves. Many of the great artists have recorded Lalo, including Perlman, whose recording I idolized when I was a child. Lalo may not be a "masterworks" composer like Mendelssohn or Brahms, but I don't think that should influence how seriously we take his works. I think this touches upon a broader discussion in which people can debate how the existence of the classical (and violinistic) canon shapes/should shape our perception of what constitutes a "great/master work". I would argue that we give many subpar works a pass because they were written by composers we respect for their other compositions. So, the phenomenon works both ways. Not everything written by A-list classical composers was amazing, and works ought not to be judged harshly simply because they were penned by a composer lacking name recognition.
I don't know, I LOVE the Lalo and cannot wait to play (learn, work on, etc.) it when/if the time comes.
James is Asian (clear from his last name, which he's since redacted since his earlier postings), so I reckon he gets to talk about Asian tiger moms. ;-)
Another one that is rarely performed these days is Max Bruch's Scottish Fantasy; it is also rarely performed, perhaps due to the key with 6 flats, in student recitals.
Yes, the Lalo S. Esp. is out of fashion. Which is too bad because it should be considered a major concerto. The audience will enjoy it. The 5th movement is very hard. With all 5 movements it is long, but not longer than the Beethoven. Perhaps it gets too many mediocre performances at student recitals and auditions.
Who knows. The Bruch that gets played all the time is my least favorite of his concertos, and I prefer the Lalo as well. It seemed like I heard the Lalo a lot more ten years ago (At least on the classical radio station), but I always assumed it was a pretty popular piece with audiences. It's very tuneful and dramatic.
I’ve never considered the Lalo to be a ‘student’ piece. I remember Erick Friedman told me he felt parts of the piece were as demanding as some Paganini. The fact that many of the major soloists (Heifetz, Menuhin, Milstein, Szeryng, Oistrakh, Rosand etc. ) have performed and recorded the piece, is testament to that. As Andrew pointed out, it’s a rather lengthy piece with some tricky spots to coordinate between soloist and orchestra. Much like the Elgar Violin Concerto, the Lalo Symphonie Espangnole is not programmed as much as the Lalo Cello Concerto or the Elgar Cello Concerto on an orchestra program for this reason. In the past, many people, including Milstein & Heifetz, omitted the Intermezzo movement. I really like the movement, and think the piece is more complete with it. Many people forget, Lalo also wrote a violin concerto. I believe Ricci recorded it?
David - yes, I learned the SF as a student (and used it for all of my college auditions and a few contests). The E flat minor (6 flats) introduction is indeed imposing, as is curing the Finale of its "Scratch Frantically" tendencies.
Perhaps it is the way it is played or taught. I had the opportunity to play it for Nathan Milstein in a masterclass, having recently been taught it by Galamian. After I got through playing about 1/2 of the first movement he stopped me and said something to the effect."you play this piece as if it were a piece by Wagner! It's really just a piece of French "fluff" which needn't be played or taken very seriously." He then proceeded to have me play it much faster and lighter. I learned something about style in that lesson!
I haven't played in a performance of Lalo's Sym Esp, but I think it bears some sort of comparison with his cello concerto, which also has a few carefully placed landmines for the orchestra's delectation. Not surprisingly, the cello concerto has a similar Spanish flavour to the Sym Esp. One of my orchestras performed it last year, the soloist being the principal cellist (a pupil of a pupil of Casals, therefore established credentials), which went down very well with the audience and orchestra.
Scottish Fantasy serves much more play than the infernal g minor concerto (yawn....).
continued,-- Lalo was from a Spanish family and worked closely with Sarasate on this one. Part of the wrong interpretive approach to this piece is that when we anglos think of typical Spanish music we think of the music sub-culture of Flamenco, which is Gypsy/Andalucia. The main-stream northern Spain traditional music is much more reserved, formal.
And as a follow up to Joel's comment...Sarasate wrote his Habanera as a direct ripoff from the Lalo cello concerto's 3rd movement theme. Same key, same rhythm, same inspiration.
Regarding the Scottish Fantasy, my teacher had me do the Adagio movement a few months ago. My understanding is it was some prework for when we do the final movement of Bruch soon once I finish the second movement.
On of my (too numerous) Desert Island Discs is of Zukerman playing Bruch No1 and the Symphonie Espagnole"!
I love the Lalo, and the Intermezzo is my favorite movement.
Comics poke fun at their own "groups" all the time and it's considered acceptable even with the worst slurs and tropes.
Well, actually I find it offensive too. I'm just noticing what seems to be tolerated in that particular cultural arena.
Interesting what Andrew said about this being difficult for the orchestra to get right. Lalo SE was THE solo piece of local Chicago-area high school violinists in the mid-eighties. We performed the first movement with the CYSO concertmaster my first year, then the last movement with the associate concertmaster the next year. In between, I was a section violinist with a community orchestra (don’t remember which) and 15-year-old Elisa Barston played all but the seductive third movement as soloist, and then followed it up with zapateado as an encore. I don’t remember any hot spots in the first violin part, but then, it was a long time ago. Or maybe I was oblivious. :)
Yeah, in our Chicago childhood, the first and fifth Lalo movements were staples of the competition circuit, along with the third movement of Wieniawski 2, and the third movement of the Sibelius. (Man. I didn't realize that Elisa Barston is now Seattle's principal 2nd.)
First mvmt Lalo and first mvmt Wieniawski 2 are still staples in Chicago comps. Less so the 5th mvmt of Lalo and third mvmt of Wieniawski. These days it is tons and tons and tons of Bruch (younger players) and Tchaikovsky (older players).
I have very simple criteria when I'm judging a contest: would I pay $$$ to see this musician perform? Are they a performer in every sense of the word (polished, prepared, spark, chemistry, owning their space onstage)?
Bruch 3rd movement was a staple too. I cannot recall hearing the first movement at a competition, oddly. No Tchaikovsky either -- for some reason Sibelius was done a ton, though. In youth orchestra auditions too.
My competition staples in high school were Saint-Saens 3, Vieuxtemps 4, and Scottish Fantasy. The SF has definitely had a resurgence in the last 10 years....the Vieuxtemps, not so much.
DuPage County Youth Symphony performed the first movement of Bruch in 1984, so at least one person must have auditioned with it in those years. It does sound incomplete though--as if you stopped playing before you got to what Bruch had to say.
Lalo ia a great work that many composers and performers of its era genuinely liked. Just a modern fad that only the "really good works" should be programmed. The people in charge should just be more open about putting out there more than the big "workhorses"-a relative lack of knowledge, disguised as "music scholarship" is what I feel is at work-coupled with a desire to fill concert halls with the path of least resistance. The work is not even a "non musical showpiece", so its negligence is a bit baffling. "There is better" is not a good excuse, in my opinion, especially as "better" is subjective, and many works deserve to be admired on their merits-should all Concerto performances be Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Sibelius, and Beethoven?(Although ironically, the latter is in my experience less performed than the previous 3, despite its supreme status in the literature.)
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