Concerning Lalo...

Edited: December 19, 2019, 12:55 AM · 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?

Replies (37)

December 19, 2019, 2:20 AM · Fair warning: you might just want to say "tiger moms" instead of including the racial part, unless you want some backlash.
December 19, 2019, 3:48 AM · 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.
Personally, I love it (not to play it, I'm not that good, but to listen to it) and wish it got more performances. I've heard it performed as a feature on a Boston Pops concert, so I wonder if the programming powers of major orchestras consider it more of a "Pops" showpiece.

Is it really true as you say ". . . he wrote nothing else of consequence" or is the truth more that people have ignored his other pieces of consequence? He wrote several other concertos for violin and orchestra as well as for cello and orchestra, along with other major works.

I feel he's more a composer who has been overlooked by programmers instead of being a composer who didn't write anything else of consequence.

Programming choices by soloists and orchestras are not merely artisic choices -- they have to be made so as to sell tickets and to attract large donors (corporate and private) many of whom couldn't tell a concerto from an etude but who know that supporting an orchestra gives them social prestige (and tax write-offs). Once they learn about something, that's what they want to see programmed. Thus the preponderance of performances of concertos by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky.

Many composers have fallen by the wayside of programming decisions undeservedly -- Arriaga wrote a beautiful symphony that is very rarely performed these days. There's just not enough programming time to program all the deserving compositions of the past, especially if one wants to program the great music being written today (of which there is a lot!)

December 19, 2019, 6:31 AM · 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".

I suspect Lalo is not performed as much simply because it's not on the same musical standard as the others. Also Lalo just doesn't command the same name recognition as Brahms or Mendelssohn. One asks, "What else did he write?"

December 19, 2019, 6:45 AM · 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).
Edited: December 19, 2019, 7:32 AM · Also maybe it's out of fashion now. These things come and go. Like wide lapels or cuffs on your trousers.
December 19, 2019, 7:54 AM · 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.

As for public performances, I think it is not programmed as much for a few reasons. One is that it is long with the 5 movements -- usually over 30 minutes. Some of the inner movements are actually somewhat hard to put together with orchestra. And the 5th movement is one of those that is easy to fall off the rails as a soloist.

December 19, 2019, 8:22 AM · New York phil is doing it with Frank haung this season
December 19, 2019, 9:08 AM · 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.

You ask why it isn't learned as often as Bruch? It's very tough to pull out. Lots of filigree and clarity issues - which makes it a tremendous pedagogical tool.

Surprisingly (or surprisingly to me), Mutter recorded this earlier in her career with Ozawa...I'd love to hear present-day Mutter give it another go.

Edited: December 19, 2019, 9:12 AM · 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.
Edited: December 19, 2019, 10:40 AM · James,
Glad to see you're hydrated. Very important for health.

Unfortunately, the performance repertoire has gotten whittled down over time to a small subset of "safe" choices that will draw an audience: Brahms, Beethoven, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky. Kind of like top-40 radio, or the constant stream of sequels put out by Hollywood: why take chances?

There are many pieces that deserve to get played more often, like Carmen Fantasy. But just consider who choses the repertoire in a typical professional orchestra: the conductor. His/her repertoire suggestions may have to make it past a repertoire committee, and those could be people who've never heard of Lalo. And the conductor may not want to be bothered with having to learn a new work or have the orchestra learn it either, especially since there's probably already some other big piece on the concert that warrants more attention (usually some big romantic war horse).

On the subject of learning repertoire: I heard about a young conductor who programmed a concerto but underestimated the difficulty of putting it together (Sibelius). It was a train wreck.

It's probably the same with the soloists: keeping all that repertoire in playing shape isn't easy. If you're playing 4 concerti all year, do you really want to kill yourself having to keep Lalo in good shape? A few soloists can probably do that, but not all. They too have to chose their battles.

December 19, 2019, 11:17 AM · I don't know, I LOVE the Lalo and cannot wait to play (learn, work on, etc.) it when/if the time comes.

I wish it were performed more often, glad to hear the NY Phil is doing it this year. ASM's is quite good, and I have always loved Pinchas' too.

Lalo has the Fantaisie norvégienne.

December 19, 2019, 11:45 AM · 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. ;-)

(There are other sorts of tiger moms out there, but Asian ones are distinctive anyway, in my experience.)

Anyway, I actually really like the Lalo, and I learned it as an adult, so I got to learn all of the movements (unlike kids who often just learn movements 1 and 5). It's a lot of fun to play, and not all that difficult while being showy. It's one of those works that I'd love to do with orchestra. It used to be played more often in the concert hall, and a lot of great artists of the past recorded it.

Edited: December 20, 2019, 8:19 AM · 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.

Has anyone on this forum, pros or amateurs, ever studied it as a student?

December 19, 2019, 12:24 PM · 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.
December 19, 2019, 12:31 PM · 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.
Edited: December 19, 2019, 1:19 PM · 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?
December 19, 2019, 1:17 PM · 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.
Edited: December 19, 2019, 1:39 PM · 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!

Concerning the omission of the Intermezzo, the story I heard was that Leopold Auer said that the movement was "not suitable." meaning that it was too lascivious! Of course in bygone days most performers played the last movement with huge cut.

December 19, 2019, 1:41 PM · 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.

December 19, 2019, 10:41 PM · Scottish Fantasy serves much more play than the infernal g minor concerto (yawn....).
So does Elgar.

Most classical music programming has become formulaic and dull: Overture, concerto, symphony.
Same thing with pianists: that damn Grieg concerto, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven.
Dull, dull, and...duller.

December 20, 2019, 12:46 PM · 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.
December 20, 2019, 4:15 PM · 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.
December 22, 2019, 1:04 AM · 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.

The Scottish fantasy had a lot of pedagogical merit in addition to being beautiful, just like Lalo.

December 23, 2019, 9:25 AM · On of my (too numerous) Desert Island Discs is of Zukerman playing Bruch No1 and the Symphonie Espagnole"!
December 23, 2019, 4:48 PM · I love the Lalo, and the Intermezzo is my favorite movement.

I've conducted the first movement with student soloists in concert at least three times in the last two years, and it's a fun work for the orchestra, provided the principal flute nails those solos!

Edited: December 23, 2019, 6:40 PM · "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. ;-)"

I left the wink in to de-escalate this, but disagree that one is permitted to stereotype when they're a member of the stereotyped group - in its worst form, that can be among the harshest semi-self-imposed prejudices.

FWIW, I like the notion of tiger moms (and dads), provided that they're not abusive - we can all use some pushing in good directions.

December 26, 2019, 4:14 PM · Comics poke fun at their own "groups" all the time and it's considered acceptable even with the worst slurs and tropes.

The problem with "Asian tiger mom" for me is that the qualification seems entirely gratuitous. "Tiger mom" is sufficient for understanding. I'm also noticing that nobody seems to be bothered by the egregious gender bias.

December 26, 2019, 7:04 PM · "Comics poke fun at their own "groups" all the time and it's considered acceptable even with the worst slurs and tropes."

Using comedy as defining "acceptable" might be missing the point of the comedy. Nobody gets to decide what's an acceptable mis-characterization of a group on the behalf of the group, and if you can't see that there's a problem with "the worst slurs and tropes", I think you need to rethink it.

December 27, 2019, 9:35 AM · Well, actually I find it offensive too. I'm just noticing what seems to be tolerated in that particular cultural arena.
Edited: December 29, 2019, 8:14 PM · 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. :)
December 29, 2019, 8:50 PM · 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.)
December 30, 2019, 11:19 AM · 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).
December 30, 2019, 11:40 AM · 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)?

I could care less about the repertoire and much more about the polish. A pristine Bruch g minor finale will win every day over a sloppy, approximate Sibelius.

December 30, 2019, 12:07 PM · 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.
December 30, 2019, 12:11 PM · 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.
Edited: December 30, 2019, 12:31 PM · 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.

Edited because I think it was Spring 1984, not Winter 1983.

December 31, 2019, 11:59 AM · 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.)

I would certainly attend a live performance of the SE given the right circumstances. And of many other works mentioned above for that matter, like the Vieuxtemps 4.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Find an Online Music Camp
Find an Online Music Camp

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Wangbow Violin Bow Workshop

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine