Friday, February 24, 2006

Capriccio Espagnol

The iPod is playing Rimsky-Korsakov's Scena e Canto Gitano from Capriccio Espagnol. A feast for the senses.
About Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), Paul Serotsky wrote:
A kaleidoscope is an instrument comprising mirrors enclosing bits of coloured glass which produces, by the simplest of means, the most marvellously coloured patterns - a close analogy to Rimsky-Korsakov, except that anyone can work a kaleidoscope.
Rimsky-Korsakov's skill for shaking up orchestral instruments is arguably still unique. It wasn't always so. Originally a Naval Officer, perhaps explaining his taste for the exotic, he started composing as an untrained amateur. In 1867, his “ultra-modernism”(?) earned him the Professorship of Practical Composition at St. Petersburg Conservatoire. But, as he said, he “couldn't harmonise a chorale, had never done any exercises in counterpoint, had no idea of strict fugue, and moreover couldn't name the chords and intervals.” His knowledge of instrumental techniques was scant (and obsolete!). He coped by teaching himself one step ahead of his students, thereby becoming at once a great teacher and a model pupil.
It must have been Sadko, A Musical Picture Op. 5, a disgracefully neglected masterpiece of orchestral inventiveness, that prompted this crucial recognition, setting him on a course (N.B. Naval metaphor!) which led in 1887 to the Capriccio Espagnol, that most famous of ersatz-Spanish music (indeed, many find it more idiomatic than Falla). You could just relax and bathe in Rimsky's intoxicating brew (I usually do!).

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