Related Artists/CompaniesEdouardo Lalo
About the Work"Do you know the Symphonie Espagnole by the French composer Lalo?" Tchaikovsky wrote to his patroness, Nadejda von Meck. "The piece has been recently brought out by that very modern violinist, Sarasate. It is for solo violin and orchestra, and consists of five independent movements, based upon Spanish folk songs. The work has given me great enjoyment. It is so fresh and light, and contains piquant rhythms and melodies which are beautifully harmonized.... Lalo is careful to avoid all that is routinier, seeks new forms without trying to be profound, and is more concerned with musical beauty than with traditions."
Tchaikovsky's enthusiasm for Lalo's music has been shared by audiences since the Symphonie Espagnole was first heard in 1875. Lalo had labored for many years, however, before success came his way: he was almost fifty when the Divertissement for Orchestra gained him the attention of the public. It was with the Violin Concerto of 1874 and this Spanish Symphony, both written for and premiered by the Spanish virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate, that Lalo secured an international reputation.
Lalo's early musical training was at the Conservatoire in his native Lille, before he transferred to the Paris Conservatoire to study composition and violin. He started composing in the 1840s, but, discouraged by the lack of performances and publications of his music, he abandoned his creative work for almost a decade to play viola in the Armingaud-Jacquard Quartet. His muse was rekindled in 1865 upon his marriage to Bernier de Maligny, a fine contralto who performed many of his songs in recital and who also inspired him to produce his first opera, Fiesque. The violin works for Sarasate were followed by a Cello Concerto, the Norwegian Rhapsody, a symphony and the ballet Namouna. His eminent position in French music was recognized when the government awarded him the Legion of Honor in 1888, the same year his opera Le Roi d'Ys was premiered.
The Symphonie Espagnole, despite its name, is a true concerto in which the soloist is called upon to display significant feats of violinistic prowess, especially in quick shifts between the highest and lowest registers, a characteristic that reflects an important aspect of Sarasate's technique. The work's five movements individually employ symphonic structures, which led Lalo to write about the work's title, "It conveyed my thought--a violin soaring above the rigid form of an old symphony." The Spanish influence is heard in some of the rhythmic and harmonic components of the themes, an influence that also lured such other French composers as Bizet, Ravel, Debussy and Ibert.
The first movement is cast in a carefully developed sonata form, with a main theme employing bold upward leaps and a legato second theme in a contrasting major tonality. The nimble, dance-like second movement, in rounded three-part form, calls for both lyricism and flexibility from the soloist. The next movement is characterized by the extensive use of the Spanish rhythmic device of alternating groups of two and three notes. In the fourth movement, in rounded three-part form (Aâ€“Bâ€“A), a somber introduction leads to the melancholy main theme for the soloist. The finale, ushered in by the sound of distant peeling bells, is a rondo based on the bubbling rhythm of the saltarello.