Compact Discoveries®
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted, and edited
by Fred Flaxman

©2013 by Fred Flaxman

Program 217
"Impressions of Spain"

opening of: Debussy: Iberia, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by André Previn [EMI CDC 7 47001 2, Track 2] [under the following]

French, German, and Russian composers of the 19th Century discovered Spain and fell in love with its music. Stay with me for the next hour and we’ll hear from five such composers: one Russian, one German, and three French.  I’m Fred Flaxman, this is Compact Discoveries, and the theme for this hour is “Impressions of Spain.”

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The Russian composer is Rimsky-Korsakov. His “Spanish” contribution is Capriccio espagnol. The German is Moritz Moszkowski. His piece is called Caprice Espagnol. The French composers are Emmanuel Chabrier, whose work is called simply España; Maurice Ravel, who wrote Rapsodie Espagnole; and Claude Debussy, composer of Iberia.

These were certainly not the only composers to succumb to the charms of sunny Spain. But they are the only ones we have time for during the next hour.

Let’s start with Rimsky’Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol, which he wrote in 1887. The work has five movements and was immediately popular with audiences and critics alike. But the piece was often lauded for its orchestration, which features a large percussion section and many special effects, such as in the fourth movement when the violinists, violists, and cellists imitate guitars. Despite this praise, Rimsky-Korsakov was annoyed that the other aspects of the piece were being ignored. In his autobiography he wrote:

The opinion formed by both critics and the public, that the Capriccio is a magnificently orchestrated piece — is wrong. The Capriccio is a brilliant composition for the orchestra. The change of timbres, the felicitous choice of melodic designs and figuration patterns, exactly suiting each kind of instrument, brief virtuoso cadenzas for solo instruments, the rhythm of the percussion instruments, etc., constitute here the very essence of the composition and not its garb or orchestration. The Spanish themes, of dance character, furnished me with rich material for putting in use multiform orchestral effects. All in all, the Capriccio is undoubtedly a purely external piece, but vividly brilliant for all that. It was a little less successful in its third section..., where the brasses somewhat drown the melodic designs of the woodwinds; but this is very easy to remedy, if the conductor will pay attention to it….

We hear Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol now as performed by the Seattle Symphony conducted by Gerard Schwarz on a 2011 Naxos compact disc recording.

Rimsky-Korsakov: Capriccio espagnol performed by the Seattle Symphony conducted by Gerard Schwarz [Naxos 8.572788, tracks 1-5] [16:23]

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol. The Seattle Symphony was conducted by Gerard Schwarz.

You are listening to “Impressions of Spain” on this hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

Next let’s explore French composer Emmanuel Chabrier’s greatest hit, España.

Although Chabrier showed an early aptitude for music and a love of all the arts, he was encouraged by his family to study law and became a civil servant in the Ministry of the Interior. He was born in 1841 and it was only in 1880 that he finally resigned his government job and devoted himself entirely to music. Two years later he and his wife visited Spain for four months -- a stay that is the source of his most well-known orchestral work.

We hear España now as performed by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo conducted by Hervé Niquet.

Chambrier: España performed by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo conducted by Hervé Niquet [Naxos 8.554248, Track 1] [6:39]

España by Emmanuel Chabrier. The Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo was conducted by Hervé Niquet.

Another French composer who was very influenced by the rhythms, harmonies and melodies of Spanish music was Maurice Ravel. He was born only 18 kilometers from the Spanish border, in 1875, and his mother was of Basque descent but grew up in Madrid. Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole is only one example of this attraction, which is also reflected in Boléro, Pièce en forme de Habañera (Piece in form of a Habañera) and Alborada del gracioso (Morning Song of a Jester).

The Rapsodie espagnole was composed between 1907 and 1908, although one movement, the “Habañera” had been written earlier, in 1895. It is in four movements. We have time for two of them now as performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel on a BMG RCA Victor Red Seal compact disc from 1997.

Ravel: two movements of Rapsodie espagnole, performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel [BMG RCA Victor Red Seal 09026686002, Tracks 4 and 5]

Two movements from Maurice Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Lorin Maazel.

You are listening to “Impressions of Spain” on this hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in the total timing of the program.]

Ravel composed his Rapsodie espagnole only a year before Claude Debussy appeared with his own impressions of Spain in Iberia. It’s part two of his three Images for Orchestra. We have time to play the two outer movements now: Par les rues et par les chemins (By the Roads and Lanes) and Le matin d’un jour de fête (The morning of the festival). The London Symphony Orchestra is conducted by André Previn in this EMI digital compact disc from 1979.

Debussy: two movements from Iberia performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by André Previn [EMI CDC 7470012, Tracks 2 and 4]

Two movements from Iberia from Claude Debussy’s Images for Orchestra. The London Symphony Orchestra was conducted by André Previn.

I’ve been devoting this hour of Compact Discoveries to musical “Impressions of Spain” by Russian and French composers. We’ll conclude with a contribution from a German composer: the Caprice Espagnol by Moritz Moszkowski.

Moszkowski was born in 1854 in Breslau, Prussia, now the Polish city of Wroclaw, into a wealthy Polish-Jewish family. He showed early talent, but after a meteoric early career as a performer, he suffered a series of health problems and established himself instead as a teacher and composer. The lively Caprice Espagnol dates from the height of his fame and wealth.

In later life Moszkowski became increasingly reclusive. He spent his last years in poverty because he had sold all his copyrights and invested all his money in German, Polish, and Russian bonds and securities, which were rendered worthless with the outbreak of World War 1.

Two of his former pupils, Josef Hofmann and Bernhard Pollack, came to his aid. Then his friends and admirers arranged a grand testimonial concert on his behalf at Carnegie Hall in New York, involving 15 grand pianos on stage. The concert netted more than $13,000, with one part transferred to the Paris branch of a New York bank in order to provide immediate relief from his financial problems, and another part used to purchase  an annuity from which he would receive $1,250 annually for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, that didn’t last very long. He died from stomach cancer that same year, before the funds could even reach him. The money raised went instead to pay for his funeral expenses and to his wife and daughter.

We hear Moszkowski’s Caprice Espagnol now in a version for accordion played by the Latvian-born accordionist Ksenija Sidorova on a Champs Hill Records compact disc.

Moszkowski: Caprice Espagnol, performed by accordionist Ksenija Sidorova [Champs Hill Records CHRCD055, Track 1]  [7:39]

Moritz Moszkowski’s Caprice Espagnol, performed by accordionist Ksenija Sidorova.

That concludes this hour of Compact Discoveries, which I called “Impressions of Spain.” I hope you enjoyed the music.

If you missed any of this program or would like to hear it again, go to on the internet, where you’ll find links to stream Compact Discoveries programs on demand without charge. You’ll also find information on every recording used in every program. This is program number 217.

I enjoy hearing from listeners from Spain and all over the world, where these program are carried 24 hours a day on the SKY.FM internet radio service.  You can also contact me through the Compact Discoveries website or simply e-mail me at I’m Fred Flaxman. Thank you for listening!

(Steve Jencks): Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by the financial support of Isabel and Marvin Leibowitz, and an anonymous donor from Palm Beach, Florida. And by contributions to local public radio stations by listeners like you. Thank you!

Program Ends at 58:00