The Endicott Players
of Boston, Pittsburgh, and Tucson

Pamela Dellal, mezzo-soprano
Ashley Episcopo, mezzo-soprano
Michael Manning, piano
Roy Sansom, recorder




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by Michael Manning (MM), Pamela Dellal (PD),
Roy Sansom (RS)

Truth is, there’s nothing thematic that actually binds everything on tonight’s program, but there are points of meta-commonality that one can observe, if only because of when and where tonight’s composers lived and how the milieu of fin-de-siècle Europe infiltrated everything emerging from it. In particular, and apropos our own time, Nationalism was a major political, economic, and aesthetic force in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even Claude Debussy, the most radically independent of the French composers of this period, was given to sign his manuscripts “Claude Debussy, compositeur français” during the tumult of the First World War. But the composers who followed, including Francis Poulenc and Albert Roussel, both represented tonight, expressed their national ties, not gesturally, but implicitly as proponents of a French school that, largely because of Debussy, Satie, and their forbears, had evolved into a recognizable style of composition rich enough to sustain generations of adherents and volumes of innovative work (and not just by the French – Igor Stravinsky’s Parisian ballets of the early 20th century are heavily indebted to Debussy). As such, Poulenc was a carrier of French tradition, not conscientiously a proponent of it. The Spaniard Enrique Granados (1867-1916) was a nationalist in the more conventional sense.

Spain, at the end of the 19th century, was embroiled in toxic nationalism of the type we know all too well: conservative politics promoting xenophobia and rejection of foreign influence, defensive self-aggrandizement in the midst of economic and political transition. Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American war in 1898 unambiguously ended the era of the Spanish empire and shocked Spain’s national psyche, giving rise to a movement known as Generación del 98, a conclave of poets, essayists, and philosophers intent on renewing Spain’s cultural identity. But even within the rejectionist frame of Spanish politics and intellectualism, there were mitigating voices like Miguel de Unamuno, one of the Generación, who espoused a Spain that could Europeanize without eschewing its Spanish identity. The music we recognize as “Spanish” today is of that character.

The three great voices of Spanish nationalism in music are, in chronological order, Isaac Albeniz, Granados (both contemporaries of Debussy), and Manuel de Falla (a contemporary of Poulenc). They presumed to define a Spanish style of composition that could flourish within the larger context of western classical music – concert music, such as that heard in the great halls of northern Europe, formally complex, technically challenging, rhetorically rich, artistically compelling, and above all, stylistically distinctive. It’s in their music that we encounter the tropes and mannerisms that, today, we all recognize as being quintessentially “Spanish” – the copious ornaments on plaintive modal, latently Moorish melodies, the peculiar and particular rhythmic style that invokes images of Flamenco, the textural influence of the guitar. Of the three, Granados was the most Romantic, in the sense that his writing is the most impetuous, florid, virtuosic and improvisational. Indeed, he was one of the great pianist-improvisers of his era, in the great tradition of Chopin and Liszt, and there’s a sense of spontaneity that infuses much of his piano music (and his output was primarily for piano), nowhere more so than in his epic masterpiece, Goyescas, o los majos enamorados, a collection of six tableaux inspired by the Spanish master painter, Francisco de Goya.

Poulenc’s and Roussel’s music is, by contrast, quite modern, embracing unconventional notions of melody and harmony extending but also transcending those of Debussy and Satie, the latter of whose iconoclasm was a primary influence on Poulenc’s generation. Poulenc was an ardent Catholic, deeply serious at his core but given to puckish expressions of irony and mordant wit. Throughout his music one is often unsure whether he has his tongue in his cheek or his hand on his heart. The truth is that he had so interwoven those two aspects of his outlook that he accomplished both at once, wherein, of course, lies the enduring attractiveness and distinctiveness of his music. His two works on tonight’s program are, respectively, among the earliest and latest of his mature works, both unmistakable in their parentage. (MM)

12 Danzas Españolas
The Spanish Dances were published in 1890, but were, according to Granados, mostly written in 1883, when he was 16 years old. As the title would suggest, these are short pieces of distinctly Spanish character, each evocative of the folk tradition but packaged in the language and technique of late Romantic pianism. They tend to be repetitive, formally quite square, but immensely appealing in spirit. Several were orchestrated by subsequent aficionados and the dances remain the best known works by Granados. (MM)

Ciel, aer, et vens
Albert Roussel (1869-1937) belongs to the generation of French composers between the Impressionists – Debussy and Ravel the primary figures – and the modernists, foremost among them Poulenc. His penchant was towards classicism. He was drawn to themes from Greek and Asian mythological traditions, adopting a sound world of crisp purity. Deux Poèmes de Ronsard, for voice and flute, was composed in 1924, in honor of Pierre de Ronsard’s 400th anniversary; and the Renaissance poet’s cool, evocative language is a perfect foil for Roussel. Tonight we present only the second of the two movements; here the poet regrets a contentious parting from his lady, and begs the trees, winds, and hills to say adieu to her on his behalf. The flute winds around the short, matter-of-fact statements of the voice as a simultaneous ideal of the natural world and of the elusive beloved. (PD)

Poèmes de Ronsard
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) was one of the most important voices in French music in the 20th century, forging a transition from the impressionistic art of Debussy and Ravel into a modern language mingling jazz, popular song, Dadaism, and sardonic wit. In his youth he became associated with a group of composers dubbed “Les Six” by critics; these iconoclastic artists, taking the music of Satie as their inspiration, sought to dispel the vestiges of Romanticism and ambiguity of the previous generations through deliberately simple, ironic, and absurdist forms, melodies, and texts. Of these six composers, Poulenc alone emerged as the principal figure whose work mainstreamed, matured, and evolved.

The five-song cycle of Ronsard poems, also composed for the celebration of the poet’s 400th anniversary, reveals an uncanny sympathy between the radical composer and the poet four centuries his elder; for Ronsard’s work is direct, playful, and self-mocking. His favorite themes are death and drinking, and even his most melancholy love poetry is tempered with ironic distance. The first song, “Attributs,” is a laundry list of Greek gods and semi-gods and their earthly domains. Poulenc tosses these off with a sweeping melodic line and witty coloration; a whiff of sentimentality is introduced with the final attribution of sorrows to the goddess of love. The second piece (“Le Tombeau”) is a dreamy elegy; the poet wishes to surround his final resting place with beautiful living, growing plants. Here Poulenc displays his gift for heart-breaking adagios; blending a lyric melody of utter sincerity with unexpected twists of harmony, he achieves a delicate tenderness.

In the third song, “Ballet,” the poet is transported by the vision of a dancer. Her beauty and artistry are described in exhaustive detail while the intricate dance steps are mirrored in the whirling and complex piano writing. In the end, the poet succumbs to his rapture and declares that the dancer, in fact, floated above the ground as a divine being. The fourth song again meditates on death; here the poet considers his own decline and dissolution, watching his body decay and the grief of his friends at his demise. Ronsard clinically inventories his corporal disintegration; Poulenc creates an ideal sonic parallel – fragile, mournful, yet never maudlin. In total opposition to this intimate paean to mortality is the final song (“À son Page”), a wild bacchanale. Here the composer demands reckless abandon from both performers in a giddy presto. (PD)

Goyescas, o los majos enamorados
This is Granados’s major work for piano solo, one of the grandest, most ambitious collections in the virtuoso literature. It’s a collection of six quintessentially nationalistic tableaux, rich in the mannerisms of Spanish gesture, but thoroughly steeped in the Romantic milieu of the late 19th century. Extremely improvisational in character, they force the pianist to extremes of expression that contemporary conventions of style and taste typically frown upon - overt sentimentality, opulence, volubility, gesture for its own sake. But it is these very characteristics and the earnestness with which they’re imparted that make the work so appealing both to performers and audiences.

As already noted, Goyescas has no less ambition than to capture in music the spirit and epic reach of Spain’s greatest Romantic painter, Goya, in particular, his celebration of the majos and majas, the bohemians of his day, carriers of the principle of majismo (forerunner to the modern notion of machismo). They were youth, principally of the lower class, who affected strange, exaggerated dress, mannerisms, and, as we would say today, “attitude.” A more contemporary simile might be the hippies of the sixties or today’s “goth” and “emo.” The subtitle of the suite is “the majos in love,” giving us insight into the composer’s Romantic imagination more than that of Goya or the actual majos. And while the work doesn’t depict specific paintings, it draws liberally from the body of work, and cites two sketches in particular: Tal para cual, with which the first piece, Los requierbos is connected, and El amor y la muerte, connected to the eponymous tableau. (See back cover of this packet) Neither of the two pieces selected tonight are so intimately associated with a visual cognate, but both are evocative of the Spain captured in those examples, filtered through the late Romantic imagination.

Quejos, o la maja y el ruiseñor (Complaints, or the maid and the nightingale) is one of Granados’s loveliest compositions, depicting a lovelorn girl spilling her heart to a nightingale, heard at the end in a kind of manic cadenza. The improvisational character of the piece is heard in the abundant ornamentation and discursive elaboration of the principal tune, itself a well-known folk melody. It’s impulsive, furtive, and almost unbearably earnest as befits its subject.

El fandango de candil (The fandango by candlelight) invokes the mysterious, vaguely threatening ambience of Goya’s lantern scenes, with their ochres and shadows, and depicts the meeting of two lovers in a sensuous and rhythmic dance, alternately coquettish and ardent. Pianistically, it’s the busiest piece in the suite, but also the shortest, the rhythms of the dance pervading the texture from beginning to end, an abrupt flourish marking the conclusion of the encounter. (MM)

Seis Canciones
Eduardo Toldrà (1895-1962) was a contemporary of Poulenc, but his output is very different. He, like his compatriot, Federico Mompou, was a beneficiary of the melding of northern European influences into the Spanish vocabulary, but whereas Mompou concentrated on miniatures  that drew largely on French Impressionism, Toldrà wrote in a more vernacular style. Although he wrote in many genres, from the large down to the miniature, his primary contribution was as a champion of the Catalan song, of which this set is among the more prominent examples. The six songs are settings of texts by Pablo de Jérico, Lope de Vega, Garcilaso de la Vega, and Francisco de Quevedo, and while not actually folksongs in either style or content, they are more aligned with the folk traditions than with the more formal European song genre. The songs present lyrical, sweet, strophic verses about youthful love and yearning. (MM)

Sonate pour Flûte et Piano
Poulenc finished the Sonata for flute and piano in Cannes in the year 1957. It was commissioned by the Coolidge Foundation, a philanthropic organization started in memory of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, a patron of chamber music who had commissioned works by Samuel Barber, Benjamin Britten, Roy Harris and Ernest Bloch, to name but a few. The sonata was written for and premiered by flutist Jean Pierre Rampal, who worked with Poulenc to shape the piece.

This delightful sonata was written in three movements: a moderately fast, a slow and a very fast. Each movement is composed in ternary form.

The first movement is marked “Allegretto malincolico” and is, in fact, rather melancholy. The piece starts with a quick four-note pickup, which becomes a motif dominating the first and last sections of the first movement and comes back with a vengeance in the last movement. The middle part of the movement moves a bit faster and makes use of a dotted eighth and two thirty-second note motif (not unlike that in Debussy’s “Syrinx”). The opening material returns in the last section and the piece ends with the same motif that starts the piece at a slower speed. As I stated earlier, the movement has a melancholy feel that is not altogether sad but might be described as breezily pensive.

The second movement is marked “Cantilena,” and begins with a wonderful melody that has been compared to the oboe solo in the “Quia respexit” from Bach’s Magnificat. The lovely melodic section is disrupted by a Stravinsky-like primitive scream in the flute part (another motif that comes back in the final movement). After this short distraction the lovely melody returns, but soon gives way to a more excited section lasting a few measures; then returns gently to the opening melody to bring this wonderful movement to a quiet end.

The last movement, “Presto giocoso,” is a pedal-to-the-metal romp. It starts with a bang and moves ahead at breakneck speed, with only a few moments of calm ushered in by another primitive scream in the flute part. The piece ends at high speed with bits from the previous movements wittily tossed in.

This sonata is one of the finest from the 20th century, in a galaxy of music written for the flute. I am sure it will remain as one of the most loved by flute players for a long time.

My reasons for taking on this piece for my instrument are that it is a great piece, and it fits on the alto recorder with the exception of two notes in the slow movement which go below my range. I am using an alto recorder onto which I have added a bottom extension which allows for an extra half step on the bottom of the instrument’s normal range. More importantly, the key offers the flexibility to negotiate the highest range without having to cover the bell on every other note. My instrument has another fourth at the top of its practical range as well as the extra note at the bottom. There are a number of modern recorders designed to extend their pitch and volume range. Recorder players are pleased with these developments. (RS)