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ÉDOUARD LALO (1823-1892)

Symphonie espagnole for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 21 (1874)

Notes by Michael-Thomas Foumai

I. Allegro non troppo

II. Scherzando: Allegro molto

III. Intermezzo: Allegretto non troppo

IV. Andante

V. Rondo: Allegro


French composer Édouard Lalo composed the Symphonie espagnole in 1874, a year that installed a new monarch in the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. Following the death of King Kamehameha V in 1873, William Charles Lunalilo, a descendant of the great-grandson of Kamehameha the Great, became Hawaiʻi's first elected monarch. Known as "The People's King," tuberculosis cut Lunalilo's reign short when he died on February 3, 1874. His death ended the Kamehameha dynasty, and without a named successor, Royal elections by Legislative Assembly pitted his widow Queen Emma against David Kalākaua. Queen Emma, famous amongst the people, held pro-British views. Kalākaua, who shared pro-American interests with the legislature, was elected on February 12, taking 39 of 45 votes. Supporters of the Queen rioted at the Honolulu Courthouse. Foreshadowing the Kingdom's future foreign occupation, U.S. and Royal Navy marine forces aided in disbanding the riots. Kalākaua was sworn in the following day, ushering in the Merrie Monarch.



Édouard Lalo's legacy is defined by the Symphonie espagnole (Spanish Symphony), composed for Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate. Yet, the composer's catalog of 45 works spans several concertos, including a Cello Concerto (1877), a Piano Concerto (1888-89), a Symphony in G minor (1885-86), and a selection of chamber works, many dating after the Spanish Symphony.


Born in Northern France with Spanish lineage, Lalo studied violin and composition at the Paris Conservatoire at 16. Receiving no support from his father (a decorated veteran of Napoleon's military who opposed the musical profession), Lalo taught lessons and performed to make a living. Forming the Armingaud Quartet in 1855 as the violist, the group championed the works of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, and Mendelssohn and kindled his love for chamber music. His marriage to contralto Julie Bernier de Maligny in 1865 sparked the composer to explore vocal music and opera. However, Lalo's opera endeavors garnered little interest and lackluster reviews.


A boost in the composer's career came with a nationwide surge of Anti-German views stemming from the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) and the formation of the Société nationale de musique. Founded under Camille Saint-Saëns, Gabriel Fauré, César Franck, and Jules Massenet among its original members, the Société promoted contemporary French composers. Before its formation, German repertoire dominated concert halls. From 1861-73, France's oldest symphony orchestra, the Orchestre des Concerts Pasdeloup, programmed Beethoven on 350 concerts; Saint-Saëns had only 12 performances. The Société offered Lalo the opportunity to compose orchestral music, including the Symphonie espagnole. 



While Symphonie espagnole lacks the official title violin concerto, the work contains all the ingredients for a spicy show-stopper and more. The five-movement work takes a hybrid concerto-symphony structure seasoned with Spanish elements. Sarasate premiered the work on February 7, 1875, a month before the premiere of Bizet's Carmen. Both works ignited a French and later European obsession (via the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1878) with Spanish themes, a fashionable trend seen across borders with Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, and later Debussy and Ravel.


The Allegro non troppo opens with a choreography fit for a bullfight. The brief introduction pits the soloist against the orchestra, a showdown. A rhythmic duple and triplet motive, paired with sultry decorative turns are the central "Spanish" flavors for the entire five-course taste of Spain. When the violin enters, all eyes focus on the bravado of leaping fifths and octaves, a musical Capote de brega. A flirtatious Scherzando, serves a taste of the Sequidilla (Castilian folk dance) with the orchestra's guitar-like pizzicato and enticing foot-stomping punctuations. The Intermezzo ups the machismo with a robust Andalusian flair à la Flamenco, and a sobering slow dance in three (Andante) quickly demonstrates Tchaikovsky’s affection for the work (and the impetus to compose his own). Finally, an Iberian jig closes the tour with a light dessert, an airy spirited Rondo of delicious mischief and crisp discoveries, a Spanish road trip 19th century-style.


In addition to solo violin, the 30-minute score calls for two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings.


Édouard-Victoire-Antoine Lalo was born in Lille, France, on January 27, 1823, and died on April 22, 1892, in Paris, France.

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