Lalo – Symphonie espagnole in D-minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 21

by Max Derrickson

Édouard Lalo
(Born in Lille, France, in 1823; died in Paris, in 1892)

Symphonie espagnole in D-minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 21

  1. Allegro non troppo
  2. Scherzando: Allegro molto
  3. Intermezzo: Allegro non troppo
  4. Andante
  5. Rondo: Allegro

Just as Mozart struggled with a fickle and finicky Viennese public in his last decade, so too did Lalo run up against a disagreeable Parisian public, just as Berlioz had before him.  But Lalo had battled convention all of his life, beginning early with his father’s insistence that Lalo join the military – that there would be no future for him in music.  A gifted violinist, violist and composer, Lalo ignored his father’s directive, and tenaciously made his way to the Paris Conservatoire.  All the while, he developed his own bold style of composing, and this very boldness provoked resistance at every turn as being too progressive, or too Germanic, from a musical Paris that loved flowery showpieces over thoughtful, crafted compositions.

The year 1872 would change his fortunes, however, when the indomitable Pablo de Sarasate (1844 -1908), the violin virtuoso from Spain, caught Lalo’s attention.  Lalo was so inspired by Sarasate’s playing that he quickly wrote two pieces for him, the Violin Concerto (1873) and the Symphonie espagnole in 1874.  It was these two works, [. . .].

Symphonie espagnole (Spanish Symphony) is a delightful hybrid of forms: not exactly a violin concerto although the soloist is almost continually playing, and it’s not really a symphony, and indeed it’s not exactly Spanish, although it’s generally Spanish in flavor.  Rather, it’s more in the model of the concertante that Berlioz penned earlier for viola, Harold in Italy (1834), [. . .]  Certainly, the Symphonie is a character piece that reflects the persona of the virtuoso who inspired it: the Spaniard Sarasate, who personally was mercurial, and as a musician, the kind of extraordinary virtuoso who valued musicality and meaning above the empty showmanship [. . .] filled with lyricism, wit, and a certain fire.

Lalo clearly incorporates flavors and inspirations from Spanish dance without creating a work that is authentically Spanish.  The first movement, with its unforgettable beginning fanfare motive, [. . .]intensity of the tango.  The second movement,[. . .] and is reminiscent of a seguidillo dance.  The third movement, Intermezzo, [. . .] , as well as some extremely demanding passages.  Listen for the splendid orchestration amidst the soloist’s rhapsodizing, especially, [. . .] .  The fourth movement allows for additional [. . .].  The finale, which uses a habanera as its central moment, [. . .]/