Rimsky-Korsakov – Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34

by Max Derrickson

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov     (Born, 1844, Tithing, Russia; Died, 1908, Lubes, Russia)

Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34
1. Alborada
2. Variozioni
3. Alborada
4. Scena e canto Gitano (Scene and Gypsy Song)
5. Fandango Asturiano

Listening to Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1887 Capriccio Espagnol is like walking through a maze of glittery, colored-glass mobiles on a breezy, dazzling day.  Twinkling, colorful, and stunning.  Although the work has been disparagingly described as “more coloristic than musical” (to paraphrase one of Rimsky’s cranky pupils, Igor Stravinsky), Capriccio, in fact, is a masterpiece of both color and music.  And what makes it so unique, indeed, so ahead of its time, is that the composer intended the dazzling instrumental colors to be one of the cornerstones of the structure, as important as the notes and rhythms.  Such a notion really didn’t take hold in Western music until
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Capriccio is a pageant of instrumental effects and melodies as one tune takes the stage and then another, and another, with cadenzas by the handful, all working their way to a cyclical end.  One of the basic tenets of the work is its exoticness, in particular, its Spanish, gypsy and folk-tune flavor.  Several years earlier, the Russian composer Mikhail Glinka spent two years in Spain
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gypsy song and the fandango.

Traditional Spanish alboradas are “morning songs” meant to begin at sunrise to celebrate a feast or Saint’s day, usually in duple meter, performed on a pipe instrument and drum.  Rimsky-Korsakov appears to base his alborada on the version popular in Galicia which is accompanied by tambourine.
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bringing this masterpiece to a recap of the Alborada and a breathless ending.