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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Ricardo Q. BLAMEY LAFONE

It was at the Krabbe´s at Falmouth, when still a youth, that Richard Blamey met Miss Julia Lafone. They were married in his father’s home that stands on a hill overlooking the old borough town of Penryn and it was there that Ricardo Quevedo, their fourth child was born on February 23, 1880.

Richard and Julia first thought of visiting Argentina in 1879, but it was not until 1884 that they left for Andalgala, Catamarca and from that date, fate decreed that they should never return to the old country. Samuel Fisher Lafone (founder of the Anglican Church of Montevideo), Julia’s father, had bought copper mines in the Capillitas mountains, and her eldest brother Samuel Alejandro had gone there in 1860, with his father’s orders to build a new facility for processing the ore.

He founded this new site, seventeen kilometres south of Andalgalá, amid a dense "Algarrobo" forest, not far from the edge of a monotonous desert. Samuel returned the old indian name of "Pilciao" to the place, and built all that was necessary for the mine production, for the people who were living and working there and for their intellectual and religious well-being.

Visitors coming from America or Europe were surprised to find an English home in such a far away and unknown land, to see a Church with English style vitraux (stained glass windows) and to hear Indian children singing Gounod’s "Nazareth", Mendelssohn’s oratorios, songs from the time of Queen Victoria, or the hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers". Surprised to be greeted with an English style dinner, tableware, crystal and silver, all shining and contrasting with adobe walls, great timber roofs and stone paved floors. ("A long vacation in the Argentine Alps" Ross Johnson, London, 1868)

For many years mother Julia and aunt Mariquita kept the house open to family and friends.

This was the scene little Dickie never forgot. It came back in his letters and it came back in his music. It always came back.

Ricardo was about nine years old when the family moved to "Huasan", an estate owned by his father Richard, uncle Samuel Lafone y Quevedo, and uncle Joel Blamey, who was married to Elena Tomkinson Lafone (My grandparents). "Santa Rita de Huasan" is a colonial "estancia", built by the Jesuits, 5 Km north of Andalgalá. Olive trees and vineyards, interspersed with meadows of bright blue alfalfa creep up the Aconquija mountain while the river descends and irrigates a wide space around it. At that time it provided Pilciao with meat, wine, olive oil, vegetables, fruits and all kind of enticing desserts.

But little Dickie, must have grown too fast, extremely shy and sensitive as he was. He was sent to school in England for five years, before returning to Argentina for his secondary studies at the National College of Buenos Aires.

In 1908 Ricardo obtained his law degree and for a number of years practised the legal profession here, finally retiring as Secretary of the Court. He was the much-loved professor of English History and Literature in the National College of Buenos Aires for almost a quarter of a century. (As a professor of English Literature in B.A, Ricardo introduced for the first time a translation by Jorge Luis Borges).

After entering the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Relations in 1926, he was sent to London, as commercial attaché to the Argentine Embassy; two years later, was appointed honorary legal advisor and in 1943 was named Financial Counsellor, the post he held at the time of his death.

Successful as he was in his public career, it was as a composer that he became internationally known. Music attracted him from childhood. As a young man he studied, in Argentina with Ernesto Drangosch and with Constantino Gaito, and in England with Benjamin Dale, from the Royal Academy of Music, one of Britain’s two senior music conservatoires. In Europe, he visited the principal musical centres in France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Portugal and Belgium.

His compositions were inspired by scenes and memories of his childhood in Andalgalá, Catamarca. At "Pilciao", before dinner, his uncle Samuel, used to play, on the piano or harmonium, classical pieces, popular and folklore themes accompanied by the Indian choir.

His first serious efforts as a composer, that started as mere studies, finally ended in the Argentine rhapsody "Andalgalá" (1931). The introduction and the finale of this work for orchestra, evoked with poetry those nights at Pilciao, where the melancholy songs of the Indians dancing in the moonlight could be heard.

"Andalgalá" was first heard in London in 1932 conducted by Sir Henry Pitt, it was broadcast on the (B.B.C.) several times, and presented in many German cities before the war.

After such an unexpected success he immediately composed the suite "Escenas Catamarqueñas"(1934).

It starts with a vigorous introduction based on a sentimental melody, followed by a piece titled "The Little Angel" where the funeral of an Indian child is evoked. Then comes a full page from popular music "La Chacarera", contrasting with the lyrical piece of the suite where the composer evokes the grace with which "Doña Elena Baila la Cueca". The work ends with the presentation of "Domingo de Carnaval" in the village of Pilciao.

In 1934 the first performance of his "Escenas Catamarqueñas" was conducted by Aylmer Buesst (B.B.C.) in London. Felix Weingartner directed it in Vienna and Salzburg. Hans Adolf Winter in Munich and Berlin; Schneevoight in Helsingfors and Austin in Bournemouth. Buenos Aires first heard this suite in 1940 under Albert Wolff’s baton at the Colon Theatre.

Other works include "Vidala" and a suite for a small orchestra "Recuerdos de provincia" with three pieces: "Vidalita", "Flor de Huaco" y "La Mariquita", all of which were played in Germany, England, Finland and other European countries.

The next two major works Ricardo composed, were symphonic poems, inspired in Argentine classical literary treasures.

The first one, "Juvenilia", was a remembrance of his student life, homage he paid to the National College of Buenos Aires, to Miguel Cané, and to Argentina ( his new country since 1906). "Juvenilia" was first heard in Munich in 1936. Richard Austin conducted it in the Bournemouth musical festival and Warwick Braithwaite in Glasgow in 1945.

"El Ombu" (1937), inspired by two literary works by Hudson and Obligado, is marked by dark colours, and a pronounced strain of melancholy. "it is an overflowing work of poetic imagination" said Sir Henry Wood. Its music combines nature-painting of the vast pampa with an evocation of the world of legends associated with the Ombu tree: "…They say that when a traveller falls asleep in its shade, a wide range of sounds, even the savage’s songs and those of evil spirits can be heard… and that sometimes at midnight, the whole tree, seems to shine bright in the distance as if lighted by a white fire. At the foot of the Ombú tree, so they say, Santos Vega died… defeated by the devil’s malignant skill and his voice extinguished over the horizon with the last rays of the sunset, while silence and darkness fell over the Pampas.

"El Ombú" was conducted by Winter in Munich and Berlin, by Austin in Bournemouth and broadcast by the B.B.C. throughout the UK. It was first played in Argentina in 1939, at the Colon Theatre, under Erich Kleiber´s baton.

Other works include the symphonic poem "Patria Hermosa", and the music composed for the ballets "Masque of Love", and "Acis y Galatea".

His name became widely known among music lovers throughout Europe, and was a pre-war favourite in German concert halls, and in Salzburg festivals

The most popular artistic phenomenon of the war was the series of Promenade Concerts held at the "Queen’s Hall", but when the Hall was destroyed, they were transferred to the Albert Hall, one of the largest in Europe, where thousands of people attended musical festivals organised by the great conductor Sir Henry Wood.

London theatres started to give concerts at lunchtime, the only free time people had, forced to begin work very early in the morning and leave when the blackout started. Even during those terrible moments, when London underwent the blitz that lasted from dusk to dawn, the concerts were never interrupted.

No less popular became the "Sunday Concerts" at the "Cambridge Theatre" where London fans were able to listen to the great masters works prodigiously orchestrated.

In this musical parade, the Argentine suite "Escenas Catamarqueñas" surprised the audience. Austin said "It mingles gay dance rhythms with some languorous sentiment delicately orchestrated in five well constructed movements"

This suite for orchestra presented in 1942 by Richard Austin, between a Beethoven concerto and the best pieces of Sibelius, was not only a true personal triumph for its author, but a revelation of the development and possibilities modern music had in the new continent. It is a work that despite its artistic universality has deep Argentine roots.

Ricardo stayed working during the whole war in London, where he had a lot of friends and family.

His house in Montpelier Square, was a veritable museum of art treasures and musical instruments. One night during the blitz, a car crashed into him and he was badly hurt, nevertheless he slowly recovered, and when the war ended he decided to come to Argentina for the first time since 1937, to visit brother Cecilio, family and friends, who were eagerly looking forward to the meeting.

But fate decreed that he would never live to see again his two beloved countries. On September the 8th, 1946, sad news appeared in The Buenos Aires Herald:

"Argentina yesterday lost a distinguished public figure, and a man of letters, and a musician of international repute, in Dr. Ricardo Q. Blamey Lafone, Financial Counsellor to the Argentine Embassy in London, who was one of the victims in yesterday’s tragic crash of British South American Airways "Starliner" near Bathurst".(Africa)

see newspaper article

The conductor of the Scottish Orchestra, Mr. Warwick Braithwaite wrote this posthumous appreciation about Ricardo in "The Times":

"It was not his connection with the Argentine Embassy which was the most interesting thing about him. Apart from being a kindly and generous friend, he will be best remembered by his musical compositions, some of which are of outstanding merit.

The reason why they were not heard more often, was that he was fastidious to a degree about careful rehearsal. Often, he would withdraw work from performance on account of what he considered to be an inadequate rehearsal.

Some of his works repaid all the care which the conductor could lavish on them, especially "Juvenilia" and "El Ombú".

After praising Blamey Lafone´s suites "Escenas Catamarqueñas" and "Andalgalá" the writer ends:

"During the early part of the war Blamey Lafone had begun a ballet entitled "Masque of Love", two portions of which were orchestrated. One number from this ballet has been performed several times by a Scottish orchestra. It proved such a favourite with the audiences that it achieved the distinction of repetition at a later concert of the series. The popularity of these works was due to the unusual and beautiful gift of melody which Blamey Lafone possessed and, finally, to his sure instinct for colourful orchestration. Even in its highly temperamental qualities it gives Spanish America, musically a place by itself".

In Buenos Aires, after the tragic news "El Mundo" remembered him:

"Blamey Lafone was one of those marvellous English characters that like Hudson, understood perfectly our spirit, and became acquainted with it, without loosing its ties to the old country. Something mysterious lies in this Britannic propensity to comprehend the American soul. This distinguished figure that just disappeared, is, before everything, an artist, a man whose universal sense had allowed him to enter deeply in the sensitive world of our country."

Mario García Acevedo wrote about him in "La Música Argentina Contemporánea":

"The sonorous atmosphere in the music of Blamey Lafone, and his episodic elaboration has the strange attraction of the rhythms and melodies from our "Vidalas", "Estilos" and "Cuecas" that appear in Blamey Lafone, with a density of feelings and sounds of outstanding force."

Mariano Barrenechea in his book, "Argentinos in Londres" wrote:

"Ricardo Q. Blamey Lafone is one of our great composers. Great by the delicacy of his harmonic language and by his fine feeling of instrumental colour."

Mary Bassi © 2003

mary@arda.com.ar

-----------------------------------------------------

Ricardo’s letters to my grandmother Elena Blamey Tomkinson

SPANISH (English translations follow)

11 Montpelier Sq.

1 de Enero 1933

Mi querida prima:

.........................................................

Antes que me olvide, si entre tus músicas tienes danzas de por allí, te agradecería me copiaras la melodía solamente, no repetida, sino una vez, o si recuerdas las notas de alguna me lo apuntas aun cuando sea en forma defectuosa. Yo sabré arreglarla.

Londres S W 7

12 Setiembre 1933

.........................................................

Me alegró mucho saber que mi "Andalgala" te pareció bien y te conmoviste al oír las viejas melodías en su nueva transfiguración. Te habrán contado ya, que se repitió el 18 de marzo y que fue también transmitida al Canadá.

.........................................................

El próximo mes o en Noviembre se darán "Escenas Catamarqueñas", es una obra mucho más importante que "Andalgalá" y me ha dado un trabajo bárbaro,

9 de Julio 1935

Mi querida prima:

Ya habrán recibido los discos que por un olvido de la casa que los hizo quedaron meses guardados, lo que me causó gran indignación. Espero que a pesar de lo mal que fueron ejecutados, te agraden y puedas tener una idea de la obra.

.............................................................

El baile fue magnífico en la corte pero muy cansador, tanta gente, pero es un espectáculo digno de verse. Lo que más me agradó fue la procesión y el entusiasmo del pueblo, me dicen que el Rey volvió tan conmovido que se encerró y lloró.

..............................................................

Hoy es nueve de Julio y vamos todos a la casa del embajador a celebrar el día de la patria. Estuvo la Sarmiento en Londres y fuimos a comer a bordo, fueron muy simpáticos y el embajador dio un recibo que resultó muy animado.

Espero irme a Buenos Aires el mes que viene, pero no sé si será posible. Cecilio se ha vuelto mi empresario en Alemania y parece que se va a dar mi obra según me dice.

Veo que todos están más contentos ya que aparecieron los nietos y nietas, tanto las cartas de Mamá y de Anita están llenas de nietos y las tuyas de los tuyos, me alegra infinitamente que tengan esa satisfacción siquiera, yo tengo que contentarme con mis hijas "Andalgalá", "Escenas Catamarqueñas" y ahora la que se espera a fin de año "Juvenilia".

3 Diciembre 1935

Mi querida Elena:

....................................................................

Habrás oído el placer que oírte bailar ha dado a tanta gente, una dama de copete inglesa que conocí en Salzburg me dijo: Ah... Doña Elena! I enjoyed every moment of it! Lo malo es que la pieza es como la cueca difícil de tocar con la delicadeza y gracia necesaria y hasta hoy no la he oído como la he concebido - una razón es la falta de ensayo suficiente. En fin "Escenas catamarqueñas" ha tenido un franco éxito.

Ahora estoy terminando "Juvenilia" y estoy harto de la música, es tan largo, dura unos cuarenta minutos y me ha cansado, dicen que es mucho mejor que "Escenas", pero para mí, esta última obra siempre será mi favorita, puse tanto de mí mismo en ella y tanto de los tiempos pasados. El repicar de las campanas en Pilciao me dio la idea de los primeros compases del Carnaval y todo ese movimiento respira esa fiesta en Pilciao, idealizado por supuesto.

16 de julio 1936

..................................................

Te habrán contado lo bien que bailaste en Bournemouth. Ricardo Austin dirigió tu número con una delicadeza admirable, nunca lo tocaron tan bien. Al fin puedo oír a "Doña Elena baila la cueca" como lo había imaginado. Austin puso en ese número todo su arte. No sé si mamá te habrá contado que en setiembre van a transmitir "Escenas" desde Berlín a Su América, espero que las podrán oír en Andalgalá, también se da el 4 de diciembre en Helsingfors en Finlandia, "Juvenilia" se da en el otoño en Munich y "Andalgalá" este verano en Inglaterra.

3 de enero 1937

.............................................................

Te complacerá saber que "Juvenilia" tuvo mucho éxito y se repite el domingo 10 del corriente. Imagínate el mes pasado se tocaron mis tres obras: "Escenas" en Helsingfors, "Juvenilia" en Munich y "Andalgalá" en Bournemouth.

Deseo mucho irme a Buenos Aires en Agosto, veremos si será posible. Probablemente en ese caso darán alguna de mis obras en Buenos Aires.

 

3 de Julio 1937

Mi querida prima:

.............................................................

Dicen que se dará "Juvenilia" en el Colón, y posiblemente sea así aunque no tengo la seguridad de que mi obra interese mayormente a las personas que deciden esas cosas en Bs. As. Se transmitió de Berlín a Sud América el 20 de Junio, pero no supe la hora sino el martes siguiente, así que no pude mandar el cable que tuve preparado. No tenía muchas ganas que se conociera allí hasta la función del Colón. Nadie debe haber escuchado pues no he tenido cartas al respecto.

...................................................

Te puedes imaginar cómo hemos estado con la coronación. Tanta gente y tantas fiestas. En camino al Continente le escribí una larga carta a Mamá sobre todo eso. Como no encontré un buzón la di a uno de los oficiales para poner en el correo. Espero que llegó. Le envié algunas revistas sobre la Coronación que supongo habrás visto tú también.

Bueno querida prima, es sábado a la tarde y quiero irme a caminar un poco al parque que queda casi enfrente pues hace un calor como el de Buenos Aires en Enero y me sofoco.

Con cariños para todos y esperando tener noticias tuyas pronto, se despide tu primo que te quiere y te recuerda afectuosamente

Dick

(Born in 1865, my grandmother died in Andalgalá in 1938. Richard’s music is totally forgotten in England and in Argentina)

Mary Bassi 2002

Mary Bassi © 2003

-----------------------------------------------------

Ricardo’s letters to my grandmother Elena Blamey Tomkinson

English translations by Mary Bassi:-

Montpelier Sq.

January 1st,1933

My dear cousin:

………………………………

Before I forget, if among your sheet music you have some popular dances, I would appreciate it if you could copy the melody only, not repeated, just once, or if you remember the notes of any other of them, please transcribe them however roughly, I’ll be able to make use of them.

…………………………………..

London SW7

Sep.12, 1933

………………..

I’m very glad to know that you enjoyed my "Andalgala" and were touched when you heard the old melodies in their new transfiguration. They must have told you already that it was repeated on March 18 and was also broadcast to Canada.

…………..

In October or November they will play "Escenas Catamarqueñas". This composition is much more important than "Andalgala" and has given me a lot of work.

…………….

July 9, 1935

My dear cousin:

……………………

By now you must have received the records which, by an oversight of the company that produced them, were shelved for months, which caused me great indignation. I hope that in spite of the poor rendering of the music, you will like them and can have an idea of the work.

………………

The ball at the court was magnificent but very tiring, with so many people, but it was an spectacle worth seeing. What I liked best was the procession and the people’s enthusiasm; they told me the King returned so very touched that he shut himself in and cried.

………………

Today is the 9th of July so we shall all be going to the ambassador’s house to celebrate (Independence day).

The "Sarmiento" frigate visited London and we enjoyed going on board to have dinner, it was a lively reception .

I hope to be going to Buenos Aires next month but don’t know if it will be possible. Cecilio has become my manager in Germany and it seems my work will be performed there, so he tells me.

I notice everybody much happier in the family with all the new grandchildren; both mother and Anita’s letters are full of details of their grandchildren and your letters about your own. ... I am extremely glad you have that satisfaction, I have to be content with my children "Andalgala", "Escenas Catamarqueñas" and towards year’s end with "Juvenilia".

December 3, 1935

My dear Elena:

………………………….

You must have heard about the pleasure that "hearing" your dance has produced in many people. A sophisticated English lady I met in Salzburg said to me: "Ah…Doña Elena! I enjoyed every moment of it!" The problem with this piece is that like the "cueca" (popular dance), it is very difficult to play with the necessary delicacy and charm, I have not heard it yet as I imagined it should be, one reason being the lack of enough rehearsals. Nevertheless "Escenas Catamarqueñas" has been a huge success.

I am now concluding "Juvenilia" and I am fed up with the music, it is so long, about forty minutes, and I am tired of it. They say it is much better than "Escenas" but for me this latter one will always be my favourite, has so much of myself, and so much of days gone by. The merry pealing of the bells in Pilciao gave me the idea of the first bars in "Domingo de Carnaval" and all that movement breathes those Sunday’s festivities in the village, of course in an idealised way.

July 16, 1936

…………………………

You must have been told how well you danced in Bournemouth. Richard Austin concentrated all his art into it and directed your piece with admirable delicacy, it had never been so well orchestrated. At last I can listen to "Doña Elena baila la cueca" just as imagined it.

I don’t know if mother told you that in September they are going to broadcast "Scenas" from Berlin to South America, I hope you will be able to hear them in Andalgala, they will also be played during December in Helsingfors, Finland. "Juvenilia" will be played in autumn in Munich, "Andalgala" and this summer in England.

…………………………….

July 3, 1937

My dear cousin:

They say "Juvenilia" will be performed at the "Colon Theatre". That might be possible, although I am not sure if those who decide these matters in Bs. Aires will take much interest in my work.

It was broadcast from Berlin to South America on June 20, but as I didn’t know the time until the following Tuesday, I could not send the cable I had prepared.

………………………….

You can imagine how the coronation impressed us. Such a lot of people and so many parties. In my way to the Continent I wrote mother a long letter about it. As I didn’t find a post box I gave it to one of the officers to post it in Bs. Aires, I do hope it arrived. I sent her some magazines about the coronation which I suppose you probably have seen too.

Well dear cousin, it is Saturday afternoon and want to go for a walk in the park across the road as it is hot stifling as in Bs. Aires in January.

Give my love to everybody and hoping to hear from you soon, I remain your cousin who loves you and remembers you affectionately.

Dick

(Born in 1865, my grandmother Elena died in Andalgalá in 1938. Richard’s music is totally forgotten in England and in Argentina)

Mary Bassi 2002

This letters has been originally written in Spanish. It is impossible to know if this words correspond to his way of writing in English.

Mary Bassi © 2003

 



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