novel is full of music. The shepherd Antonio sings a verse romance,
accompanying himself on the rebeck; Cardenio sings a beautiful
love song; Altisidora sings a love song to the accompaniment
of the harp; and there are many others too. Don Quixote himself
sings a song in reply to Altisidora, accompanying himself on
the lute, in a “hoarse but not unmusical voice” (a performance
which is brought to an end when a sack full of cats, with bells
on their tails, is released from the room above!).
There is a fascinating
passage in which Don Quixote considers the attractions of the
What a life we shall
lead, friend Sancho! What a world of bagpipes shall we hear!
What pipes of Zamora! What tambourets! What tabors! And what
rebecks! And, if to all these different musics be added the
albogues, we shall have almost all the pastoral instruments.
(Responding to Sancho’s
enquiry, Quixote explains that ‘albogues’ are, in effect, cymbals,
the name being, he explains, Moorish).
Jordi Savall, a
couple of years ago, put together a marvellous 2 CD set, Don
Quijote de la Mancha: Romances y Músicas (Alia Vox
ASVA 984 3A+B), combining readings from the book with music
of the time.
and musicians have not been slow to pay their tribute to – or
simply to exploit – the novel. Operas based on Don Quixote,
or episodes from it, abound. They include such eighteenth century
works as Antonio Caldara’s Sancio Panza (1733), Telemann’s
Don Quichotte der Löwenritter (1761), Salieri’s
Don Chisciotte alle Nozze di Gamace (1770) and Dittersdorf’s
Don Quixote der Zweyte (1779); nineteenth century works
include Mercadante’s Don Chisciotte (1829) and Wilhelm
Kienzl’s Don Quixote (1898); in modern times the list
includes Massenet’s Don Quichotte (1910) and de Falla’s
El Retablo de Maese Pedro (1923). If one added
to all the operas, the musicals, the song settings (such as
those by Ibert and Ravel), the orchestral works (eg. by Rubinstein,
Strauss and Guridi) and the list would be very long indeed.
Now, on this enterprising disc from Naxos we have the chance
to get to know some Cervantes responses by five Spanish composers
– a chance well worth taking, even if the music is variable
in quality as well as stylistic predisposition.
The earliest piece
here, Barbieri’s Don Quijote, was written for a commemoration
of Cervantes in 1861 and was a contribution to a play written
for the event by Ventura de la Vega. Its three short parts are
made up of an attractively melodic setting for tenor and orchestra
of the first stanza of some verses sung by Cardenio in Chapter
27 of Part I of Don Quixote; a bailete for orchestra,
colourfully orchestrated; and a rather ponderous closing section
for tenor, chorus and orchestra which is a hymn of praise to
Cervantes himself (the booklet notes provide texts and translations
of the words for the first and third sections). This is pleasant
music, very much of its period, worth the hearing, if not necessarily
demanding many rehearings.
We jump to 1945
for Gombau’s symphonic poem Don Quijote velando las armas
(Don Quixote keeps vigil over his armour), is a stirring
piece which is clearly in line of descent from Richard Strauss;
grandeur (with touches of irony) alternates with tenderness.
Since the booklet notes tell us that the piece is “programmatic
in nature [and] sets out to portray specific episodes from the
novel” it would have been nice to have been told what these
were. Still, even without that information, this is an entertaining
and musically rewarding work, one of the definite positives
of this disc. It would be good to hear more of Gombau’s music.
Written just a year
or two after Gombau’s work, Rodrigo’s Ausencias de Dulcinea
(The Absence of Dulcinea) is a striking piece which contrives
both to laugh at Don Quxote’s absurdity as a would-be lover
of Dulcinea del Toboso and to register a certain compassion
for his sufferings, so that, as in the novel itself, Quixote
emerges with a kind of absurd dignity. Using the unusual forces
of a bass/baritone soloist (here the excellent José Antonio
López) and a chorus of four sopranos, with full orchestra, the
work sets verses written in the sand by Quixote in Chapter 26
of Part I of the novel. The orchestral writing is colourful,
the interplay of male voice with soprano chorus intriguing.
A work definitely demanding – and rewarding – a good number
An altogether more
modern soundworld is inhabited by José Garcia Román’s La
resurrección de Don Quijote, written for string orchestra
to a commission from the Orquesta y Coro Nacionales de Espana.
A study in textures, characterised by insistent rhythmic patterns
and some odd timbres, the work has some arresting passages but
struggles to be more than the sum of its parts, for all its
creation of a rather dreamlike mood.
Guerra’s Tres momentos de Don Quichotte was written to
accompany a showing of Pabst’s 1933 film Don Quichotte.
What we are offered here is three from twenty numbers written
to accompany the film. They are entitled ‘Don Quixote’s first
sally’, a moody adagio of suitably nocturnal ambience; ‘Attack
on the windmills’, with evocations of Quixote on horseback;
and ‘Don Quixote is reborn from the ashes’, of which the composer
writes that it accompanies the epilogue to the film “which shows
the burning of the book in reverse, a rebirth from the ashes”.
Fernandez Guerra’s music is well made, but rather uniform in
tempo and dynamics, so that it struggles to hold the listener’s
interest throughout (it is the longest work on the disc) without
the filmic images it was written to complement.
The works by Rodrigo
and Gombau are particularly worth getting to know, but there is
nothing here that doesn’t offer rewards of some sort. The work
of the soloists, chorus and orchestra is exemplary, and Encinar
shows that he deserves his growing reputation, on this well recorded