Haydn, Ravel & Debussy

October 20 – 23, 2022

JUANJO MENA conducts

HAYDN Symphony No. 44 in E minor (“Trauer-Symphonie”)
RAVEL Concerto in G major for Piano and Orchestra
GINASTERA Variaciones Concertantes
DEBUSSY “Ibéria”, No. 2 from Images

Two of Spain’s most beloved exports – distinguished conductor Juanjo Mena and pianist Javier Perianes – take the stage to celebrate Spanish and Latin contributions to classical music. Haydn’s highly dramatic “Trauer Symphony” opens the program followed by Ravel’s Concerto in G with jazz and Basque folk music influences. Then, Alberto Ginastera, one of the most innovative Latin composers of the 20th century, amplifies the voice of Argentinian folk music in Variaciones Concertantes. Followed by Debussy’s “Ibéria” which clearly invokes the Spanish fascination that became so popular in late 19th century France.

Juanjo Mena

Juanjo Mena


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Javier Perianes, pianist

Javier Perianes


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Program Notes

by René Spencer Saller

The son of a wheelwright and a cook, Haydn distinguished himself early as a boy
soprano, endowed with a savant’s musical memory. He sang with the world-class
choir of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna until 1749, when his voice changed and
forced him into a new career. For the next few years, he cobbled together a living as
a part-time teacher and freelance musician, sometimes even busking in the streets
for strangers’ spare coins.

At age 25 his luck changed, after he was hired by the Bohemian nobleman and music
patron Count Morzin. During the three or so years that Haydn served as the count’s
music director and court composer, he finished his first 15 symphonies as well as an
impressive array of chamber music, serenades, and divertissements.

In 1761 Haydn, who had recently married, accepted a job offer from Prince Paul
Anton Esterházy. Although the Prince died the following year, Haydn got along even
better with his brother and successor, Nicolaus, who immediately endeared himself
by proposing a higher salary. Haydn would work for the Esterházy court for nearly
three decades, during which time he produced a staggering amount of music: 50
quartets; 45 keyboard sonatas; a sizeable assortment of Italian operas and
singspiels for the marionette theater that the family maintained; and, because the
Prince played the baryton, a stringed, fretted instrument that resembles the viola
d’amore, at least 126 baryton trios.

Haydn also composed some 80 symphonies, maturing as an orchestrator and finding
new ways to whet his wild imagination. The E minor Symphony is one of seven
minor key symphonies that he wrote between 1767 and 1773. By 1771 or so,
around the time of its composition (the precise date of which is unknown), he had
developed a compositional style that was later (anachronistically) called Sturm und
Drang (Storm and Stress), after a literary movement that emerged in the late 19th
century. Labels and categories notwithstanding, Haydn’s brilliantly executed, proto-
Romantic approach valued originality, vigor, and passion over elegance, balance,
and restraint, the hallmarks of Classical music, at least as conventionally

The nickname for Symphony No. 44, “Trauer” (“Mourning”), refers to a popular but
unsubstantiated account in which Haydn was said to have requested that the third
movement of the symphony be played at his memorial service. At any rate, the
Adagio was not on the program for Haydn’s eventual funeral, which took place more
than 30 years after the premiere of Symphony No. 44. But the symphony as a whole
was performed soon after Haydn’s death, at a commemorative concert in Berlin,
and, perhaps for that reason, the “Trauer” nickname stuck.

A Closer Listen
The first of the four movements of “Trauer” is fierce, propulsive, full of contrasts.
Marked Allegro con brio, it is set in the home key of E minor. Although the
movement follows sonata form and other Classical conventions, it makes some
daring forays into dissonance, especially in its rigorously contrapuntal conclusion.

The second movement, marked Allegretto, is a minuet, in E minor, and a trio, in E
Major. Although the minuet-and-trio form is a standard feature of the Classical
symphony, it usually occupies the third movement, not the second. Here Haydn
experiments with the “Canone in diapason” procedure, guiding us on twisty
pathways between the melody and bass line. In the minuet portion, the violins and
first oboe introduce the theme, and the second oboe, violas, and horns take it up at
the octave. The central trio ascends to the radiant parallel mode of E Major, before
the minuet returns, restoring the minor mode.

Thanks to its tempo and instrumentation—muted strings, murmuring oboes, and
somber horns—the overall mood of the Adagio is serene and spacious. Despite the
symphony’s nickname, the slow movement isn’t at all funereal: you won’t hear a
trace of a funeral march or a Requiem reference. It’s set in E Major, like the
preceding trio, and so surpassingly beautiful in places—listen for the entrance of the
oboes and horns—that it ranks among Haydn’s most affecting masterpieces. More
than mourning, this Adagio brings solace: it’s a balm, not a sermon.

The dramatic finale, marked Presto alla breve, is urgent and relentless. Based on a
unison theme, the closing movement explores the outer limits of counterpoint,
culminating in a ferocious double canon. Haydn closes in E minor, the home key,
instead of the expected parallel major.

Between 1929 and 1931, Ravel worked simultaneously on two remarkable—and
remarkably different—piano concertos. One is dark and intense, written for the left
hand. Paul Wittgenstein, the Austrian pianist who commissioned it, lost his right
arm in World War I. The other (two-handed) concerto, in G Major, is sprightly and
energetic. Ravel, a gifted pianist, had intended it as a concert showpiece for himself.
Unfortunately, by the time it was finished, he was ailing and no longer had the
necessary stamina. He asked the pianist Marguerite Long to give the premiere,
which he conducted on January 14, 1932.

In 1931, as he was putting the finishing touches on the Piano Concerto in G, he
explained that it was “written very much in the same spirit as [concertos by] Mozart
and Saint-Saëns.” “The music of a concerto should be lighthearted and brilliant, and
not aim at profundity or at dramatic effects,” he continued. “It has been said of
certain classics that their concertos were written not ‘for’ but ‘against’ the piano. I
heartily agree. I had intended to title this concerto ‘Divertissement.’ Then it
occurred to me that there was no need to do so because the title ‘Concerto’ should
be sufficiently clear.”

A Closer Listen
Despite its unusual features, the work is structured like a conventional Classical
concerto, in three contrasting movements. In the hectic and humorous introduction,
the piano traces delicate arpeggios while piccolo and trumpet interject saucy
retorts. A sultry clarinet evokes Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, while the piano
contributes jerky syncopated rhythms. After a magical harp-drenched interlude, the
brash jazz themes return.

The lustrous Adagio assai, the concerto’s Mozartian center, isn’t nearly as simple as
it sounds. As the pianist Long wrote, “I told Ravel one day how anxious I was, after
all the fantasy and brilliant orchestration of the first part, to be able to maintain the
cantabile of the melody on the piano alone during such a long, slow, flowing
phrase…. ‘That flowing phrase!’ Ravel cried. ‘How I worked over it bar by bar! It
nearly killed me!”

The finale is brief but complex, peppered with key changes and unusual orchestral
textures, particularly from the trombone and bassoon. Spirited percussive flourishes
recall the opening movement, and the concerto ends with a joyful bang.

Born in Buenos Aires to a Spanish father and an Italian mother, Ginastera (he
pronounced it the Catalan way: JEE-na-STAIR-uh) began his conservatory training at
age 12. In 1942 he won a Guggenheim Foundation grant, which he used a few years
later to study with Aaron Copland in the United States.

Idealistic and outspoken, Ginastera made many political enemies in his native
Argentina. In 1952, a year before he wrote Variaciones concertantes, he lost his
position at Argentina’s foremost music conservatory, Conservatorio de Música y
Arte Escénico in La Plata, which he had founded and directed since 1948. He
offended the Peróns by refusing to rename the conservatory after Eva, the
president’s powerful wife. Deprived of his academic post (at least until Juan Perón
was deposed in a military coup), Ginastera made ends meet by scoring films and
accepting random commissions. He spent the last dozen years of his life in Geneva,

A meticulous craftsman, Ginastera tended to destroy any efforts that he deemed
unsatisfactory—and he was seldom satisfied. What passed through his filter was
pure gold. Although he left only 54 numbered opuses, most remain in the active

Nationalism and Its Discontents
Late in life, Ginastera categorized his works into three general periods, which he
identified as follows: objective nationalist (1934–1948), subjective nationalist
(1948–1958) and neo-expressionist (1958–1983). He wrote Variaciones
concertantes in 1953, at the midpoint of his middle period. Unlike his earlier music,
which often quoted from the folk tunes and dances of his homeland, in Variaciones
concertantes all the “nationalist” signifiers are implied, not explicit. “This work has a
subjective Argentinean character,” the composer explained. “Instead of employing
folklore material, an Argentinean atmosphere is obtained by the use of original
melodies and rhythms.”

Ginastera’s Variaciones concertantes was a commission from the Asociación Amigos
de la Música in Buenos Aires. The orchestra of that organization, conducted by Igor
Markevitch, gave the premiere on June 2, 1953. The work consists of two
instrumental interludes (the first for strings, the second for winds), which serve as
musical bookends for eight distinct and colorful variations.

A Closer Listen
Nearly every instrument in the orchestra gets its turn in the spotlight. Ginastera
assigns a different solo instrument, pairing, or group to each of the variations, which
range in length from fleeting to substantial. Right away, in the slow and searing
introduction, the harp and cello state the theme, which incorporates one of the
composer’s stylistic trademarks: the notes E–A–D–G–B–E. These are, not
coincidentally, the same pitches played on the open strings of a guitar in standard

After this murkily fecund strings interlude, the variations unfurl. The first, titled
“Variazione giocosa” (Humorous Variation), is a frisky, flute-dominated caper, with
scampering pizzicato strings. In the equally antic but somewhat edgier “Variazione
in modo di Scherzo” (Variation in the Style of a Scherzo), the clarinet instigates the
orchestral high jinks.

In the “Variazione drammatica” (Dramatic Variation), the viola sings a piercingly
emotive cadenza, attended by winds and low strings. The longest of the variations,
it’s a haunting exploration of modal harmony. Bassoon and oboe are in the forefront
for the “Variazione canonica” (Canonical Variation), a questing and contemplative
take on the theme. Trumpet and trombone carry the short but memorable
“Variazione ritmica” (Rhythmic Variation). In the “Variazione in modo di moto
perpetuo” (Variation in the Perpetual-Motion Mode), brass, winds, and timpani
precede the violin’s turn in the soloist’s spot, another cadential movement that
infuses virtuosic technique with folk-fueled pyrotechnics. Next, in the “Variazione
pastorale” (Pastoral Variation), a lyrical and soulful French horn riffs on the theme
until it almost resembles a hunting call reimagined by Chet Baker.

After an interlude for winds, the double-bass, lightly bolstered by spare harp
arpeggios, reprises the main theme, as presented in the introduction. The zany final
variation, “Variazione in modo di rondo” (Variation in the Rondo Mode), is a
nonstop endorphin rush, replete with hand-strummed chords, boldly syncopated
percussion, and jazzy Gershwinesque vamps. In addition to the rondo, an ancient
dance form alternating a refrain and contrasting episodes, Ginastera drew from the
malambo tradition to create this variation, which uses repeated notes to imitate the
tapping, stomping, brushing feet of the dancing gauchos. Malambo, which one
scholar described as “a battle between men who stomp in turn to music,” retains its
cultural cachet. The National Malambo Festival is held every year in the Cordoba
Province of Argentina.

“Iberia” is the second of three cyclical works—collectively titled Images pour
Orchestre—that Debussy composed between 1905 and 1912. The set was initially
planned for two pianos, but Debussy decided that it required a richer palette
containing bolder and more diverse colors. With Images, he explained, “I’m trying to
write something else—realities, in a manner of speaking—what imbeciles call
‘impressionism,’ a term employed with the utmost inaccuracy, especially by art
critics, who use it as a label to stick on Turner, the finest creator of mystery in the
whole of art!”

Sketches of Spain
A triptych within a triptych, “Iberia” is a three-part portrait of Spain. It features a
slower, more meditative middle movement surrounded by romping, celebratory
outer movements. Although “Iberia” abounds with Moorish-inflected melodies and
Latin-inspired rhythms, Debussy’s lived experience of the country was minimal: he
spent a single afternoon in San Sebastian, attending a bullfight, and returned home
to France before nightfall. According to the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla,
Debussy’s sole excursion to Spain, brief though it was, left him with a vivid
impression of “the light in the bullring, particularly the violent contrast between the
one half of the ring flooded with sunlight and the other half deep in shade.”

A Closer Listen
The lively, light-splashed opening movement, “Par les rues et par les chemins”
(Through Streets and Lanes), combines tart dissonances, stomping rhythms, and
sparkling melodic digressions. Next, the mesmerizing nocturne “Les parfums de la
nuit” (The Fragrances of the Night) traces the elusive contours of a dream: blurry
harmonies, sinuous tempos, distant bells. Finally, “Le Matin d’un jour de fête”
(Morning of a Feast-Day) brims over with giddy revelry. “It sounds like music that
has not been written down,” Debussy observed. “There is a watermelon vendor and
children whistling—I see them all clearly!”