Angèle Dubeau founded La Pietà in 1997, an all-female string ensemble featuring some of Canada’s best musicians. What she could not have known at the time was that this experiment, originally [...]
They spoke about it
Wherever you may be—at a princely court, in a school auditorium, a village square, around a campfire, in a smoke-filled café or a ballroom, at a hoe-down or even in a night-club—our invitation remains the same: “Let’s dance!”
Respighi: Ancient Airs and Dances – Suite No.1
From the composer of the famous Fountains of Rome comes this charming suite on ancient airs and dances. Throughout his life, Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) was fascinated by the rich musical heritage of his country, Italy, and strove to bring it up to date with a highly personal palette of varied and shimmering textures. For the three suites that make up the Antiche aire e danze per liuto—of which the first, dating from 1917, is performed here—the composer drew from a collection of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century lute pieces compiled and published in 1903 by his fellow countryman, Oscar Chilesotti.
The Suite No.1 comprises four Italian dance pieces “freely arranged” by Respighi: Ballo detto Il Conde Orlando by Simone Mollinaro (c1565-1615), Gagliarda by Vincenzo Galilei (the late 1520s-1591), father to the famous scientist, and Villanella and Passo mezzo e mascherada, whose authors are unknown.
Holst: St Paul’s Suite, Op.29 No.2
Here is a work that seems especially tailored to the strings of La Pietà. Indeed, like Antonio Vivaldi, who composed for and taught music to the orphan girls of the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, the English composer Gustav Holst (1874-1934) — most famous for his Planets—was musical director of the St Paul’s Girls’ School, Hammersmith from 1905 until the end of his life.
Like the Red Priest, not only did Holst give his pupils careful musical instruction, but he also composed for the young ladies such works whose merits would allow them to outlive their original pedagogical purpose. This is notably the case with the delightful St Paul’s Suite, composed in 1912-13 for the school’s string orchestra. Strongly rooted in the spirit of British musical traditions, the suite lets dance take centre stage from the outset, with a sprightly jig. The Finale is fashioned on the obsessive rhythm of the “Dargason,” a ‘circular’ tune known in England since the early sixteenth century, and which interlaces here with the famous Greensleeves melody.
Bartók: Romanian Folkdances
Seven brief dances, ranging in nature from the most melancholy to the most high-spirited. The Hungarian composer Béla Bartók (1881-1945) had a marked interest in his country’s folk music and its relation to the traditional music of neighbouring countries. From 1906 onwards, he regularly criss-crossed Hungary with an Edison phonograph in search of peasant music, which he diligently recorded with the aim of publishing and arranging it. He himself collected in Transylvania the folkdances whose melodies and rhythms can be found unaltered in his Romanian Folkdances.
Originally set for the piano in 1915, the tunes benefit from Bartók’s added accompaniment. He orchestrated the dances in 1917, and they have since been arranged for a large variety of instruments. The version presented here is a combination of previous arrangements, with the piano adding its voice to the orchestra here and there. The original titles can be loosely translated as Stick Dance, Shawl Dance, ‘On the Spot’ Dance, Horn Dance, Romanian Polka and Quick Dance 1 and 2.
The world of the Gypsies beckons to us still in the poignant and fiery strains of this marvellous Czárdás. One would think the composer of such a piece to be part of their world, but that is not the case. Rather, Vittorio Monti (1868-1922) was an Italian violinist who in the course of his life played with the Lamoureux orchestra in Paris and later conducted a music hall orchestra. This at least enabled him to know how to please and how to start people dancing! The original version of this popular piece is for violin or mandolin and piano.
Albéniz: Tango, op.65 No.2
The Spanish composer and pianist Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) was perhaps the musician who was most instrumental in developing a unique musical idiom for his country in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Taken from a set of Spanish piano pieces published in London in 1890, this Tango is linked more to the gypsy or ‘flamenco’ tango tradition than to the later South-American tango derived from the Cuban habanera. Nonetheless, it urges one strongly onto the dance floor.
Shostakovich: Spanish Dance
From the Hungarian Gypsies to those of Andalusia, we end up here looking at what might be called a ‘typical’ vision of Spain, as seen through the eyes of Russian—or Soviet—composer Dmitry Shostakovich (1906-1975), to whom this impassioned dance is attributed.
Grieg: Country Dance
The Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) often delved into his country’s fertile inventory of folk music. This Country Dance (‘Stabbe-latten’) is taken from the second of the Two Nordic Melodies, op.63 (1869) for string orchestra, which Grieg had adapted from his own Opus 17 No.18 for piano, based on an authentic Norwegian folk melody. In 1942, Stravinsky used the theme of Country Dance in his Four Norwegian Moods.
If Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is the paragon of American music, then his ballet Rodeo (1942) is its quintessential expression, brimming as it is with imagery and music associated with the world of the cowboy. The ballet’s final episode, Hoe-Down—separately scored for strings by Copland in 1945—opens with an excerpt from McLeod’s Reel and goes on to use the tune Bonyparte, which Copland found in Ira Ford’s Traditional Music of America.
Vieuxtemps: Souvenir d’Amérique
In 1845, nearly one hundred years before Copland, the Belgian violin virtuoso and composer Henry Vieuxtemps (1820-1881) also penned a piece based on a classic American folk tune. Upon his return from the first of three concert tours in the United States, he published this Memories from America (Souvenir d’Amérique), which presents three variations on “Yankee Doodle,” successively adopting the form of a traditional Russian dance (!), a polka and an American country dance. Originally written for violin and piano, the piece is in keeping with the numerous fantasies and sets of variations on popular themes that were market staples in the nineteenth century, such as those by Paganini and Liszt.
David Bowie: Let’s Dance
In reaching the close of this journey through time and across nations, at the outset of which everyone was invited to join in the dance, it could not be helped but to share in a playful salute to the song that gave this recording its title. So, arranged by Louise-Andrée Baril and somewhat giddily performed by La Pietà, here is The Thin White Duke’s Let’s Dance, which first appeared on his eponymous album in April 1983…
© Jacques-André Houle