The Basque-Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena brought a delightfully obscure program to Cincinnati last week: Gabriel PiernÃ©’s “Ramuntcho” Overture and Alberto Ginastera’s “Panambi” (complete). Â The Ginastera is a wonderful piece and an especially impressive Op. 1 (composed at the tender age ofÂ 20) but I think enough ink has been spilled about Ginastera’s youthful stint as the Argentine Stravinsky. Â There’s a great LSO recording which I’d recommend to one and all.
The piece I really fell in love with and feel compelled to discuss here is Gabriel PiernÃ©’s overture to “Ramuntcho”, which IÂ am quite confident in saying you, dear reader, have never heard before.
“Ramuntcho” started out as a novel by the French colonial diplomat/naval officer/oriental fetishist Pierre Loti. Â It takes place in the Basque country, which was enough to make me want to know everything about it, cause I loves me some Basques. Â You can you can download the novelÂ for free and read it in a few days; I’d recommend it.
The book was adapted into a play for which PiernÃ© composed theÂ incidental score, hence the overture. Â Before I continue, let’s just get twoÂ things out of the way: 1)Â Juanjo’s recording is the definitive version of this overture and way better than PiernÃ©’s own scrappy account from the 1930’s (sorry Gabriel!)
And 2) let’s discuss what this overture is and what it isn’t. Â It is very definitely not a symphonic movement with thematic development and the other trappings of that form. Â It ISÂ a charmingÂ medley of songs and dances culled, to the best of PiernÃ©’s abilities from the folk tradition of the Basque country. Â It is well orchestrated and delightful.
Here’s a couple examples of the loveliness thatÂ PiernÃ© has wrought. Â He took this unruly Basque folk dance, the “Aurresku”:
and rendered thoseÂ tunelessÂ txistusÂ into a sprightly woodwind section:
He also looked toÂ the national rhythm of the Basques*, the zortziko, a 5/8 meter than has a feel of three with one short beat and two longer ones. Â It’s excellently demonstrated by the lovely “unofficial national anthem” of the Basques, “Gernikako Arbola”
PiernÃ© does gives us a chirpy little tune withÂ the zortziko lilt at the top of his overture:
and then lushes it up like a badass with the strings:
And assorted other loveliness. Â PiernÃ©’s output is a little hit or miss, which you can hear on Juanjo’s disc. Â His music is grounded in Saint-SaÃ«ns with sprinklings of Roussel and Ravel. Â So let’s all do our little part for PiernÃ© and the Basque people and listen to and read “Ramuntcho”!
*So then what’s the U.S. “national rhythm”? Â The back-beat? Â Discuss.
I’m officially on board with Alexandre Desplat. Â I know, it’s like, welcome to the 21st century, but his totally anachronistic score to “The King’s Speech” just rubbed me too much the wrong way. Â After seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel â€“Â a movie I thought better than most of Wes Anderson’s recent efforts but still not quite my cup of tea â€“ I see how vivid M. Desplat’s musical imagination is and what a compelling partnership these two artists make, verging on Ozon-Rombi/AlmodÃ³var-Iglesias/Burton-Elfman territory.
[Side note: who is the gayer filmmaker: the openly homosexual FranÃ§ois Ozon or the openly dandified Wes Anderson? Â Is it possible, given our current cultural understanding of the ‘gay’ to consider the pink-frosted confections of a straight man more aligned with this categorically than, say, “In the House”? Â Discuss.]