3. Milonga by Jorge Cardoso
On third place we have the most famous work of the Argentinian guitarist and composer Jorge Cardoso, namely Milonga. Akin to its composer, who is also a teacher, a medical doctor and a researcher, Milonga stands for several things: it is a musical genre from Argentina and Uruguay, a dance similar to the tango, but faster and more relaxed in movements and a weekly event where people play and dance Argentinian tango, along with valses and milongas. Not being in South America, not having a personal garden and skipping the dancing part, the next best scenario to enjoy this beautiful work is to sit on an open balcony late in the night, watch the skyline, breath in the fresh air, embrace the midnight chill and just let the guitar keep you company and warm you up.
IDAGIO for: Lee Myung Seun (Guitar)
2. Piano Concerto no. 5 in E flat major, op. 73 (Emperor) by Ludwig van Beethoven
This next work would steal the first spot every week without a doubt if it weren’t for my opera bias. It’s the last piano concerto by Beethoven, and also his last heroic composition, written in E flat major, the same key as his Eroica symphony. It has three movements, and although I usually prefer the middle more lyrical one, it’s not quite the case here. The Allegro and Rondo. Allegro sections are the stars for me, with a special emphasis on the first movement, on which we’re going to focus here. If I would have to pinpoint exactly what I love about this work is the smooth transition between the powerful and the softer elegant tones, the mix of which makes for a coherent unitary whole. This can be seen right from the very beginning: the first two minutes are both powerful (the orchestra part) and playful yet delicate (the piano part), followed by a brief elegant melody and then rushing into full on power mode. Another example of this mix is at around the fourteenth minute: the piano is playing a lullaby or a nocturne melody right before an orchestra military march comes in, forcing the piano into a more playful tune. The ending is again an intertwined emotional blend, the delicate piano constantly battling with the louder orchestra until the latter one prevails, the ending sounding just like the final word of the emperor himself.
Although the Emperor addition was not made by Beethoven himself (the approved original title was Grand Concerto dedicated to Hs. Imp. Highness the Archduke Rudolph of Austria), the tag sure matches the first movement, for what is the image of an empire other than a display of power, grandeur, opulence and elegance, all of which can be found in these notes. However, this label is a point of much controversy considering the complicated attitude the composer had towards the emperor of the period. Since Beethoven was in line with the philosophical ideals of the Age of Enlightenment which were challenging the very concept of monarchy, he was a supporter of Napoleon when he became First Consul of the Republic of France in 1799, believing him to be an advocate for human rights, consistent with the liberal ideas of the French Revolution. He even intended to dedicate his Eroica symphony to him. However, this all changed in 1804 when Napoleon proclaimed himself Emperor of the French. Also, taking into account that this concert was written during Napoleon’s siege of Vienna, we can safely assume that Beethoven would not have endorsed (to say the least) this nickname.
So maybe it would be better to cast aside all empire connotations and focus instead on the heroic message of the work. We can listen to this concert as the powerful expression of the spirit, bravely enduring harshness (e.g. of a siege) while striving to maintain its inner grace and beauty, in a profound display of strength and resistance.
Here – an in depth presentation and analysis of the various recordings made of this work
1. “Vesti la giubba” – “Put on the costume” from “Pagliacci” by Ruggiero Leoncavallo
The Vesti la giubba tenor aria is the very embodiment of the saying the show must go on. It’s from the opera Pagliacci by Ruggiero Leoncavallo, and it captures the moment then the character Canio finds out that his wife is unfaithful to him but he must nevertheless enter on stage and perform his role as the clown Pagliaccio. It started the imagery of the sad clown, who has to smile on the outside and entertain the public while he’s feeling nothing but sorrow on the inside. Pagliacci is the sole successful legacy of the composer and librettist Leoncavallo, being based on a real life passionate murder story from his childhood. It was an instant success with the public at its premiere and since then it’s been one of the most performed operas, usually alongside Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascagni. Another fun fact is that’s it was the first opera to be fully recorded, in 1907, and the first one to be captured on film with sound, in 1931. Considering all this, it’s easily understandable how this aria can be found in the repertoire of almost all tenors, which only means we get to enjoy its tragic beauty in numerous wonderful performances.
Recitar! Mentre preso dal delirio,
non so più quel che dico,
e quel che faccio!
Eppur è d’uopo, sforzati!
Bah! Sei tu forse un uom?
Tu se’ Pagliaccio!
Vesti la giubba e la faccia infarina.
La gente paga, e rider vuole qua.
E se Arlecchin t’invola Colombina,
ridi, Pagliaccio, e ognun applaudirà!
Tramuta in lazzi lo spasmo ed il pianto
in una smorfia il singhiozzo e ‘l dolor, Ah!
sul tuo amore infranto!
Ridi del duol, che t’avvelena il cor!
Act! While in delirium,
I no longer know what I say,
or what I do!
And yet it’s necessary… make an effort!
Bah! Are you even a man?
You are a clown!
Put on your costume, powder your face.
The people pay, and they want to laugh.
And if Harlequin steals your Columbina,
laugh, clown, and everyone will applaud!
Turn your distress and tears into jokes,
your pain and sobbing into a grimace, Ah!
at your broken love!
Laugh at the grief that poisons your heart!
Enrico Caruso – we start with the tenor that sold over a million copies of his recordings of this aria
Roberto Alagna and Mario Del Monaco – their performances are very similar, everything screams a desperate passionate maddening rage, Del Monaco being a dash more cynical in his approach.
Giuseppe Di Stefano and Franco Corelli – their interpretation is that of a more mature, elegant and deep suffering, Corelli adding a bit more melodramatic fler.
Jussi Björling – technically and vocally perfect, but he seems disconnected from the story and somewhat lacking the passion needed for this aria
Disclaimer: this is not an exhaustive list of all the works curated by Clemency Burton-Hill in the book Year of wonder: classical music for every day. To enjoy the full catalogue of pieces proposed by the author along with her comments on the composers and the music itself, feel free to pick up her awesome book here (not affiliated, nor sponsored).