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Edouard Lalo and his “Symphonie Espagnole”

Édouard Victoire Antoine Lalo (January 27, 1823–April 22, 1892) was a French composer, best known for his Symphonie espagnole and notable for the clarity of his orchestration. Born on Jan. 27, 1823, at Lille (Nord), in northernmost France, into a military family of Spanish descent that had long been settled in France, he attended that city’s music conservatory in his youth against his father’s will. Then, beginning at age 16, Lalo went to Paris, without funds, in 1839 and studied at the Paris Conservatoire under François Antoine Habeneck. He studied violin at the Conservatory and composition privately. For several years, he supported himself by working as a string player and teacher in Paris. Lalo’s earliest surviving compositions are songs and chamber works. His early works, published in the 1840s, include pieces for the violin. In 1848 he published his first songs and in 1855 joined with friends to found the Armingaud Quartet, ensemble was created to promote the music of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, and Mendelssohn, playing viola and later second violin and composing a string quartet in 1859. By the mid-1850s, he had already composed two piano trios, which show a considerable mastery of that form. Two early symphonies were destroyed.

Julie Besnier de Maligny, a contralto from Brittany, became his bride in 1865. She aroused Lalo’s early interest in opera and led him to compose works for the stage. In 1866 he started writing Fiesque, an opera based on Friedrich Schiller’s play Fiesko. Unfortunately, these works were deemed too progressive and Wagnerian for the refined French tastes of the day and thus were not initially well received despite their freshness and originality. This led him to dedicate most of his career to the composition of chamber music, which was gradually coming into vogue for the first time in France, and works for orchestra. He wrote little in the early 1860s, but while Lalo is not one of the most immediately recognized names in French music, his distinctive style has earned him some degree of popularity, and he won success with his Symphonie espagnole for violin and orchestra, which was first performed by Pablo Sarasate in 1875 and still enjoys a prominent place in violinists’ repertoire.

Lalo’s idiom is notable for strong melodies and colorful orchestration, with a rather Germanic solidity that distinguishes him from other French composers of his era. His music, although it shows some affinity with Robert Schumann and Carl Weber, is the product of a highly original talent. There followed his Cello Concerto in D minor (1876), his ballet Namouna (1882) based on a story from Casanova’s Memoires, the Symphony in G Minor (1887), and the Fantaisie norvegienne for violin and orchestra. Perhaps better known for his orchestral works, Lalo was also a master of chamber pieces. His chamber works, which were influential, include the string quartet, the three piano trios, cello and violin sonatas, and Chants russes for cello and piano. Such pieces as the Scherzo in D minor, one of Lalo’s most colorful pieces, might be considered appropriate embodiments of his distinctive style and strong expressive bent.

It was not till his late forties and into his fifties that Lalo gained fame as a composer. Le roi d’Ys (The King of Ys), an opera with libretto by Edouard Blau based on the Breton legend of Ys, is his most complex and ambitious creation. The opera was rejected for ten years after its composition and was not performed until 1888, when Lalo was 65 years old. The same Breton legend that inspired Le roi d’Ys also influenced, to some extent, his Symphony in G minor and various chamber works. Following his belated triumph, Lalo embarked on several new projects, including Neron, a pantomime, which was performed in 1891. He also wrote concerti for violin and for piano and many lyrical songs and song collections. Lalo was made a knight (chevalier) of the Legion of Honour in 1880 and died in Paris on April 22, 1892, leaving several unfinished works including a new opera, La jacquerie. His body was interred at the Père Lachaise Cemetery.

The following works by Edouard Lalo are included in my collection:

Concerto for Violincello and Orchestra in D Major (1876).
Le Roi d’Ys (1888): Overture.
Symphonie Espagnole for violin and orchestra, op. 21 (1873).
Symphony in g minor (1886).

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources

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