Capriccio espagnol, Op. 34, is the common Western title for a five movement orchestral suite, based on Spanish folk melodies, composed by the Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1887. Rimsky-Korsakov originally intended to write the work for a solo violin with orchestra, but later decided that a purely orchestral work would do better justice to the lively melodies. The Russian title is Каприччио на испанские темы (literally, Capriccio on Spanish Themes).
The work has five movements, divided into two parts comprising the first three and the latter two movements respectively..
- The first movement, Alborada, is a festive and exciting dance, typically from traditional asturian music to celebrate the rising of the sun. It features the clarinet with two solos, and later features a solo violin with a solo similar to the clarinet's.
- The second movement, Variazioni, begins with a melody in the horn section. Variations of this melody are then repeated by other instruments and sections of the orchestra.
- The third movement, Alborada, presents the same asturian dance as the first movement. The two movements are nearly identical, in fact, except that this movement has a different instrumentation and key.
- The fourth movement, Scena e canto gitano ("Scene and gypsy song") opens with five cadenzas — first by the horns and trumpets, then solo violin, flute, clarinet, and harp — played over rolls on various percussion instruments. It is then followed by a dance in triple time leading attacca into the final movement.
- The fifth and final movement, Fandango asturiano, is also an energetic dance from the Asturias region of northern Spain. The piece ends with an even more rousing statement of the Alborada theme.
A complete performance of the Capriccio takes around 16 minutes.
It is scored for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes (one doubling on cor anglais), 2 clarinets (in B♭, A), 2 bassoons, 4 horns (in F), 2 trumpets (in B♭, A), 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, side drum, bass drum, cymbals, tambourine, castanets, harp, and strings.
The piece is often lauded for its orchestration, which features a large percussion section and many special techniques and articulations, such as in the fourth movement when the violinists, violists, and cellists are asked to imitate guitars (the violin and viola parts are marked "quasi guitara"). Despite the critical praise, Rimsky-Korsakov was annoyed that the other aspects of the piece were being ignored. In his autobiography, he wrote:
The opinion formed by both critics and the public, that the Capriccio is a magnificently orchestrated piece — is wrong. The Capriccio is a brilliant composition for the orchestra. The change of timbres, the felicitous choice of melodic designs and figuration patterns, exactly suiting each kind of instrument, brief virtuoso cadenzas for instruments solo, the rhythm of the percussion instruments, etc., constitute here the very essence of the composition and not its garb or orchestration. The Spanish themes, of dance character, furnished me with rich material for putting in use multiform orchestral effects. All in all, the Capriccio is undoubtedly a purely external piece, but vividly brilliant for all that. It was a little less successful in its third section (Alborada, in B-flat major), where the brasses somewhat drown the melodic designs of the woodwinds; but this is very easy to remedy, if the conductor will pay attention to it and moderate the indications of the shades of force in the brass instruments by replacing the fortissimo by a simple forte.
Use in film
- Capriccio Espagnol, Op.34 is played during the opening credits and as the Spanish Carnaval background music during Josef von Sternberg's film The Devil Is a Woman (1935), credited on screen as 'Music based on Rimsky-Korsakoff's "Spanish Caprice" and Old Spanish Melodies'.
- Excerpts were heard in the fictional 1947 biopic of Rimsky-Korsakov, Song of Scheherazade.
- A recording by "Philharmonia Slavonica" featured in the film Brokeback Mountain (2006). The "Philharmonia Slavonica" is pseudonymous group that appears on a number of recordings of the bargain-record producer Alfred Scholz. The performances attributed to them are often by the Austrian Radio (ORF) Orchestra.
- A recording by the Moscow Radio Symphony in the film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988).
- Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Lorin Maazel (Deutsche Grammophon, 1959)
- London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras (Telarc, 1990)
- New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein (Sony Classical, 1959)
- "Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov: Works; orchestral," http://www.grovemusic.com (available by subscription only), viewed 2007-02-28.
- Laki, Peter. Cleveland Orchestra program notes for performances on January 28 and 29, 2005.