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Claude's Concert Notes

Two Sketches for String Quartet

Based on French Canadian Airs

Ernest MacMillan (1893-1973)

In 1893, Ernest MacMillan was born in Ontario to recent Scottish immigrants. Throughout his life, he carved his way into becoming one of Canada’s most influential musical personalities. A gifted conductor, he served as Music Director of the Toronto Symphony from 1931 to 1936.

Written in 1927 when MacMillan was only 23 years old, the two sketches were based on French Canadian folk music: “Notre Seigneur en pauvre”, a slow and introspective song with a religious text, and "À Saint Malo", a sprightly and vigorous dance. (1) Due to their expressivity and their freshness, the two sketches have proved to be one of MacMillan's most performed works.

La oración del torero, Op. 34

"The Bullfighter's Prayer"

Joaquín Turina (1882-1949)

The toreadors’ prayer, op. 34, is a lute quartet composed by Joaquín Turina in 1925 and later adapted for strings. The composer was inspired by the vision of a bullfighter praying in a chapel near the ring before going out to fight.

The original version of The Bullfighter's Prayer was written for a lute quartet and was dedicated to the Aguilar Quartet, who collaborated in the composition. This group consisted of four lutenists playing instruments of different sizes. Later that year, Turina wrote a version for a string quartet. This was then later expanded for string orchestra in 1926 and premiered in this format a year later in Madrid.

The following notes on the work were written by the composer himself in 1928:

“I was in the court of horses in the Plaza de Madrid. Behind a small door, there was a chapel, filled with incense, where toreadors went right before facing death. It was then there appeared, in front of my eyes, in all its plenitude, this subjectively musical and expressive contrast between the hubbub of the arena, the public that awaited the fiesta, and the devotion of those who, in front of this poor altar, filled with touching poetry, prayed to God to protect their lives.” (2)


It is interesting, from an ethnographic point of view, that Turina did not also write a prayer for the bull himself, making this work a vivid example of anthropocentrism. Still, despite the distressing subject matter, Turina chooses to center his attention on the dichotomy between the life outside a dangerous event – a war, for example – and the effects on individuals experiencing such incidents directly. Seen in this light, the composition becomes a study in human introspection.

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