Duration: 17 minutes
Commissioned by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Stacy Baker, Michael Bunn, Chris Combest, Lori Knoener, Jesse Orth, Scott Roeder, Joseph Skillen, and Jerry Young
Painter, sculptor and architect, Doménikos Theotokópoulos—known by his Spanish moniker “El Greco”—arrived in Toledo, Spain in 1577. Late 16th century Spain must have seemed a land of abundant opportunity for artists. Rife with riches from the New World, and with Phillip II building his immense palace, El Escorial, at the foot of the mountains northwest of Madrid, artists were in demand. Originally from the island of Crete, and after having spent formative artistic years in Venice and Rome, El Greco opened his studio in Toledo and created some of the most compelling paintings of the Spanish Renaissance. The works of El Greco, viewed by many as early forebears of cubism and expressionism, displayed disproportionate, phantasmagorical figures that emphasized the inner strains of imagination above the objective, lifelike subjects of his contemporaries. In his depictions of the Spanish countryside or religious icons, recognizable figures and places assume a fantastical, even apocalyptic tone. Unnaturally elongated arms, shadowy gray skies, angels stretched and contorted impossibly between heaven and earth, El Greco’s work depicts Spain’s 16th century contradictions and internal spiritual struggles. In his work, one perceives an empire shaping a new world in the western hemisphere, while subjugating its minorities to religious inquisitions at home. El Greco’s Spain is, like all great heroes, at once glorious and tragic.
Three Visions of El Greco for tuba and wind ensemble draws upon three paintings for its inspiration: “View of Toledo,” “The Adoration of the Shepherds,” and “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz.” The first movement, “View of Toledo,” is loosely based on a variation of a ‘bulería’ flamenco rhythm—a 12/8 rhythm that emphasizes eighth notes 3, 7, 8 and 11. While the bulería instigates the initial momentum of the movement, a robust and lively dance ensues. Pairing this music with the painting, one envisions a ghastly aura casting a pall over this medieval city, concealing a raucous celebration.
The second movement, “The Adoration of the Shepherds,” evokes its subject in the form of a pastoral lullaby. After its first melodic strains by piccolo and soprano saxophone, the tuba wends its way through a series of harmonic and textural backgrounds ultimately surrendering to a reverential chorale played by the ensemble.
“The Burial of the Count of Orgaz,” the title of El Greco’s best known painting, is the subject of the final movement. Proceeding from the second movement without pause, the tolling of funeral bells and the murmur of humming by the ensemble creates a quiet pad over which the tuba imparts its mournful, lyrical, gestures. Like the soul of the deceased making his way toward heavenly light, the ensemble swells in rapture as if it were attempting to crack open the very clouds that reveal the glorious destiny of this goodly count. The remainder of the movement ensues with a briskly paced celebration—pausing momentarily to acknowledge earlier material— and closes with a breathtaking flourish by the tuba.