Emmanuel Chabrier (1841 - 1894)
In 1882 Chabrier and his wife made a 6 month tour of Spain, from the Basque region in the North to Andalusia in the South. He wrote many letters to friends during this trip which show him to have had a gift for writing as fine as that of Berlioz, as well as a lively wit and a spirited zest for life. They had trouble with fleas in the Basque region where "being one of the coolest in the country, the native fleas are inclined to feel the cold and to seek warm and sheltered spots and in consequence have a marked preference for the female body where they really feel at home... ". But it was the south that made the biggest impression, where they saw real flamenco dancing for the first time. "Eh bien, mes enfants - what an eyeful we're getting of Andalusian behinds wiggling like frolicsome snakes!" He really loved this passionate music, even he was so distracted by the charms of the women that he didn't grasp the protest, the pain and grief that underlies flamenco.
When back in Paris he wrote his orchestral fantasy Espana based on this music, and it was an immediate and major success. The main themes are two Spanish dance tunes, a jota and a malaguena, and the work established a voguein France for Spanish-influenced music. (Debussy's Iberia and Ravel's Habanera & Bolero are obvious examples.) Like all such works it is more a picture of Spanish music than being truly Spanish, and so is not much admired in Spain itself. But that need not worry us here, and despite (or because of) a certain brashness, the work is hugely enjoyable, being full of colour, life and vigour.
Chabrier was a native of the Auvergne region in central France. Despite his obvious musical abilities he studied Law in Paris, and having gained a degree joined the Civil Service. He then worked in the Ministry of the Interior for almost 20 years. Music was still his hobby, and he took both piano lessons and composition lessons, but not in a formal academic surrounding. He was almost forty when he decided to give up his Civil Service job and pursue composing as a full time career. Most of his surviving compositions date from the years 1877 to 1888, after which he suffered increasing illness and died when he was only 53 years old.
The Marche Joyeuse was written in 1888 and first conducted by Chabrier himself at a festival devoted to his music held at Angers in the Loire valley in November that year. It was originally a piano piece called Marche Francaise, but he changed the name for copyright reasons - another "Marche Francaise" was already published. A reviewer of the orchestral version praised the work as "impossible to have more verve, more gaiety and life. With its unexpected sonorities, the exaggeration of which produces comical effects, the piece was enthusiastically encored'. It also has the rare virtues of being both fun and short.