John Donald Robb Piano Concerto
Written in the summer of 1950 at the composer's summer home at Shelter Island, New York, John Donald Robb's Piano Concerto received its first performance with the Albuquerque Symphony, under the baton of Dr. Hans Lange on February 25th, 1952 with Hungarian pianist Anders Foldes. Commissioned by Mr. Foldes for his concerts in the U.S, the concerto reflects John Robb's interest in the folk music of New Mexico. Robb often incorporated and developed melodic themes in his compositions that were derived from New Mexico folk songs. Assimilating this thematic material into the classic form of the concerto, Robb subtitled the three movements of the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Ricardo, El Borreguero (the Shepherd) and Leonore, the songs from which the principal themes of each movement are derived. As the Albuquerque Journal reported in an article in 1952, "Robb cleverly translates the old ballads into the modern idiom with a brilliant use of the atonal technique."
The first movement, Ricardo, constructed in the traditional sonata form, is based on a song Robb heard in a sheepherder's camp on El Mogote, a mountain village in the Chama river country. Robb was doing field recording for his collection of Hispanic Folk Music, now housed at the Center for SW Research at UNM. The song, sung to him by a cook in the camp, is a dramatic ballad that tells the story of a sheepherder who lost his entire flock during a disastrous winter. The second theme of the first movement, first heard in the violins, flutes and oboe, is an original one by the composer.
The second movement, El Borreguero is based on a song of the same name, found in the village of Santo Nino, New Mexico. It derives its slow tempo from the song's gentle melody and story, which tells of the loneliness of the shepherd thinking of the tender things of life at home.
The third movement, Leonore, a traditional rondo form with an extended cadenza, opens with a boisterous theme from the folk song of the same name, which comes from the village of Llano, NM. Strains of other tunes are also heard within the movement, in particular, "Sandovalito", a Spanish version of an Indian curse song in which the village of Sandovalito was cursed.
In speaking of his use of folk songs in a traditional concerto form, the composer himself indicated, "We have our own music. I believe that such music as these fine folk songs of New Mexico should be made a part of our American culture."
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