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Spanish Wind Music

This article will definitely be "work in progress", since I have little knowledge of the potential of this repertoire. I am inspired to write about Spain by Frank de Vuyst, General Editor of Piles, who recently sent me scores and CD of some of the music of Luis Serrano Alarcón, with a DVD of the Certamen in Valencia in which Frank's band premiered the remarkable tone poem, Marco Polo details below.

Per La Flor Del Lliri Blau

My first encounter with Spanish music, apart from conducting Rodrigo's Adagio and a memorable performance of Amparito Roca with the Gothenberg Homeguard Band many years ago, was hearing the incredible tone poem Per la Flor del Lliri Blau, an orchestral piece by Rodrigo which he had transcribed for band. It is an extraordinary 18 minute work, with passion, excitement, passages of naivety juxtaposed with the most extraordinary contemporary harmonic turns, and a final funeral march of incredible pathos. It is now available in a wonderful new edition from Piles Music and I cannot recommend it too highly as a major romantic tone poem which will give your players the kind of emotional buzz that we so often lack in our post-Stravinsky post-Copland sound world.

Spanish Music On The Web

The link above is to a great website hosted by one of the world experts on Spanish music, Gregory Fritze, At the WASBE Conference in 2003, I invited Gregory and two other experts to make presentations alongside an excellent exhibition of scores and a demonstration CD from Piles of some exciting repertoire published by them. Gregory discussed Spain's "Symphonic Repertoire for Band", Richard Scott Cohen presented "An Overview of Spain's Band Movement and Musical Forms of Spanish Band Music", and Frank de Vuyst explored "A New Generation of Symphonic Composers for Band". You can access a first rate website of over 100 Spanish pieces through Greg Fritze, Scott Cohen runs Visca Music, the North American distributor for Piles and other Spanish publications, and Frank can be contacted via Piles whose website runs the whole gamut from A James Bond Medley to the music of Alarcon.

The International Certamen Of Valencia

From the website by Gregory Fritze

The competition has been going on for over one-hundred years. The first Certamen was held in 1886 to help celebrate the July Fair of Valencia. During the first years the bands were in two categories: one category for Military bands where these were "exhibition bands" and considered professional bands so there were no prizes awarded in this category. The second category was for "civil bands" where there were prizes. The prize that year went to the Sociedad Musical La Primativa de Carlet when Joaquin Guillomina directed the band in a transcription of William Tell by Rossini.

It used to be that many of the competing bands would only play pasodobles and Zarzuelas, but as the competition became more pronounced between the bands, the literature became more and more profound and technically challenging. It is now not uncommon to hear transcriptions of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring in these competition. In 1997 the three competing bands in the top category played Bela Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, Bartok's Miraculous Mandarin and Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1.

While much of the original repertoire of Spanish music is essentially intended as pure entertainment, I suspect that there a re a number of composers who transform the rhythms and idioms of the traditional dances and songs into "art" music. One such is certainly Luis Serrano Alarcón. A CD of his music, played by Union Musical Utielana conducted by Frank de Vuyst gives an overview of three major works, while his most recent piece, Marco Polo, is featured below.


Concertango, the opening work, gives the CD its title; this is a twenty five minute, three movement concerto for Alto Saxophone, Jazz Trio and Band. Inspired by the music of Piazzolla, the spirit of the Tango is omnipresent, but there are sections which are jazz inspired and wonderfully lazy Mediterranean reflective passages.

Two other works on this disc, Memorias de un Hombre de Ciudad or Memoirs of a City Man, and De Tiempo y Quimera, are both major pieces, but it is Marco Polo which for me was a revelation, combining the full Spanish wind band with cellos and basses, with a series of ethnic woodwind and percussion which help to paint the picture of the voyages. Again, I would recommend all three works to anyone looking for some variety, or of coruse Per la Flor del Lliri Blau. There must be more great music there, and I shall ask my three colleagues if they can help in any way.

Luis Serrano Alarcón (Valencia, 1972)

Although his formation is basically independent and self-taught, Luis Serrano Alarcón feels a deep gratitude to some teachers and entities that had a decisive influence on his formation. Such as Jose Mª Cervera Lloret, Jose Mª Cervera Collado, Javier Barranco and the musical society "La Artìstica" from Chiva, where he started with his first musical lessons. He's graduated with special Award "Premio Fin de Carrera" in Composition, Instrumentation, Solfeggio, Musical Theory, Sight-reading, Transposition, and Piano teaching. He has been principal conductor of the symphonic bands "La Primitiva" from Alborache, "La Artìstica" from Chiva, and "Centro Instructivo Musical" fromBenimaclet (Valencia).

From his very early years he felt a strong attraction towards musical creation, which resulted in a growing catalogue of compositions. Since 2005 some publishers, such as "Piles Editorial de Música" and "Tot per l'Aire" are taking an interest in his works, and are publishing part of them, which made possible that some of his compositions have been interpreted in Holland, Germany, South-Korea, Hong Kong, Argentina, Israel, or United States.

Besides composing, Luis Serrano Alarcón is teaching Analysis and composition at the Professional Conservatory of Valencia. More information at:

Other Works for Band
El Torico de la Cuerda (pasodoble)
La Calle Mayor (pasodoble)
Memorias de un hombre de ciudad
Concertango, for Alto sax, jazz trio and symphonic band
De Tiempo y Quimera

Marco Polo

La Ruta de la Seda

by Luis Serrano Alarcón

For Symphonic Band

  1. 1. Génova, 1298
  2. 2. La caravana de los Mercaderes
  3. 3. El Viejo de la Montaña
  4. 4. Taklamakan
  5. 5. Llegada a Cambaluc

La Ruta de la Seda

The piece describes five episodes from the fantastic trip that the Venetian Marco Polo (1254-1324) realized to the court of Kublai Khan, emperor of the Mongolians, the biggest empire that ever existed on Earth.

The composer found his inspiration, among others, in the book "The Travels of Marco Polo, which the proper Marco Polo dictated to Rustichello, a romance writer, while both were in prison in Genoa in 1298.

From the whole trip, which took 24 years, the piece describes only the first part, the travel from Venice to the court of Cambaluc (actually Beijng), which took 4 years to realise. In the following map you can see the route that followed the Venetian merchant:

image of Genova, 1298

Génova, 1298

The work presents the encounter between the two characters in the prison of Genoa. In the introduction, where the music starts cold and mysterious, the two main themes of the piece are presented:
image of music

Motive to: Marco Polo

Alter this presentation,the music changes suddenly: Marco Polo finds Rustichello and feels better, knowing that he can tell his marvellous story to somebody, and thus forget the sorrow caused being a prisoner.

La Caravana de los Mercaderes

Describes the first part of the trip, more concrete that part corresponding to the Middle East (Turkey, Armenia, Iraq, etc.) To set the music for this part, the composer uses ethnic instruments of this area, such as a Duduk, a Tar or a Zurna. The movement has two parts: the first is a Tamzara, a popular dance of Turkey and Armenia. In the second part, with the subtitle "Contemplation of the mount Ararat", the duduk plays an expressive melody which represents the encounter between the merchant and this mythical mount which, according to the tradition, is the location of Noach's Ark.

El Viejo de la Montaña

One of the most incredible histories that Marco Polo tells in his book is about the Old Man from the Mountain. All though there are different opinions about this historical character we can consider that the old man from the mountain is in fact Hassán Sabbah, who frightened and controlled from his fortress of Alamut (an impregnable fortress at the south of the Caspian Sea) to the emirs and sultans of the Islamic East.

One of the most surprising aspects of this sect, are the capturing methods used by the Old Man of from the Mountain: he provided his adepts with hashish, leading them to an imaginary paradise on earth. Influenced by the effects of this drug, these citizens of Hassan were sent out to commit selected murders. Some people observe in the word "Hashâshin" (drinkers of Hashish) the etymological rooth for the word assassin. This group was very fearsome because of their effectiveness. Their power declined during the 13nd and 14nd century, because of the invasion of the Mongolians, who plundered every castle of the sect, and made an end on their terrifying reign.

The Movement is divided in two sections: one describes the majestic fortress of Alamut, and a second represents one of the murders by the members of this sect. Both sections are linked by a cadence of Tibetan Bowls which evocate the moment of consuming drugs, creating an atmosphere that's worrying and awesome at the same time.


In this movement the music becomes languid representing the march of the Merchants through Taklamakan, a desert of big dunes of sand located at the western part of China. Halfway their trip through the desert, Marco Polo and his people observe the progressive rapprochement of a Mongolian Army (represented by the percussionist through a crescendo). After this martial passage the warriors are gradually moving away, and the merchants continue with their slow march

Llegada a Cambaluc

In the first part of this movement, subtitled "Pescadores en el Huan He"("Fishermen en el Huan He") the music describes a calm scene at the Huan He, the Yellow River, close to Beijng. During this part, the Hulusi plays an expressive and fluid melody that represents the calmness of the Chinese fishermen while they are working. This calmness will change into exultation when Marco Polo and his people observe finally, after four years of marching, the city of Cambaluc on the skyline. Finally, Marco Polo enters triumphant and somewhat impressed into the broad and paved avenues of the city, because of big fire trees in the sky, which cause big explosions and are welcoming him this way. These are of course fireworks, only one of the many marvellous things that the Venetian traveller discovered in the East.

The composer wanted to imagine the journey through the eyes of the people who experienced the trip, creating a work with deep contrasts and colourful sonorities, which he obtained specially by the rapprochement of the popular music of these regions that Marco Polo went through, and by using their ethnic instruments. After all, an authentic musical journey.

Instrumentation List

  • Piccolo
  • Flute 1,2
  • Oboe 1,2
  • English Horn
  • Bassoon 1,2
  • Eb Clarinet
  • Bb Clarinet 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Bb Bass Clarinet 1, 2
  • Bb Contrabass Clarinet
  • Alto Saxophone 1, 2
  • Tenor Saxophone 1, 2
  • Baritone Saxophone
  • F Horn 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Bb Trumpet 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Trombone 1, 2, 3
  • Bass Trombone
  • Baritone B.C. 1, 2
  • Tuba 1,2
  • cello 1, 2
  • Piano
  • Timpani (5)
  • Percussion 1 (Tam-tam, Snare drum, Darbuka, Chromatic Gongs, War Drum [1])
  • Percussion 2 (Suspended cymbals Ride and Crash)
  • Percussion 3 (Bass drum, Davul)
  • Percussion 4 (4 Tomtoms, Triangle, Cymbals, Darbuka, War Drum)
  • Percusión 5 (Glockenspiel, Tabourine,)
  • Percussion 6 (Chromatic Finger cymbals, Xylophone, Glockenspiel, Darbuka, War Drum)
  • Percussion 7 (Xylophone, Vibraphone, Whip) (Each percussion part needs one player)

Ethnic [2] instruments

  • Shvi, Zurna, Tar, Duduk and Davul (2nd movement)
  • Darbuka y Riqq (2nd and 3rd movements)
  • Tibetan bowls (3rd movement)
  • Hulusi ( 5th movement)

Other sound effects (Optional)

  • Iron bunch [3] (4th movement)
  • Firework effects [4] (5th movement)

The Ethnic Instruments

  • [1] War drum can be different types of drums, preferable low, which can have martial and ethnic connotations. A daiko would work very well
  • [2] In the case of not having these instruments to one's disposal, cues are indicated in the score. See information on the following page.
  • [3] It's used to describe the marching of the Mongolian army at the fourth movement. It can be prepared by taking together various plates of iron, or other metals, hold together with a large ring. It's important that the produced sound should be dark and not brilliant.
  • [4] The sound effect contains two elements: whistle and explosion. See the instructions at the corresponding page of the full score.