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Anonymous portrait of Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Ritirata notturna

(A Cappella Mixed Choir)

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In mid-September 2009, I was commissioned by the Madrid Community Chamber Choir to compose a piece to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its creation. As usual in this type of commission, the "candy" had a certain dose of "poison" inside, since the piece not only had to be based on the famous Ritirata nocturna di Madrid, from Luigi Boccherini's Quintettino, but also it had to be "recognizable". Gladly accepting the challenge, I began the task documenting myself about said work and about the context in which it arose.
The Quintettino bears the number 324 of the catalog of Boccherini works compiled by Gérard. It is, in turn, number 60 of his quintets for two violins, viola and two cellos, and it was composed around the year 1780, with the second title being La musica noturna delle strade di Madrid. However, the melodic theme of the Ritirata with which the work closes, like others that appear in it, is not original at all, but faithfully transcribes the Military Retreat composed by Manuel Espinosa de los Monteros, oboist of the Royal Chapel, and published in 1761 within the Book of the Ordinance of the Calls of Fifes and Drums that are played again in the Spanish Infantry – and which includes, by the way, the Grenadier March that, erroneously attributed to Frederick the Great of Prussia, who supposedly gave it to Carlos III in 1762, has ended up being the Spanish national anthem.

Cover of the score by Manuel Espinosa de los Monteros (1761)

The Military Retreat became the obligatory music for said act, based on the rigorous regulations established by Carlos III in his Ordinances for the regime, discipline, subordination and service of his armies, published in 1768, and that Boccherini -who, as a court musician, usually listened to it- reproduced almost literally in his Quintettino.

First measures of the Ritirata of the Quintet G. 324 by Luigi Boccherini
(1ª edición, h. 1897)

Luigi Boccherini. Ritirata from Quintet G.324
Le Concert des Nations (Dir.: Jordi Savall)

This Ritirata Notturna takes as a constructive starting point the eleven recurring appearances of the melody by Espìnosa de los Monteros in Boccherini's work, although with great variations in terms of tonalities and, especially, harmonization. Each one of these interventions is linked to the one that precedes it and the one that follows it by a connecting section of very different character, in which both imitative effects are used (snare roll and suspended cymbal roll, cymbal crash) and simple noises (whistles, claps, heel strikes), as well as various vocal procedures, along with more conventional sections, frequently of a contrapuntal nature, that act as modulating transitions between the appearances of the melody of the retreat.
The sung parts lack text, but at certain moments, and especially after halfway through the work, after the climax of a section of great harmonic and contrapuntal complexity, each of the singers goes on to recite different articles from Title II of the Ordinances of Carlos III ("About the Corporal") relative to the duties of the person in charge of the squad that carried out the Retreat.

"The Corporal, as the soldier's most immediate chief, will make himself loved and respected by him, he will never hide his lack of subordination. He will instill in those of his squad a love of the trade and great precision in the performance of their obligations. He will be firm in the command, gracious in what he can, will punish without anger and will be measured in his words, even when he rebukes."

Conceived in any case as an entertainment, which is what seemed most appropriate to celebrate a silver wedding anniversary, Ritirata Notturna was composed between the months of September and October 2009, and is naturally dedicated to the Choir of the Community of Madrid, in whose charge and under the direction of Jordi Casas the premiere was held at the Symphony Hall of the National Music Auditorium in Madrid, on January 9, 2010.

Jordi Casas and the Community of Madrid Choir

Program of the premiere of Ritirata notturna

First page of Ritirata notturna


Premiere recording: Community of Madrid Choir (Dir.: Jordi Casas)


communally happy birthday
By Gonzalo Alonso
(Review published in the Internet site Beckmesser, January 10, 2010)

25 years is, for a choir and an orchestra, not only a youthful age, it almost means entry into symphonic adolescence. Miguel Groba (Ponte Areas, 1935) created in 1984, through tenacity, a 32-voice choir for the then fledgling Community of Madrid, to which a chamber orchestra was added in 1987. Tomás Marco, in splendid notes to the hand program of the commemorative concert, explains the entire founding history of the ensembles, sometimes tinged with romantic overtones. In 1990 singers and instrumentalists constituted a Cultural Association. The orchestra, already with the size of a "classical orchestra", is linked to the Teatro de la Zarzuela, and in 2000, after Groba's retirement, José Ramón Encinar collects an artistic witness, who has also had names that cannot be left behind: Alfonso Carraté, Félix Palomero and Jorge Culla, to which, for weeks, Roberto Ugarte has been added. To celebrate the wonderful choir that Jordi Casas conducts today, José Luis Turina has conceived an extraordinary 10-minute vocal diversion, "Ritirata Notturna", based on the famous Boccherini quintet, quoted and solfaged throughout the piece, in addition to embodying in the same percussion effects that go from the snare to the heeling and, fundamentally, a recited part of the ordinances of Carlos III.

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(Score and choir parts without watermarks availabe at www.asesores-musicales.com )