Vitaly Bujanovsky’s famous unaccompanied piece, perfect for recitals, workshops, etc., is part of a larger collection entitled Pieces for Horn Solo: Four Improvisations (from traveling impressions). Published by McCoy’s Horn Library, the set includes Scandinavia, Italy, España, and Japan. Additionally, a fifth piece (Russian Song) is included at the end. Of the five works included in this set, España seems by far to be most popular in terms of performances and recordings. I’m not exactly sure why this is, perhaps because of the flair and bravado inherent in the style of the piece, or some other less definable characteristic. Although the other movements are well worth working up and presenting as a set, for the purposes of this post we’ll only consider España since in my experience it is performed and recorded more often. The composer, Vitaly Bujanovsky [alternate spellings Buianovskii or Buyanovsky] (1928-1993), performed in the Leningrad Opera and Ballet, and with the Leningrad Philharmonic. Considered one of the most influential teachers and players in the “Russian Horn School,” Bujanovsky taught at the Leningrad (St. Petersburg) Conservatory, and produced several original and transcribed works for horn.
I’ve performed the piece several times, and each time brings with it new challenges and rewards. The first time I programmed the piece I was an undergraduate, and simply making it through in one piece was a challenge! As I’ve continued to work on it periodically over the years I’ve tried to get more at the nuances of the piece, as well as continuing to strive for better accuracy and clarity. The following are just a few ideas that have helped me prepare this solo for performance. The first two are general comments, and the rest deal with specific passages.
Read the instructions. This collection has some wonderful suggestions by none other than Frøydis Ree Wekre, one of its champions. Any performer would be well advised to both read her comments and listen to a recording of her performing the work, available free from the International Horn Society’s Audio Page. See the quote below for her comments.
Again–church bells in the beginning–three different ones “competing.” Before the Sostenuto cadenza, the composer says quarter note=60, but I think, possibly, that this section may be played slightly faster, with the beat moving a little. For the end “guitar” section find the easiest and clearest fingerings, sometimes using much B flat Horn for clarity, even if the fingers must work a little more! (Frøydis Ree Wekre)
Know the style you are imitating. España makes use of Flamenco guitar rhythms and phrasing, and it would be a great idea to listen to some of that music performed on the original instrument both before and while working on the piece. The horn may never sound like a guitar, but we can certainly go for that “flavor” in our playing.
In the opening bell tone section (excerpt shown below), go for a distinct “ping” to the front of each note, but I don’t think there’s a need to blast here. I like crisp, ringing articulations, paying attention to the subdivisions, hemiolas, etc. It’s also a good idea to practice the opening with just air attacks. Use a metronome!
The next passage, marked “stacc. quasi cantagnetti,” is the one Frøydis is referring to when she says that it can go “slightly faster, with the beat moving a little.” I like to think of this section as a playful dance, which gradually speeds up beginning around the syncopated measure and continues through the repeated sixteenth notes in the following measure. I also like a bit of crescendo here. The passage immediately following (shown below) can be quite loud, but also controlled, with a bit of vibrato if you like.
Next comes one of the two cadenzas in this short piece. Take your time, and experiment with different stopped horn fingerings to find out what will give the best facility on the accelerando passages. In the second accelerando I like T2 for the D#, T23 for the C, and T1 for the B. For me, this was the least awkward of the available fingerings.
The repeated notes in the molto piu mosso following this cadenza work pretty well with T2, which gives a nice distinct front to each articulation. The Andante section afterward is similar in character to the molto espressivo, spagnuolo section shown above. In the measure right before the stopped 3/8 section, make sure we hear a half step hand glissando down to the next note. Although it isn’t marked, I think the section beginning after the lunga pause can be played with a bit of rubato, speeding up a little bit into the rit. measure.
The second cadenza can be even more expansive than the first, taking care that even with rubato we hear the syncopations. On the accelerando this basically becomes a stopped tremolo, and I like using the same fingerings for both the upper and lower note – 23 on the F horn. The important thing in the final section is rhythmic drive and clarity of articulation. Don’t start this section too fast, as you will need to speed up a quite a bit later on and you don’t want things so fast that they become muddy. Plan on working out all the triple tonguing (see the passage below) quite slowly, giving each gesture a small crescendo as you descend. This really made a big difference for me in getting the tonguing clean and up to speed. I highly recommend all B-flat horn here.
Be aware that it’s very easy on these repeated passages for tension to build and build – this will kill your technique, range, and endurance! Take every opportunity to relax, especially the left hand, and release some residual tension. A great place to do this is right before the final molto vivo section. In the last four measures, try to keep a good middle register setting even as you descend down to the low E – this will do wonders for the gliss. up to the B. If you let everything go and try to crush the low E it can be problematic getting back into the middle and upper register right after. One last tip is to finger the glissando – for some reason this just felt much more comfortable to me.
Well there you have it – hopefully a few tips and ideas to help you get going on this piece. When played well it’s very impressive, and sounds more difficult than it actually is. Have fun, and happy practicing!