Ritmo Jondo (Flamenco), Ballet for Chamber Orchestra

Carlos Surinach

Date of Composition: 1953
Duration: 20 minutes

Like Márquez and Satie, Spanish-born composer Carlos Surinach (1915–1997) embraced dance as an inspiration for his music. More significantly, it was the dance world to which Surinach ultimately owed his career. After engaging in compositional studies in Barcelona throughout the Spanish Civil War and in Berlin during World War II, Surinach returned to Spain where he took up a conducting career. Artistic opportunities, however, were limited in his homeland, so when border regulations eased in 1947, he knew he could not stay. After a few years conducting in Paris, he travelled to the United States on a 29-day visa. Once in New York, he found work writing music for television commercials, which allowed him to remain. He eventually became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1959.

Surinach’s compositional introduction to the New York art scene took place in 1952. His composition Ritmo Jondo, a chamber work for two percussionists, clarinet, trumpet, and three hand-clappers, was included in a concert at the Museum of Modern Art alongside the works of esteemed American composers Virgil Thompson, Henry Cowell, Elliott Carter, and others. As evidenced in contemporary newspaper reviews, the mostly unknown Spaniard’s work outshined the rest with its three movements, each reflecting a style of flamenco dance. Auspicious members of the audience that day included composers Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber, as well as dance icons Martha Graham, George Balanchine, and José Limón. Afterward, Limón and his company director Doris Humphries approached Surinach and asked him to adapt the six-minute work into a longer ballet to be produced at Broadway’s Alvin Theatre. Surinach expanded his three movements to seven sections, each depicting a flamenco dance of the composer’s homeland. The ballet, with its combination of energetic music, exquisite dance, and brilliant costumes, was successful from its first performance, opening doors for an ongoing career as a modern dance composer for its musical creator. Over the next thirty years, Surinach received numerous commissions in which he collaborated with artists such as Limón, Graham, and Robert Joffrey, finding a new home for himself and his Spanish style.

© Dr. K. Dawn Grapes, 2023